Creative Lessons from the Kitchen

I glanced at the label, not sure why I bothered. Everything was in German - a language that even a pre-schooler had more mastery than me. “Bio” turned out to mean “organic.”

Somehow I volunteered to make dinner for one vegetarian friend and three more hungry companions.

Ok, chicken for four, and one.. tofu? Hmm.. the firm texture might stand-in for white meat. Could batter it the same way and make it work?

So, not only am I in a foreign country barely able to read or speak.. I’m trying to improvise a recipe. Luckily, I’ve made this recipe enough times that I had the basics down. Batter the meat, fry ‘til golden brown and bake, finish with melted cheese and sauce then serve with pasta.

Well, if I blow it, there’s always pasta..

As I’ve talked about, my love of Italian food led to a thirst for learning about the country. (Here’s more on that - )

Along with my massive report we also had project booths for an international fair. We were supposed to design a display of things about the country, including a food item. I decided to bake an almond flavored bread that I made into the familiar boot shape of Italy. For mountains running down the seam I used almond slices that were sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.

Not all my experiments were successful. Once I tried to make my version of “Irish stew” by cooking potatoes with a mix of available sauces. I was the only one willing to try that one!

Still, over time I found recipes that taught me patterns - like the scales that musicians play or writers use to create stories that keep us spellbound.

I learned elements that in a pinch I could use when only the barest of ingredients were available. For example, the “Holy Trinity” of Asian cooking is garlic, ginger, and green onion. just these three alone can turn a bland piece of meat into something elegant.

When I started to dance tango, I was eager to jump to the cool, “advance” stuff. As mentioned in this previous blog post -  we get tired of walking exercises.

Years later, when I ended up teaching beginners at our weekly event,

I would point out how you just needed to master a few fundamental steps to create interesting patterns and most of all be musical.

“Is it okay?” I asked nervously.

“It’s good!” my friend declared.

I breathed a sigh of relief, and we all tucked into the chicken / tofu parmesan, passing the generous bowl of pasta around.

  • Passion inspires action - it was my passion for Italian food that led to curiosity and the desire to learn more. That continued into other food explorations anytime I visited a new part of town.
  • Experience provides inspiration - just opening myself up to new sights, sounds, tastes ignited sparks for creativity. Sometimes it'd be a new Food Network video. Other times it might be something I found on jycmba on Pinterest.
  • Learning to adapt teaches us to be open to possibilities - missing an ingredient or needing to adjust a recipe sometimes creates the circumstances for us to experiment. And more often we discover that we would've otherwise miss.

How have you learned ways to be creative through other skills or passions?

Join me in chatting with Chris Hill tomorrow and hear his creative journey from the corporate world to the kitchen. More details here -

"Okay, last one to finish wins!" declared our teacher.

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire of Gratisography







It was another tedious set of walking exercises, and the heat from our brains working overtime added to the exhaustion, never mind trying to be creative with our steps.

The point was that we rush through everything in our daily lives. Dance like any craft involves patience in process and practice. There was no point in dashing to the finish line.

I had thought that I could half-ass learning Argentine tango, and quickly learned as Ron Swanson says, "Never half-ass two things, whole ass one thing."

Sure, I'd learn how to fake my way through swing dance and salsa. So I figured how hard could tango be?

Somewhere, somehow I got the crazy idea that I wanted to improve my aikido technique and learn how to move more fluidly. Dancing swing was fun, and it provided some of the energy of randori techniques.

But still something felt.. missing..

Then, one day I walked into a Berkeley dance studio, and the closest way I can describe it was that I felt was finally home at last.

Despite my initial struggles I eventually took to tango - or it to me. It grew on me, and I shed my former shelf. In fact, tango led to many unexpected experiences in my life - How Tango Taught Me to Find My Tribe and Start a Movement

A short while ago I moved down to Los Angeles, and it's amazing how different the community is down here. I suppose that it may be due to the image conscious nature of Hollywood. Or just the disconnected nature of Southern California life where freeways and daily commuting separate us.

To be fair I've only been willing to put in only so much energy into being involved here. Still this was not the tango I knew. It reminds me of the sentiment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Potter when asked for his definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

Recently, a discussion between Facebook "friends" turned into less than kind words. What started out as disagreement about results from a dance competition led to very personal attacks.

This was not the tango I signed up for.

Tango is about connection and community through art and expression. I can understand wanting to say this dancer's technique is "good." Or that one's is a great example.

Well, as we've talked about, fear is the killer of creativity. Once we start comparing and defining.. it's no longer about the art, no longer about connection, no longer about community.

What's the point? To give out awards and encourage even more competition? Last one to the finish line wins!



photo credit - wikipedia

"You have the controls."

With that the instructor pilot sitting in tandem behind me took over. He started yanking and banking.

Suddenly, I was no longer flying in a T-34C turboprop trainer. Instead I was back on the Great America roller coaster ride near our school - yelling at the top of my lungs with each thrilling, stomach churning roll -

Up, down, left, right!

We did this for a good number of minutes before the instructor asked, "Okay over there?"

"Yes, sir!" I replied, barely able to contain the ear-to-ear grin.

"You don't get sick for anything, do you?"

What was wrong with me? I'm sure the instructor was really doing his best to see how I handled the most extreme aerobatics he could throw at me.

This was my aerobatic solo check ride - meaning after I passed (if I passed) I was cleared to take a bird all by myself! So, the instructor wanted to make sure that if I got myself nauseous, disoriented or worse yet possibly passing out, I could still fly home safely.

But so far, his plan wasn't working. The instructor tried again. "I have the controls."

Again, we did loops and rolls, pulling G's - nothing.

At this point I guess the instructor was satisfied that I could do almost any aerobatic maneuver and make it back to base.

For most of my life I've taken on things that other people consider "scary" - without much thought. Even when I was a kid, I had no fear of getting up on a stage of a night club and creating my own act.

Once I applied for and got a job as a delivery driver - without knowing how to drive stick. Fear - Trial by Fire or Fuel for Motivation

In college I took a swim test for joining the navy - without knowing how to swim! (that's also in the blog post above)

So, when it comes to creativity, I don't really let fear stop me. I know that what separates the good artists from the great is their willingness to face fear. Inspiring Ted Talks on Fear and Creativity

You can't be creative by playing it safe. Our schools teach us to draw within the lines, but what we really need today is to learn which rules still matter and what rules it's time to break.


Traditionally, entrepreneurs and their small businesses have been the backbone of this nation's economy. Now more than ever the world needs their creativity  because the days of earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone.

Creative entrepreneurs not only create opportunities by seeking problems to solve.  Their courage inspires us all to share our unique gifts - whether it's a book to be written, a film to be made, a piece of art to create.

And our lives are better for this!

How do you let fear drive you or does it hold you back?

(Post note: sometimes facing our fear is actually the safest choice.. )