I have always loved to cook, but something was holding me back from really embracing the possibilities of what I could make in the kitchen. I think part of it was a lack of confidence, and a misconception that I needed to be some kind of expert to make delicious and creative food. I was weighed down by one too many experiences of an enthusiastic flurry of cooking ending in dishes that came out too dry, too crispy, too lumpy.
They didn’t just give you a list of ingredients, they showed you the ingredients. They didn’t just tell you to dice, grill and blend, they showed you how big, how much, how creamy. With their step-by-step photographs I felt like the world of food had been unlocked. I could make anything. Would I ever have dared to make apple pie or pizza dough from scratch without these recipes? I think not. I cannot fault these two incredible women, and the food blogging movement for which they are in no small part responsible.
But there is one thing that has been missing for me. Amazing photography and step-by-step instructions make recipes more visual than they used to be, but they still don’t allow me to translate what I see on the screen to how I should organise myself in the kitchen.
The truth is, as a cook, I am really lazy. I think it’s fair to say that this is my guiding principle in the kitchen. I like to use as few steps as possible and as few implements as possible, to minimise both effort and time spent washing up.
But in fact it’s not just laziness. It’s actually an obsession with design, in this case with the design of the cooking process. I want to spend more time relaxing and enjoying myself while I’m cooking, and less time running around like a headless chicken.
This is exactly the kind of design principle that professional chefs use in their kitchens to ensure order and efficiency. Mise en place means putting everything in its place.
What does this mean outside of a professional kitchen? Whenever I start cooking, I like to gather all ingredients from the fridge, and then all ingredients from the cupboard / pantry, and then all the implements I’m going to need first, so that I’m not running around the kitchen the whole time. Then I like to measure dry ingredients then wet, so that I can use the same measuring cups and spoons without washing them. I like to group ingredients together according to the stage at which they will be needed, which means you can use fewer mixing bowls and generally do less sorting and mixing.
If you’re starting to think I’m a control freak, you’re probably right. But I have yet to find a celebrity chef who sets out their recipes in a way that makes this kind of lazy organisation possible. It’s even worse on TV, where they tend to start with all the ingredients already prepared — which is like starting half-way through the recipe. That’s just plain cheating.
So I started designing simple graphic recipe diagrams myself. Every time I cook, I come up with a streamlined version of the recipe I’m using, i.e. a set of instructions designed to minimise the chaos in the kitchen and remove the stress from the cooking itself.
It’s not about curbing creativity; rather it’s about building calm and flow into the recipe itself. This brings to mind Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles for Good Design, two of which are “good design is unobtrusive” and “good design is as little design as possible”. The way the recipe is presented should not get in the way of the pleasure of cooking.
This is exactly the ethos behind Kitchen+Craft, which celebrates the simple satisfaction that can come from the marriage of food and design. Each week I’ll be sharing a new, delicious and, most importantly, carefully thought-out graphic recipe for you all to enjoy.
First up, a homage to Smitten Kitchen. Click here to see how to make Double Chocolate Banana Bread, the K+C way.