The Creativity Conundrum
February 24, 2014
Our pastry chef Jack Revelle and I had a wonderful meeting last week.
He and his staff-to-be have been working on the opening pastry menu. I thought it was too creative.
Too creative ?? !!
Bread bakers like me are drawn always to tradition. We connect to history. We’re not interested in sun-dried tomato-chickpea-basil bread. We assume that 6,000 years of bread have absorbed enough creativity and our responsibility is to make very well this most historically important of all foods.
Our most important value is consistency.
Pastry chefs, on the other hand, are artists. They are drawn to artistry and invention. Their art, as they see it, comes to full flower in restaurants where they can paint on plates and “reinterpret” old ideas.
I used to see very starkly the difference between us and those pastry people when I was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America. There career-changer students divided themselves naturally into stocky bakers, satisfied by pulling a hundred pounds of dough from the big mixers while across the way grave, meticulous pastry students created sugar statues with their blow torches.
Jack and I have been working together on Bread Furst for several years and I have had my heart set from the very beginning on turning away from the fancy to make American desserts. Jack concurs. But he can’t resist – nor can his colleagues, Chris, for example – invention.
I want a seasonal pie, one that looks like this:
Jack, on the other hand, has in mind something like this:
I think people want a pie that looks like a pie. He thinks those flimsy aluminum pie plates make even good pies look cheap.
Jack pointed out that I have on the opening food menu a hot and sour asparagus soup? If I can be creative with our food why shouldn’t he create pastry?
But I think that people are accustomed to commonplace take-out foods and we want to surprise them by being more daring with our savory food.
In pastry, on the other hand, as I see it, nothing is more commonplace than French tarts topped fruits that are never ripe.
At Bread Furst we should be different with our desserts by being familiar. Paris Brest is very nice but nothing is as good as an Alice Medrich cookie or an ice cream sandwich.
We should make the desserts people love and make them perfectly. That’s enough novelty because Americans respect pastry but they love desserts.
We had a great discussion that delved into tradition and creativity and we found a compromise. Jack and Chris and the others making desserts will make what I want and they will make what they want – and we’ll see.
Our creative desserts with their lemon verbena and Earl Grey flavors will be made – I am confident – with great love. And Jack agreed to make with equal love the desserts I am betting on.
It will be a lot of fun to learn what you want. I expect you’ll let us know.