No, the cold weather is not getting to me; this is not a post about Nicholas Sparks.
I have been spending a lot of time recently with one of the most powerful creative tools for a chef. The notebook. Actually, this may be one of the most powerful tools for the everyday person, as well. I find that the older I get(and a birthday is just around the corner) the more I need to write things down. Maybe it’s for efficiency’s sake, maybe it’s because I have a lot on my mind, but it just helps to write things down. In our super fast, modern society, thoughts get pasted on twitter or facebook and then they are gone. I suppose you could scroll through your social media accounts, but does anyone really do that? I find that the notebook is a stable medium for storing thoughts; all thoughts. Here are some thoughts on notebooking.
1) Don’t edit your primary notebook – It is important to write everything down without editing yourself. Too often, we may think that an idea is ‘stupid’ or ‘not worth writing down’. Don’t do that. Write everything down….you never know when that ‘stupid’ idea will take you to a revolutionary place.
2) Have multiple notebooks – You are going to need to refine ideas….so, have a separate notebook where you take an idea and work on it. This is where the editing happens.
3) Take your notebook everywhere – You never know when a thought is going to hit you, so make sure you have the ability to get it down on paper. I’m reminded of one of my favorite movie scenes from ‘Night Shift’. Bill Blazejowski is never without his tape recorder because he’s an ‘idea man’. Well, if you’re going to have ideas, then you better have a way to record them, so take your notebook everywhere.
4) Annotate your notes – I find this most useful when I am studying cookbooks. I will find a technique or idea that provides inspiration for me. It is very important to write down the book and page number where those thoughts originated; have the original book as a reference point because a couple of months or years from now you may be reading through your notebooks and whatever you wrote doesn’t make sense, so you’ll need to reference the book you were studying. Also, with some months or years of life and work experience under your belt, those some thoughts from that same book may mean something different to you and your thoughts will be pushed in another direction.
5) Be messy – Get your thoughts on paper, get them out of your head without regard to how it looks. Can YOU read it? That’s all that matters. The time for tidy writing and illustration is later….in another notebook.
6) Read and reread your old notebooks – This is seriously fun stuff. One day, sit down with your old notebooks and read through them. It is true; notebooks capture an idea, a moment it time. However, they are not static. Sure you may pull out a notebook from 4 years ago and think ‘wow, that was a strange thought’ or you may pull out a notebook from 5 years ago and see the beginnings of a new dish, say a refined schnitz und knepp for example. You may also find nuggets that can be used presently. A small scrap of an idea from years ago that pushes you in a new direction….talk about rewarding!
7) Encourage everyone to write things down – Creativity does not happen in a vacuum. Encourage the people around you to write things down. Obviously, it is imperative in a professional kitchen to have ratios and recipes written down, but encourage everyone to go one step further…encourage creative thought….how can this be better? How can this be more delicious? How can this be more ‘us’? How can we be more efficient? How can we elevate the guest experience?
You can’t force creativity; setting a stopwatch or allotting scheduled time to be creative is foolish. Inspiration will hit when you are cleaning that 20th pound of fava beans; get it on paper.