Creative lessons from the kitchen

You'd be surprised what you can cook up on the advertising stove if only you let it simmer a while.

You'd be surprised what you can cook up on the advertising stove if only you let it simmer a while.

David MacGregorI've turned my refrigerator off to save electricity. I rarely, if ever, eat at home. However, like so many other New Zealanders, I do have a curious fascination with cooking shows. Food porn.

I will watch the most ridiculously unedifying footage with the most grotesque characters if the subject is sustenance. What’s that show where a mélange of misfits get together at one another’s homes and cook a meal, then score the evening’s entertainment in order to win a pittance? Even that (I’m sure it has a name) [Ed: Come Dine With Me. (You’re welcome)].

I performed a penance of sorts for my ramshackle food show diet (which I am certain is causing intellectual obesity at best or diet diabetes at worst). I went to see a movie about El Bulli. A restaurant in Spain, it is reputed to be the best in the world.

Like all great brands, it has a story. For half the year they refuse bookings, the restaurant is shuttered andthe cooking team repair from their seaside idyll to Barcelona, where they experiment with food and cooking techniques. The film observes this process.

If you like movies with explosive scenes and sex you will be bitterly disappointed. On the action front it is a thin meal. It does, however, give one food for thought.

I believe we advertising practitioners and designers should spend more energy considering the ingredients of our output.

Do we spend enough time deconstructing our constructs? Do we spend enough of our creative talent trying to understand both our processes and practices?

Most advertising (my arena) seems trite and like stuff you might be served in a local café – assembled, rather than lovingly prepared. It’s as if there are a few basic recipes served up to clients because they are convenient and efficient. Well and good, but they’re also bland and interchangeable.

In the hustle and churn of most creative kitchens there is little time for experimentation and systematic research. It’s a shame. If the only research you do is to flip through the pages of Lurzer’s Archive or the latest Design and Art Direction award annual you can only proceed into the past. Re-creation, not creation.

The El Bulli chefs not only experiment with ingredients – what happens when you add champignons to hazelnut oil when it is fried, steamed or vacuumised? – they also document every step and every outcome before taking their learning back to the kitchen in the form of new recipes for the gastronomic season ahead. Even at the pass, as plated food is about to head to the client’s table, the head chefs continue to refine and test.

We need to consider more carefully our methods and techniques. Media is changing. How we consume media is changing and our appetite for both novelty and sustenance is voracious. If you are warming up yesterday’s leftovers, you may find yourself being casually tossed in the bin on the way out. Make the year ahead one of R&D. Get hungry again.

David MacGregor is executive creative director of MacGregor Media and a co-founder of Idealog. He is open to invitations for lunch or dinner. He does not eat breakfast.

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