Sophia Dorfsman is currently preoccupied with the notion of re-complexifying the design of modern recipes. To view this endeavor of hers so far, please revisit this link on a screen with greater dimensions.

Her email is, should you want to exchange greetings, thoughts or, of course, recipes. 

I have been mulling over the routine of cooking, the purpose of notation, the format of knowledge, the act of simplifying and the documentation of the ephemeral. Within this network of interests, I have engaged with the thoughts of authors, academics and artists to further develop my own. It is through this contamination of perspectives that I hope to gain new insights on the power and potential of recipes.

There are unexpected similarities and striking metaphors that arise from intersecting one practice to another. The two often have a lot to learn from each other. 

“Similar to the manner in which a great actor interprets the lines given to a character in a play into a living performance, or a musician interprets the notes written in the score into the sounds of an instrument, or a dancer interprets the rhythms of a musical performance into bodily motion, or a poet interprets the meanings of lived experience into language, a chef interprets the qualities of edible materials into gustatory experiences and sensory events.” Robert T. Valgenti, Cooking as Interpretation

“Metaphor is a way of telling truth far greater than scientific data.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

My studies are grounded by a few key points: cooking, recipes, scores, words and simplification. On this page, I explore those terms in that order. I raise questions by reflecting on various quotes and ideas in an effort to expand upon and beyond each of their definitions. Consider all the following text (distinct yet interwoven ideas, ordered via quotes and excerpts) to comprise an ever-evolving essay.

I suspect that the process of sustaining this inquiry of mine is just as valuable as any end product that will result from it. The research in and of itself is for now the heart of the project—maybe even the whole body.

“The Koreans have a description for the specific qualities of a person’s cooking which translates as something like ‘the taste of your hands’; they know I suppose, that knowledge rests in muscle and bone, which is never written down.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“Only when placed in the context of skills gained through prior experience does information specify a route that is comprehensible and that can practicably be followed, and only a route so specified can lead to knowledge. It is in this sense that all knowledge is founded in skill.” Tim Ingold, Anthropology and/as Education

“The knowing involved in making a cake is ‘contained’ not simply ‘in my head’ but in my hands, my wrists, my eyes and nose as well. The phrase ‘bodily knowledge’ is not a metaphor. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that I know things literally with my body, that I, ‘as’ my hands, know when the bread dough is sufficiently kneaded, and I ‘as’ my nose know when the pie is done.” Lisa Heldke, Foodmaking as a Thoughtful Practice

“...knowledge is a product of doing and is a discovery of doings.” John Cochran on Levi Bryant, Object Oriented Cookery 

It would be difficult to study recipes if I didn’t love the act they represent. Cooking is something I have great familiarity with and affection for. I learned the basics from my mom. In these years of now cooking for myself, I keep up the process of trial and error. It is a skill I’m constantly sharpening, unlike the one knife to my name. I have what John Cochran calls a “home amateur culinary praxis.”

“...the amateur is free of the restraints of 'knowledge and skill' to experience the 'phase space' of objects. This is not to say an amateur is ignorant, that he lacks knowledge. No, the amateur acts out of affirmation. Here affirmation is instinct, experience and the acknowledgement of webs of objects that act autonomously and in aggregate.” John Cochran, Object Oriented Cookery

“As good cooking has always done, it can make the everyday business of survival not only bearable but worthwhile.” Marcella Hazan, More Classic Italian Cooking

“If creativity is not to be subjected to unnecessary rules and prescriptions, the principle intuition . . . instead of cookbook (as Beuys calls one of his works) can be applied to the culinary art of living to set cooking practice free from the unimaginative and uncreative applications of recipes.” Harald Lemke, Joseph Beuys: Gastrosophical Aesthetics

“Cookbooks are experiential, and that’s why I love them. You’re seeing into a mind at work, yes, but also a body at work. Food is never a purely intellectual exercise (or, when it is, it’s boring).” Alicia Kennedy, On Cookbooks

“It is a matter of paying attention along the path of the experience, rather than of an intention instructed by prefixed models.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisation in Cooking and Tasting

The way I cook is very intuitive. Even developing the idea of what I want to make is so. I tend to conceptualize my favorite meals based on the placement of ingredients on a shelf, in the store, my cabinet or fridge. The steps I take to make a dish are loosely set out in front of me. I enter the experience expecting detours. I am not keen on using objects to specifically measure any ingredient or time, unless I’m baking or soft-boiling an egg. Rather, I rely on my own bodily senses. 

“And when I cook, I never measure or weigh anything. I cook by vibration. I can tell by the look and smell of it. Most of the ingredients in this book are approximate. … Different strokes for different folks. Do your thing your way.” Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor

“There is only one recipe, really: prepare your ingredients and cook them until done. Everything else is just a variation on that.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“In the case of geometry, each step is justified in a way that makes no further discussion or analysis of any kind appropriate, at least not within the confines of the subject matter as laid down by the axioms and postulates. In the case of cooking, on the other hand, the whole matter is very much more open-ended. There is not an intellectual regimentation of the subject. We do not have clearcut reasons to justify each step, and there would be a large amount of variation as well as debate about the proper formulation of each procedure. The variation here is not the kind to be found in Euclid. There are different ways of making the same construction, but here there are actually procedures that produce different results to obtain the same goal...” Patrick Suppes, Probabilistic Metaphysics

“Every experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some ways the quality of those which come after.” John Dewey, Education and Experience

Any cook will inevitably take a personal approach to the dish they intend to make. Their own biases, moods, tastes, associations, preferences and past experiences will have an effect. No matter how hard that cook tries to reproduce the dish exactly as called for, it will never turn out the same as the one the recipe was derived from.

“In itself, then, the recipe is not knowledge. Rather, it opens up a path to knowledge...” Tim Ingold, Anthropology and/as Education

“[Recipes] are both the most basic form of writing about food and the most refined and complex.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“ can be regarded as living in the senses, existing as people’s intellectual but practical knowledge, and as part of their lived experience of culture, recorded in memory through successive performances, but able to be creatively adapted to changing circumstances.” Gillian Crowther, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food

If there is so much variation in what we cook, then why should recipes push for uniformity?

“What all these recipes and reminiscent say to the reader cuts to the paradox at the heart of the cookbook. They say: you can’t have this. You can’t have this because I already had it. This food is unrepeatable. The cauliflower cheese made in California cannot be the same as that in Dijon. Food is a one-off, a fugitive moment, best appreciated as memory. We cannot catch it and keep it; and at their heart, all cookbooks know this, even as they try to freeze the dish in photographic form, to arrest the process of its destruction in consumption. Food is always in process: growing, being prepared, being chewed, digest and defecated. The only place it is ever fixed whole in time is in memory. In reality, its flavors and substance dissolve in our mouths and are gone.” Nicola Humble, The Literature of Food

How does this memory change over time? 

“In her cookbook-memoir, Bong Mom’s Cookbook, Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta cheekily declares that ‘it is a bit difficult to emulate the taste of the roadside aloor [potato] chop at home because you lack basic ingredients like dust, grime and the blackened oil that every popular shop swears by’.” Supriya Roychoudhury, in Vittles

Recipes as we presently know them (a list of ingredients followed by didactic language, normally paired with a brief explanation) are efficient. They reveal a clear way and reason to get to B from A.

“I often feel guilty when writing recipes. To capture what one can of elusive, changing experience... and imprison it in a chilly formula, composed of cups, tablespoons, inches and oven temperatures, is like robbing a bird of flight.” Richard Olney

“Everything is supposed to be perfectly designed in order to avoid mistakes and accidents.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisation in Cooking and Tasting

“There is something confining and demeaning about having expectations...” Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

But they do not account for the inevitable deviations from the proposed trajectory which are frequent occurrences within the home kitchen. When it seems like there is only one right way to do something, individuality is subtly discouraged and a cook’s touch is dangerously deemed worth forgetting.

“Ingredients have to be grown, harvested and prepared by hand: quails and turkeys killed, eggs slowly gathered as the hens lay and then preserved over months; nuts one by one roasted, shelled and the bitter inner skin removed. Food in this culture and time can fill - and use up - a whole life, and part of the point of the recipes is to speak to the gap between our worlds and theirs. The recipes themselves are magic realist devices - making strange the ordinary and making the magical real by giving us a set of rules which will apparently reproduce it.” Nicola Humble, The Literature of Food

A recipe documents how one cook made something so that another can attempt to recreate it. It is a form of writing that situates the reader between the past and future.

“For many novels and memoirs the power of the recipe lies in its promise to bring the fleeting, ephemeral sensations of the past into the present; in its establishment of identity, of intimacy between speaking subject and reader - yet an awareness of the problematics of those promises lurk close to the surface. In its very form, the recipe dramatizes the tensions between food as text and food as bodily experience, between the food we read and the food we eat.” Nicola Humble, The Literature of Food

I’m interested in the past tense of recipes because I see them as a means of forcing us to reconcile what we choose to historicize versus what we exclude from a future collective memory. What other details can be captured that are normally left out but really have an effect on the final dish? In what ways do we share a recipe, and how does the design of it dictate that process?

I’m interested in the future tense of recipes because I’m curious how the format can demonstrate attitudes that are in support of variation rather than techniques that command the production of a standardized outcome. How can the language used to capture a process welcome individual input rather than set a criteria of homogeneity? In what ways do we receive a recipe, and how does the design of it impact that process?

“Collectively, we assemble from the wisdom of the past a vision for the future, a worldview shaped by mutual flourishing.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“Try telling an Italian that their recipes are fluid and adaptable, you might think, but the fact of the matter is that writing a recipe is a form of translation, from a physical act to a verbal record. Something might always be lost in that process, but just the fact of acknowledging that loss – the imprecision of our technical language, the allowance for differences in ingredient and utensil – can let us find it again, or something new.” Thom Eagle, in Vittles

How does what a language fails to capture contribute to the message that’s trying to be communicated?

“Many of the things done by the musician, and absolutely essential to good performance, were not to be found in the score.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

Musical Scores
My thoughts on how gestures are translated into a language has led me to focus on graphic scores for musical performances. By analyzing how our sense of hearing has been visualized, I hope to improve upon and strengthen the visualizations I imagine for our sense of taste. 

“[A score] always contains hidden elements that defy definition because verbal dialectic is powerless to define musical dialectic in its totality. The realization of these elements is thus a matter of experience and intuition…” Igor Stravinsky

“No notation can presume to record information encompassing all aspects of the sonic phenomenon for which it stands.” Brian Ferneyhough

Why bother recording anything at all? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of the ephemeral experience?

“A composer’s notation arises from the pressures of what cannot be notated, and hence it can only be fully understood in relation to these elements.” Paul Roberts, The Mysterious Whether Seen as Inspiration or as Alchemy

“For Ferneyhough, notation can never present an exact encoding of the aural experience; notation is the beginning of a process, not the end.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“It became apparent that the range of sound which a player is capable of covering is so extensive and so susceptible to nuance that no notation can hope to control the whole of it.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

Is it possible that all this information is...

“...unnecessarily complicated, eliminating the performer’s role to interpret and leaving the listener saturated in incomprehensible information[?]” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“It is true that the world is complex, as are also our perceptive mechanisms through which we are receiving the fragments of the reality around us. Should our music reflect the endless information surrounding us, or should it reflect our personal way of filtering the world? The latter seems to me more interesting.” Kaija Saariaho

“What makes something fully real is that it is impossible to represent it to completion.” Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

What if all the information is included, but just reformatted to reveal the lens through which someone see the world? Just how...

“all chefs must consider which objects they wish to exclude and which to include.” John Cochran, Object Oriented Cookery

...recipe writers must choose what gets excluded and included. 

“What a recording produces is a separate phenomenon.” Cornelius Cardew

“‘Unless sounds are remembered by man, they perish, for they cannot be written down.’ — Isidore of Seville, 1472 … we could be tempted to say that ‘unless sounds are written down, they perish, for they cannot be remembered.’ Paulo de Assis, Prelude of Sound and Score

“Sounds are kept alive only through the use of memory.” Paulo de Assis, Prelude of Sound and Score

“Gustatory memory is not that precise and infallible.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisation in Cooking and Tasting

“Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” Bob Dylan

Maybe that’s for the best. 

“The score, fixed in the past, realised in the present, is open towards a future.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

“While in the graphic space, we can navigate in the time line, jumping from future to past and vice versa, in the real world the time appears to be irreversible.” Benny Sluchin and Mikhail Malt, A CAP for graphic scores Graphic notation and Performance

“Score-writing is a powerful form of visual communication that reaches across the barriers of language, space and time.” John L. Walters, Sound, code, image

Musical notation is a system that is used to visually represent aurally perceived music by the use of visual symbols. A graphic score is a drawing that represents a musical composition through the use of visual symbols outside the realm of traditional music notation. A collection of sonic visualizations that inspire me immensely can be found in my channel called Made to Order

“Unless you’re Brian Ferneyhough (and you think you can notate everything), notation is to do with hints rather than absolute instruction. You are trying to convey the big image.” John Woolrich

Instructions are a guide to get you somewhere, but should they allude to what the journey could feel like?

“‘Notation’ [is the] totality of words, signs and symbols encountered on the road to a concrete performance of music.” Paulo de Assis, Prelude of Sound and Score

A score is...

“...a visual representation of sound structures… a conventional code… it offers an immediate and complete overview of something that is otherwise not visually perceivable… it mediates… radically different senses.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

“Words rarely capture the immediate emotional assault of a piece of poignant music, which allows the composer to say not ‘It felt something like this,’ but rather ‘Here is the unnamable emotion I felt.’” Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

“A score has a life of its own: its look has a lot to do with the power of the piece. When I look at a Classical score (Mozart, Beethoven and so on) you can’t actually see at a glance why it works.” Howard Skempton

How does the visual experience of reading a score involve our other senses? 

“[Notations are] capsules of information both technical and expressive which require ‘reading’ (that is, decoding and digesting).” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“Scores can remain the same, even as different readings of the score develop.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

“[These scores produce] an infinite number [of works] and a new one each time the score is ‘realized.’” John Evarts, The New Musical Notation: A Graphic Art?

“Each reading is independent from the next… banish the belief in a single way to approach a work.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“The eye can move from any point to any other point on the page so the piece could be realized for any amount of time.” Earle Brown, On December 1952

“The distance between abstract and complex music notation, on the one hand, and the immediate aural and embodied perception of music on the other, implies the need for an efficient learning process to enhance the complex process of translation that is involved.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

Can an alternative form of a recipe involve learning a new way to read?

“[Notation] should be directed to a large extent towards the people who read it, rather than towards the sound they will make.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

“Both score and script are at the mercy of the interpreter.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

“Each musician plays from the score, reading it in terms of his individual instrument and inclination… an improvisatory character is essential to the piece.” Cornelius Cardew

A performer...

“ interpreter… seeks to combine… ‘the virtues of fidelity and sympathy.’” Jeremy Cox, What I Say and What I Do?

“An interpreter of a ‘musical graphic’ score seeks only to produce ‘sound pictures’ analogous to the graphic score before his eyes.” John Evarts, The New Musical Notation: A Graphic Art?

“Three elements seem to be inherent in any notational system: the ability to offer a sound-picture…, the need to offer all essential instructions…, and the… collision of these two elements… incorporating an implied ideology of its own process of creation.” Paulo de Assis, Prelude of Sound and Score

“Artistic freedom… must remain sovereign over the notated task.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

How do rules invite breakers to bend them? 

“The score is not an element in itself but is dependent upon the historical situatedness of its performers.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

How can the design of a recipe adapt to a variety of contexts?

“The would-be performer, bringing with him all his prejudices and virtues, intervenes in the composition of the piece, influences its identity in fact, at the moment when he first glances at the notation and jumps to a conclusion about what the piece is, what is its nature.” Cornelius Cardew

“Very often a performer’s intuitive response to the notation influences to a large extent his interpretation of the instructions.” Cornelius Cardew

“The performer must make decisions regarding the realization of the piece… the performer assumes the role of the relativizing filter, parsing Ferneyhough’s encapsulation of the ‘endless information surrounding us.’” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“Musical integrity refers… to the need for critical and reflective abilities in a musician… [it does not] imply an uncritical mimicking of notational procedures or historical performances.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

“A performer who is prepared to spend time with the score and to interrogate it from perspectives other than that of the one-note-after-another linear reading will be able to elucidate many of these ‘higher order’ elements and use them to enrich his or her understanding of the Work.” Jeremy Cox, What I Say and What I Do?

“Constraining the player with too many or overly binding rules might change his mood, the spirit in which he makes his sounds, and the sounds themselves.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

“The composer is directing a psychological measure at him in hopes of making him think twice about what he is doing.” David Behrman, On What Indeterminate Notation Determines

“A composer who hears sounds will try to find a notation for sounds. One who has ideas will find one that expresses his ideas, leaving their interpretation free, in confidence that his ideas have been accurately and concisely notated.” Cornelius Cardew

“The notation acts as an intermediary… the role of notation is purely presentational; its success is defined by how ‘clearly’ the composer transmits his/her ideas to the performer.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

Whoever is on the receiving end is then assumed to put in a certain amount of attention towards it. Reading a recipe can never be passive. Even if action is not taken up on the spot, it is at least imagined or anticipated. 

“A method of notation which precisely facilitates the reconstruction of the work, intensifies it, gives a full account of it and, in short, communicates a precise view of the composer’s intentions.” John Evarts, The New Musical Notation: A Graphic Art?

“The act[s] of composition… seek to give us intimations of the musical thought and Gestalt that only the composer can know.” Jeremy Cox, What I Say and What I Do?

“I, as the composer, have no idea how the piece will sound in performance. And why should I?” Cornelius Cardew

Is it okay if it leads to...

“...something which the composer almost certainly did not intend or predict[?]” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

In this metaphor between scores and recipes, I consider both the composer and performer as cooks, where one has more familiarity with a dish than another. Let us briefly consider the listener or the eater.

“The engagement of the eater, however, further increases the unpredictability of the process, because the taste of a dish – and maybe here we can see a difference, for example, with the auditory perception of a music performance – cannot be recorded.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisations in Cooking and Tasting

We revisit the body to briefly consider the loneliness of the senses. However, what my research is focused on is the making of that which stimulates the senses, not what the sense itself receives. A score does not record what a sound feels like when it is heard, it captures how a sound is produced in the first place. A recipe does not capture the flavor of a bite, it documents how to make a plate full of many bites. A sound exists between bodies, like a meal does, but how that sound felt like and what that meal tasted like is enclosed within a single body. 

“The score must govern the music. It must have authority, and not merely be an arbitrary jumping-off point for improvisation, with no internal consistency.” Cornelius Cardew

In this sense, we can think of having authority as possessing antecedent knowledge. This advantage deems one more eligible to guide a novice other. 

“Where no sound is specified, any sound may occur.” Cornelius Cardew

“There is a great difference between: a) doing anything you like and at the same time reading the notations, and b) reading the notations and trying to translate them into action.” Cornelius Cardew

“[Improvisations] eliminate the possibility of cliches.” Earle Brown, On December 1952

The nature of a recipe does not encourage improvisation, even if it is based on an instance of making that was improvised. What if we prefer to improvise in the kitchen? What good is a recipe then? Perhaps it is through this verb that we can see recipes more as a record of the past than a prompt for the future. I’d prefer to let a cook reinterpret the past than outline their future, to underscore attitude rather than hone in technique. However, some familiarity with technique mixed with willingness to make mistakes is a prerequisite for improvisation. 

“First performed in Tokyo in 1969, the sauerkraut action started with a music stand on which a loose sauerkraut portion was arranged in place of the score. His ‘music’ thus positioned, Beuys would conduct music on stage according to the ‘sauerkraut principle.’ The principle is simple: instead of slavishly obeying aesthetic rules and repeating the recipes of musical scores that dictate what is played, the replacement of the score by sauerkraut allows the musician to improvise freely and be artistically creative.” Harald Lemke, Joseph Beuys: Gastrosophical Aesthetics

To improv is to improve. To improv is to admit comfort with an uncertain spontaneity. To improv is to appreciate variation. To improv is to leave space for nuances.

When you improvise under the guidance of a recipe, you are able to compare what happened to what was predicted to happen.

“As life itself cannot be predicted and controlled, it calls for improvisation.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisation in Cooking and Tasting

“Experience is the only process that can de-alienate information.” Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

“Notation’s ambiguities are its saving grace. Fundamentally, notation is a serviceable device for coping with imponderables. Precision is never of the essence in creative work.” Roberto Gerhard

“Scores have a precision to them in terms of how they should be approached, but this precision is different from playing the right note. It’s more about attitude and a specific trajectory.” Wadada Leo Smith

“The criteria for aesthetically adequate performances lie in the extent to which the performer is technically and spiritually able to recognize and embody the demands of fidelity (NOT exactitude!)” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

The score’s...

“...technical elements offer access to a delayed or mediated auditory perception by way of an embodied process. The interface between score and sound is the artist’s body in the process of musical realisation.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

Notations themselves are the determining factor in the method of composition of a piece, and hence in the piece’s identity and structure. The composer often provides his instructions as an interpretation of the piece. Often, then, these instructions are limiting (at best) and misleading (at worst).” Cornelius Cardew

“One can understand a notation without understanding everything that the notation is able to notate. To abandon notation is therefore a sacrifice; it deprives one of any system of formal guidelines leading you on into uncharted regions. On the other hand, the disadvantage of a traditional notation lies in its formality.” Cornelius Cardew

“The functions of notation in the music are in dire need of a re-complexification.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“A piece that was not going to be performed from left to right did not need to be composed from left to right.” Earle Brown, On December 1952

“A wide spectrum of complexities, complexities that manifest not solely in the notational domain, but also in the acts of performance and reception of these scores.” Stuart Paul Duncan, Re-Complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’

“In addition to a continuing need to devise new notational practices… there is also a need to permanently revisit and reconsider our understanding of past notational systems.” Paulo de Assis, Prelude of Sound and Score

So how can we reconsider the notational system of recipe writing? Does the written word need to be the main medium?

“Words can’t explain what you must learn using your hands and nose and mouth.” Lisa Heldke, Foodmaking as a Thoughtful Practice

“Words rarely capture the immediate emotional assault of a piece of poignant music, which allows the composer to say not ‘It felt something like this,’ but rather ‘Here is the unnamable emotion I felt.’” Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

“Attentiveness, care and appreciation do not need to emerge always through explicit and conceptualized language.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisation in Cooking and Tasting

Why put words to something that didn’t need them in the first place?

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anaïs Nin

“If you don’t know how you like it, what good is it for me to tell you how much rice to put in? And if you don’t already know how to cook it, how is my writing it in a book going to help you learn? You need a teacher—a hands-on teacher—for that. Bodily knowledge is acquired through embodied experience.” Lisa Heldke, Foodmaking as a Thoughtful Practice

“Get to grips with the demands of your ingredients and your appetite rather than the words on the cookbook page.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

Why do we need cookbooks at all?

“Sharing a recipe is the sign of sharing a relationship... they map out networks of relationships.” Janet Theophano, Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote

“[A recipe is] a silent conversation between cook and cooked.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“ has capacities in excess of human intention and interaction, and we must recognize that food has encounters outside of its relation to humans.“ John Cochran, Object Oriented Cookery

“A distinction should be made between the digressive potential of the recipe and the text in which it is embedded. Food, and therefore food writing, as this book has aimed to demonstrate, exerts a centripetal force capable of dragging all sorts of apparently diverse areas into its field: power, politics, sex, violence, national identity, body image, familial relations, the means of production, gender, history, the avant-garde — all these and more have, throughout its history, been considered a reasonable part of the discourse of the cookbook. For the most part, however, the more wildly digressive elements have not formed part of the recipe proper, and have instead been part of introductory material at the start of books or chapters or sections.” Nicola Humble, The Literature of Food

“The male cooks took what were oral traditions and made them textual, and they took the knowledge away from the daily, domestic lives of women who cooked for their family, transforming it into the specialized knowledge of men who would cook for wealthy employers as a job. These two sites of cooking—at home and in public, for free or for wages, by women and by men—came to be identified as the location of lower cooking versus higher cooking, or low and high cuisine.” Gillian Crowther, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food

“The more territorially located recipes are orally based, passed on through experience and conversation from one generation to another; the textually based ones, written up in cookbooks are less located, more mobile, and will be passed on to anyone who can read.” Gillian Crowther, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food

“Creation stories offer a glimpses into the worldview of a people, of how they understand themselves.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“The use of the first-person singular or plural may have been a rhetorical way of establishing a credible teaching situation—authoritative but also open for individual variation—between master and pupil, while the lack of the first person may indicate authority through objectivity and neutrality, expressing a knowledge considered above doubt and not open for discussion—authoritarian rather than authoritative.” Henry Notaker, ‘The Recipe Form’ from A History of Cookbooks

“If ‘langue’ of a certain period can be rendered by way of written documents, its ‘paroles’—the ways we speak the language, the accents, speed, and pitch—are most of the time lost, because they are ephemeral in practice and dynamic across history.” Kathleen Coessens, Exploring Musical Integrity and Experimentation

Language itself can be ephemeral, too. How fast is it fleeting?

“Words blow away. Even thought dissipates like wisps of cloud sailing up the headland. There is only being.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“I think it is interesting when writing permits to operate with language beyond the grammar and logics of habitual communication and the constraints of one single genre, although this of course is not a goal in itself comma but rather a means to form and examine a thought or idea comma via different languages full stop Not adhering to merely one specific linguistic system could be understood as a political statement comma as opposed to the suggested homolinguistic construct that is negligent of the heterolinguistic reality full stop” Cia Rinne, Wasting My Grammar 

“Good language alone will not save mankind. But seeing the things behind the names will help us to understand the structure of the world we live in. Good language will help us to communicate with one another about the realities of our environment, where we now speak darkly, in alien tongues.” Stuart Chase, The Tyranny of Words


“These early modern sugar plantations not only were highly mechanical, with large, fuel-intensive boilers and heavy-duty rolling mills to extract cane juice from stalks, but also served as powerful drivers of ‘simplification’.” Jason W. Moore and Raj Patel, from “Cheap Work of” A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet

“The reasons for the gradual changes in a basic recipe such as one for wheat bread, for instance, are inextricably tangled with man’s history and assumed progress.” M.F.K. Fisher, The Anatomy of a Recipe

“Sometimes messages can’t be merely immediate; they need to last over time.” Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

“Shortening messages meant saving money.” James Gleick, from Chapter 5 of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

“Amount of information represents the amount of uncertainty.” James Gleick, from Chapter 7 of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Thinking about uncertainty. 

“It is only the way of writing the recipe itself that has evolved, to be trimmed to our changing tempo of reading, preparing, producing.” M.F.K. Fisher, The Anatomy of a Recipe

“Time is all too often of the essence in modern recipe-writing. Of course we need convenience, efficiency, a meal on the table in half an hour, but all that at the expense of flavour is counterproductive. What use, after all, is a quick meal that no one enjoys?” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“Where everything becomes simple is the most desirable place to be. But, like Wittgenstein and his ‘harmless contradiction’, you have to remember how you got there. The simplicity must contain the memory of how hard it was to achieve.” Cornelius Cardew

Is this all just about memory?

“Not everything should be convenient.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, in ‘The Honorable Harvest’ from Braiding Sweetgrass

“Complexity—not to be confused with complication!—is a prerequisite of any great art wishing to satisfy not only the sense of feelings, but also the mind.” Harry Halbreich

How complex can design be? 

“‘The mind,’ which was once ‘the place where you sounded like yourself,’ is rapidly becoming the place where ‘we [sound] like each other, through some erosion of wind or water on a self not nearly as firm as stone.’” Becca Rothfeld, on Patrica Lockwood’s work

When we make a map, we compress a scale otherwise uncontainable. What can maps teach us about recipes?

“The recipe is like a map: it is not a representation of the field, but is, rather, an invitation, a field of affordances.” Nicola Perullo, Improvisations in Cooking and Tasting

“The fact that you know what lies ahead does not lessen the pleasure of getting there.” Thom Eagle, First, Catch

“These are not ‘instructions’ like commandments, though, or rules; rather, they [the Original Instructions] provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Here are a few of the texts next on my reading queue. The takeaways I have from these will eventually be incorporated into the reflections on this page above. 

Roland Barthes’s Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption

Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Anne Bower‘s Romanced by Cookbooks

Frances Butler’s Eating the Image: The Graphic Designer and the Starving Audience

Colleen Cotter’s Claiming a Piece of the Pie: How the Language of Recipes Defines Community 

Sean A. Day’s The Human Sensoria and a Synaesthetic Approach to Cooking

Thierry de Duve’s When Form Has Become Attitude — And Beyond

John Dunn and Mary Anne Clark’s "Life Music": The Sonification of Proteins

Josette Féral and Ronald P. Bermingham’s Theatricality: The Specificity of Theatrical Language

Orion Edgar’s Things Seen and Unseen

Megan Elias’s Food on the Page

Lisa Heldke’s In Praise of Unreliability

Colin Lawson’s Nourishment, Body and Soul: Modern Performers, Diverse Tastes

Jill Lepore’s The Cobweb: Can the Internet be archived?

Maya Lin’s Making the Memorial

Bruno Munari’s The Shape of Words

Henry Notaker’s A History of Cookbooks 

David Sutton’s Cooking Skills the Senses and Memory the Fate of Practical Knowledge

Fran Tonkiss’s Aural Postcards: Sound, Memory and the City

Wendy Wall’s Recipes for Thought

Nicole L. Woods’s Taste Economies: Alison Knowles, Gordon Matta-Clark and the intersection of food, time and performance

And many more...