Transcript: Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges by Jose Andres

José Andrés, chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup, presents Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges at TEDxMidAtlantic 2011 event. Here is the full transcript of the TEDx talk.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Creativity in cooking can solve our biggest challenges by Jose Andres at TEDxMidAtlantic 2011


Well, I don’t know about you but today, I learned many things. I learned that, actually, astronomers don’t have all the ingredients with them, or that they don’t know many of the ingredients in the universe.

Cooks… We do. And it’s funny that she’s using liquid nitrogen, when I use liquid nitrogen to cook, and I’m so happy we found water in very distant and far away countries — very far away planets.

With water, I can cook — I know I have а job… forever.

Why am I here? I would love to believe it’s because I have something important to share with you, but I have a feeling that all my TED friends, in a very busy weekend in Washington, they wanted the excuse of — why ask me for a reservation — They invite me to speak, they go to other places.

But we are here to talk about more important things. I’m a chef — I’m a chef and I cook for the few, but, really, I want to be cooking for the world. I want to create the spark.

And how we create the spark being a chef? We create the spark through creativity. I know lunch is coming. Are you hungry? Sometimes, guys, to be creative, the only thing we have to be doing is — Why not? Looking at the stars, maybe, Andromeda, or maybe, a far away galaxy, it’s a way to get inspired. I just got inspired by these amazing presentations.

Sometimes, you only have to do simple things as these. I’m going to start now. Why? Because the world needs me to start.

But creativity doesn’t happen, you know, in the middle of a beach, doing nothing, under a palm tree… No! I’ve never created anything in the beach, I only get burned by the sun. Actually, creativity will only happen when I’m surrounded by high energy environments that keep all of these ideas coming and coming, and keeps you alive.

Well, sometimes, to look for new creative ways we don’t need to look into the big things, we need to concentrate in the small ones. Sometimes, we need to be looking into the big ones, because that can be what creates a small idea. What is big can be small, and what’s small can become huge. We have no time to waste, but in order to be creative, people of the world, we have to make sure that we will not be afraid to look beyond the horizon that we don’t know what’s behind.

To take really that challenge of saying, “I’m going to move away from my comfort zone and I’m going to reach beyond what I don’t know.” This is really how we become creative. Where, sometimes, light can be what makes us blind, or what gives us the light to help us begin with a new creation.

Sometimes, using a simple piece of paper, writing one word or one phrase can begin something amazing. But here is… what important things start. Sometimes, very simple ideas — very simple ideas can achieve fascinating things.

Take a look at something like what we have in front of us every day of our lives. How many of you have had a glass of water today? Great! What did you do with it, besides drinking it? You didn’t talk to it, you didn’t ask, what can I do today with this glass of water that has never been done before?

Well, funny thing is that if I take risks, and if I move away from my comfort zone, that meaning not going to the market to get inspired, or opening a cookbook to get inspiration, but maybe, going to Harvard or MIT, where I have no clue what those scientists are talking about — but I’m taking the risk of making a fool of myself only because it’s worth it — and I understand that I can defy gravity — And I can control the water by understanding the pressure — the low pressure that is formed inside. And understanding a little bit about water surface tension — Wow, I am being creative, right here, right now!

At the end, guys, you know, a simple ingredient, like water, can be helping me to come up with something fascinating from a very old ingredient — and water is quite old.

But at the low end, I can learn new ways to cook in a clean and efficient way. You know, guys, we’ve been cooking with fire for hundreds of thousands of years. That was almost the beginning of creativity in cooking! Yes? But it’s so funny.

Today, hundred of thousands of years after we began controlling fire, we use that same fire to cook on a Sunday for our friends. Why? Because we’re rich and powerful, and we have the charcoal, and we have the money to buy the meat that can feed our friends, and because we are men, and we know how to cook.

But this is not laughing. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution, reaching to the stars, going to the moon — and still people are living lives, as we used to live them hundreds of thousands of years ago.

This is what the advance of humanity has helped us – for having people that to achieve fire — what takes me a second, it takes them hours — They had to search for the wood — these girls get in danger because they’re alone in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. They can be raped, because they’re looking for the fuel to cook their food. They have no time to go to school, so they have no future because they receive no education.

Wow! And here we come… to corn; a grain that is everywhere to be found in America. For thousands of years, civilizations have been living around corn. Let me show you creativity.

With corn we feed the cattle, when, actually, we should feed the cattle with grass. It’s smarter, but no, we use it to feed those cattle that will produce meat. And with corn we are able to come out with oil, that is going to fry those potatoes. And with corn we can make syrup that help us to make ketchup. And believe it or not, with corn, also, we can make a great soda! Wow! With corn we’re even able to make the paper! Creativity at it best! I cannot beat that, guys.

So, the fun part is that I could be telling you how many things are wrong about these, but the truth is that a burger is a paradigm of the complexities of how we feed humanity. But I’m not going to be only blaming them, we are all here to be blamed. It’s a responsibility for everyone to be feeding people. Actually, you know one thing? You think that people coming to my restaurant, me, the great chef, José Andrés, I am not part of the best city problem?

Or, you know what about the environment? Who put more CO2, me or the fast food companies? A fast food restaurant receives two deliveries a week if — Do you know how many I receive? Sometimes 50 or 60. I need to be pragmatic if we want to feed the world. Actually, I put more CO2 in the environment than maybe those fast food companies that sometimes we complain about.

But no, I’m not being paid by them, I only know that I need to be pragmatic if I want my boys to be respected, and we can use creativity to bring everyone to the table, and bring riches — Are you with me?

So here I’m going to show you my creativity. Who likes almonds? Come on! Are you hungry? Are you hungry up there? Who likes cheese? Almond and cheese, right? That’s simple. Piece of cake!

Let me show you what I do when I’m willing to move away from my comfort zone — I’m pushing the envelope — Let me show you creativity my way.

I think this is the first cooking video in the history of TED. Almonds are being fried — Olive oil — Those almonds are brown, tasty. We add water; the same water that we may find in a very distant planet, in another galaxy. And here we’re going to be blending those almonds. And we’re going to be freezing that almond puree. And we’re going to use technology. We’re going to be making this amazing puree of almond, like almond butter.

Now, we’re going to be using some cream and we’re going to be mixing again. Any food critic here? Great, I’m lucky.

And now, we add liquid nitrogen. And take a look when we move away from the comfort zone what we can do for the few — By getting a ladle, a beautiful metal ladle — we’re able to introduce it into this milk of almonds, and a very thin layer is going to be attached to the ladle. We reintroduce the ladle. We change the temperature, and we’re going to be able to separate the almonds. The almonds were hard, they become liquid, they are hard again, but now, we change the texture. We have the power to do that. We have the power to use creativity. And you can do one, and you can do another, and this is telling me that there is hope, because we can do amazing things with simple ingredients.

If we apply heat, it melts again. We get the cheese, and we’re going to show you how to make a mousse, that, actually, if we want it, I can make that same mousse without cream and fat, only water… only water. No more fat in mousses!

But this one has cheese. We make the mousse, we fill up the beautiful almond cups. People of America, two humble ingredients elevated to a new dimension, great.

So, this is creativity for a chef, but how can I put this creativity that only feeds the few to feed the many?

Brillat-Savarin, 1826, one of the most amazing food philosophers in the history of mankind — “The destiny of the nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves.” Wow! I think our politicians, but also ourselves — we’ve forgotten such an amazing, powerful, powerful phrase. You know, almost two centuries after he wrote this, we still face, sometimes in America, but around the world, obesity and hunger. How is it possible that some, we can be so overweight, while others barely know what to put into their mouths?

But you know, I would love to talk to you about how to produce food, but today I want to talk to you about how we cook and handle that food, because it can be equally important. We need to make sure that we start — we need to stop throwing money into the problem, and really start investing money into true solutions. And understanding the power of food, and the power of cooking and creativity, this could be a great beginning.

Take a look at this. This is Haiti. Do you see the garbage? Where do you think this garbage came from, people? Where? It came from overseas. Yes, we have goodwill; we went there to help. But look at all the trash we bring with ourselves in the process of helping. No one is really even thinking about it, how to take care of the garbage.

Creativity, and cooking and thinking about food, can help us to move this forward. I had a friend who had this simple, humble idea of getting a newspaper – if you’re Republican you know which one to use — If you’re a Democrat, too. And he had a party but he didn’t have a lot of money, and he needed a creative way to be saving money. And it was at this time, that such a simple thing as grabbing a piece of paper — a simple piece of paper — and transforming the beautiful paper into something so simple as a place to put peanuts, you will have a plate to support the peanuts that will allow you to eat them, you will have a place to put the garbage next. Simple ideas, people, can be helping to feed the world, and we need to keep thinking, and thinking hard. A newspaper can only be the beginning.

But take a look at this, what do we have here? Here we have clean cookstoves. A woman cooking with wood and charcoal, but those cookstoves are cleaner now. Cleaner means that, even if she’s using wood and charcoal, she’s using, probably, 60% to 70% less. So, by using less we cut less trees, by leaving trees in the forest, the rain, that we’re supposed to be celebrating because rain means water, and water means life. That rain doesn’t create life. That rain creates death because we cut the trees, and nothing, no roots to give life to that soil, and when the water comes down from the mountains, it takes away lives, homes, and the only fertile soil that we have left… Wow! And we could be using this to make briquettes. With paper and organic matter that can help us to have clean cookstoves that are part of the solution — feeding people, giving them opportunities, taking care of the environment, all with a simple idea.

I use many clean cookstoves, some use briquettes, other ones use pellets, other ones use charcoal, but other ones will use alcohol. There’s hope, we know how to do it, we know how to feed people, but we need to be really investing in true research and development, because research and development cannot be only part of the big corporations of the world. If we don’t start applying creativity, research and development into the third world, we will never have hope for those people that need it the most. And this was my simple contribution.

Why we don’t cook with CO2 zero emissions? Solar kitchens, it’s not the only way. I believe in many ways, but this is almost the dream way. I went there, many times, not trying to impose the white man philosophy, but trying to listen. Because these people in the third world, they only want from us, not our pity, but our respect, and they want us to listen to them, so we can really help them, and not imposing solutions that no one believes in.

And I did a simple thing – Creativity. The same creativity that uses the sun. A creativity that I used to feed six people. I painted this in black, with black we attract the sun, with the sun we’re able to steam water very, very quick — as quick as that — And forgive me for the video, it was with my phone.

[Video Clip: “I’m cooking lentils and I’m only using the sun, Wow! Clean cookstoves are a great way to cook.”]

Creativity in cooking can help solve, can really help solve the biggest challenges in our world. Creativity can be the way to teach people again how to feed themselves, by giving them the power of knowing how to cook. Through education we can achieve that.

Education and creativity will be key. If we really give people, like in Haiti, the tools through creativity to feed themselves, the world has hope.

Cooking is what makes us uniquely human, it’s what differentiate us from everyone else on this Earth. Creativity and cooking, guys, can give us hope that we may have a better world tomorrow.

I would like to use another phrase of Brillat-Savarin, “Show me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”

An important phrase, but I will ask Mr. Brillat-Savarin to allow me, in a humble way, to help me update this powerful phrase. I think from now on, it should be, “Show me how you cook, and I will tell you who you really are.”

My name is José Andrés. I know I feed the few but I really want to be part of the solution of feeding the world.

Thank you very much.


By Pangambam S

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