Kenny Shopsin’s Creative Process

As promised earlier, here is an excerpt from Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin about creativity.

“Cooking, for me, is a creative process, and I believe that people who are creative are creative for one of two reasons: Either they are going for truth and beauty, or they create as a way to dilute the venom produced by the subconscious minds. I cook for the second reason. When I cook, I am in a cathartic, recuperative process that calms me down and brings me from a neurotic state to a relaxed, functioning state.” ……

“I am not an Alice Waters type of cook who is inspired by ingredients and builds from there. The inspiration is mine — it comes from within me. But as a creative person, ingredients are the tangible medium I work with, so when I am inspired, when I am in the therapeutic, creative process of cooking, I start looking around, and the more ingredients I have, the more creative I can be.”

Cooking as creative therapy is certainly familiar to many us. When my children were young, cooking was a major creative outlet that I could share with my family everyday. I fondly remember my oldest sitting on the counter discovering new tastes as I was discovering new techniques and ingredients. Cooking became a visceral form of philosophy for me. I like Shopsin’s compulsive sense of creativity as a self-recovering urge. And, that his relationship with ingredients is collaborative rather than instructive. The emphasis on more….abundance, multiplicity, contradiction, duality (ying-yang bowls) reflects in his recipes. He is not searching for the true and the authentic. He talks about his “culinary fictions” that are dishes not authentically ethnic, like Carmine Street Enchiladas, but “feels” to him Mexican, Brazilian or Greek.

From a design historian point of view I see him adopting the early 20th century Aesthetic Movement stance that aspired to convey the sense and feel of  a culture, to mix and match as the designer or artist saw fit. It was a philosophy that embraced the joy of life and the freedom of artists, appropriately championed by Oscar Wilde. It was an era that produced incredibly standardization resistant, subjective and creative things like this, tongue vase by Christopher Dresser. IF

I feel like Kenny Shopsin would appreciate this vase. Although I don’t think we’ll find it at Walmart anytime soon.



Eat me – Shopsin’s Philosophy


Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin is most definitely one of my favorite, cooking, food writing, philosophy and design books. Its witty, thoughtful, informative, blatantly honest and at times appropriately NYC gritty. I enjoy the images, as much as the words, that are profoundly mundane and real. Shopsin’s philosophy  implicitly fuels his life, cooking, business and becomes explicit, almost belatedly,  in his epilogue about the art of staying small,

“Running a restaurant for me is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get someplace else. I wake up every morning and work for a living like a farmer. Running a restaurant is a condition of life for me. And I like everything about this life. I like waking up in the morning knowing I am going to the restaurant to cook, that something unexpected will happen to me in the kitchen, and that no matter what, I will learn something new. I like the actual process of cooking. I like shopping for the food that I cook, and I like my interactions with the people I meet while shopping. I like my customers, and I like working with my kids. It is a simple existence, but for me the beauty is in that simplicity. These are the things that bring me pleasure — and they bring me great pleasure on an extremely regular basis.

Living this way, pursuing your own happiness, is addictive and it’s the way I have tried to conduct my life. What this means is doing what it takes to make yourself feel good each day, not to make yourself less good today in the hopes that your life will be good in ten years because you’re working really hard now or because your property will be worth more money then. The way I figure it, if you make everyday of your life as happy as you can, nobody can take that away from you. It’s in the bank.”

Shopsin’s insistence on experience, on being in the present, on owning one’s pleasure, on loving a complete process, all point to his pragmatic life affirming philosophy just as his extensive menu is evidence of his lust for experimentation, learning and innovation. Next time, a quote about his thoughts on creativity. In the meantime,  read the book and its recipes. Its about food, philosophy and design that is perfect reading for hungry philosophers everywhere.