I doubt that one of the people with the biggest influences on me would even remember my name.
Study the basic concepts of figure, ground, line, contrast, pattern, proportion, color, symmetry, movement, unity, and balance. Students learn the principles of two- and three-dimensional design and develop language to analyze product design, plate presentations, decoration, and packaging on visual, tactile, and conceptual levels.
In 2004, I was quite young, yet already three years into my culinary career, and already terribly jaded. I had an associates degree in culinary arts, and had worked in several restaurants of varying quality, back of the house, front of the house, a little bit of everything. And I was accepted to what is probably still considered “the Harvard of culinary schools” into the baking and pastry program.
I had started out my culinary career as wanting to pursue the savory side, and that the sweet side was all wedding cakes, bread, and bakeries – nothing I was interested in. It was midway through my associates degree that I fell in love with pastry. With pastry, you could make anything you wanted utilizing several fundamental ingredients – namely sugar, butter, eggs, flour. And suddenly it was like my world opened. With savory food, you were tied to ingredients and keeping those ingredients recognizable. Who would want to eat a chicken thigh that looks like a flower? Baking did not have aesthetic limits.
Which is how I found my way to The Culinary Institute of America, and specifically to Bruce Ostwald’s Principles of Design class, the first college level art class I ever took. Sure, the curriculum was based around food, creating plates that would have interesting textures and colors, as well as incorporating different complementary flavors and temperatures. But at the heart of this class was design – art. Visuals. Contrast. Texture. Negative space. Color. Movement. So while I was trying my hardest to continue cramming knowledge about food into my brain, my heart was learning something else – creativity. Expressing myself through a variety of mediums.
The problem was, sugar and chocolate couldn’t hold my interest. I was too interested in people, and when you make food, you have essentially no contact with the people you’re making it for.
Less than two years later that I returned to school, and this time I was aiming for art history. I had picked up some culinary French, and I had always had an interest in architecture, so art history made sense.
Until it didn’t.
At 22, I had just spent five years working towards a career that I really enjoyed, but that felt somewhat lacking in the practicality department – the restaurant world is very difficult to have a family in, and making a living wage seemed downright impossible – I had the best culinary school in the country on my resume and was only able to command $9/hour with no benefits. What sort of career could a bachelor’s degree in art history give me? On top of that, I felt like an anomaly – my peers were just graduating with their four year degrees, and I was already well on my way to being career changer.
So while the practical side of me chose something that was somewhat more useful – a bachelor’s in psychology is applicable in a variety in positions, though not exactly a career jump starter – I used everything in the rest of my background’s arsenal, including my interest in my father’s long time career, to gain enough momentum to create another career for myself. Which, over the years, I have turned into my day job.
And then there is the creative side, which you see here, where the spark that was discovered through Mr. Ostwald’s design class has been a glowing ember and has turned into a bonfire. Only, it’s in jewelry, rather than food. Because I can work one on one with my clients, and hopefully create something that they hold dear for years, or even generations, to come.
My most memorable piece in my principles of design class was mixed media on blue background, with diamonds cut from magazine ads exploding outwards. I should have known.