By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director
When I started cooking (well over twenty years ago), society was still squarely in the analog realm. With no formal training—and no Internet—I would seek out and devour whatever limited information I could find, and my sources were few and far between. I relentlessly pored over anything I could get my hands on: namely, outdated cooking school textbooks and a pile of stained, yellowed, hand-written notebooks that I found on a shelf in the kitchen at my first bakery job. Cookbooks and dog-eared magazines were like trophies, rites of passage as I earned my stripes, and the wait for each new source of inspiration seemed interminable.
With the emergence of new technologies, the evolution of cooking has enjoyed an exponential rate of innovation and creativity. One can only imagine the freedom cooks suddenly felt with the invention of gas-fired ovens or the speed with which they completed manual tasks once kitchens were wired with electricity. Most recently, the culture of food has been propelled by the advent of information technology. In an instant, the Internet provided quick access to information, and cooks in all corners of the globe no longer toiled in obscurity. The nature in which we communicate and share information continues to manifest in new forms. Chat forums, blogs and social media have, without question, changed the way we process information. And they surely have changed how we cook: how we learn about food, how we shop for it and how we document what we eat. Today, culinary creativity is no longer relegated to the ranks of professional cooks; a large segment of our culture regularly expresses itself through the lens of food.
I truly believe that chefs are inherently generous in nature and that this cycle of sharing and exchange is what moves cooking forward. I love that professionals and novices alike are blogging and tweeting their latest successes, failures and works in progress. This open exchange has thrown open the kitchen doors, linking chefs on a global level. But this democratization of publishing can seem overwhelming, as there is quite a lot of static to sift through on the web. Trends and fads emerge and then disappear in a nanosecond. And some of us older cooks might claim that the next generation of cooks has it too easy, that all of this “free” information is a shortcut around paying one’s dues in a traditional sense.
Yet even this “old dog” of the kitchen embraces social media and the new tricks to be found in its endless stream of bytes. Beyond a passive means of relaying information, social media can provide a launching point for new forms of collaboration. A few years back, a twitter conversation among peers led to a series of pastry-centric events across the country under the banner of Killed By Dessert; it even inspired regional spin-offs created by other groups of chefs. More recently, I swapped Instagram accounts with Chris Ford, a rising star among the next generation of American pastry chefs, creating a dialogue and the spread of ideas among our wider, combined audience. And on the most basic level, social media has helped me create or maintain professional friendships that may otherwise have fizzled without face-to-face contact.
Yet deciding how to interact with this new social world isn’t without its challenges. A growing industry of social media experts has evolved, providing counsel on how to optimize an online presence and boost one’s brand. Personally, I’ve defined my approach to social media not by obsessing over the number of followers, likes or retweets, but rather to focus on contributing quality content—an engaging photo, a recipe or a new idea I am researching—sometimes tailoring the message to a specific platform. Moreover, I’ve learned that while a consistent output of ideas can generate attention, true exchange is a two-way street. That means sharing the work of others and stirring up conversation, as the most interesting discoveries often take place when information flows in many directions. Last but not least, I keep my content professional; even with the short attention span of social media, character reverberates far and wide in cyberspace.
I still see value in spending time with my stacks of books, but I am equally drawn to the real-time access to kitchens across the globe and down the street. Though some users may have a broader reach than others, the democratic nature of the evolving social medium is, in and of itself, inspiring to me. The opportunity to contribute to the virtual dialog has, in subtle ways, pushed my work in new directions and boosted my productivity. The chance to share the results and receive feedback from others then becomes the icing on the cake!
Click here for a full list of advanced pastry classes with Chef Michael.