Kitchen Experiments

Teaching Students The Art Of Food

While 6 ingredientsworking on a Fine Arts Exploration Day for students at our high school, I wanted to offer a session of my own, so I came up with “The Art Of Food.” I have had title for several weeks, but I had no idea what the session would look like. Is making food an art? Especially if you aren’t a chef but just a regular old cook like me?

Well, for my purposes, making food had to be an art, so I had to make it fit. I pondered a less-is-more theme, a kind of minimalism, to show students, probably using pizza, that overwhelming a crust with a huge pile of toppings undermined the overall taste. But then I started getting interested in the ingredients themselves, especially a limited number of ingredients that might seem restrictive unless a food maker got creative and kept using them in, at least slightly, different ways.

Keeping my pizza idea and expanding on it a little bit, I came up with a short list of ingredients that I knew walk-in-the-door student cooks could work with. Six ingredients. I also cheated a bit, deciding that herbs and spices (and garlic) would be free additions and not part of the six ingredients.

What I wanted to show students was that an “artist” working with the same six ingredients could see different ways to use those ingredients, depending on the context, depending on the purpose, depending on the inspiration. An artist would highlight some ingredients and downplay others.

I wanted to show them that the constraints of a limited “palette” of flavors could have rich and varied possibilities–fresh vs. aged or dried, hot vs. cold, separate vs. combined, bread vs. pasta, chopped vs. whole. Because that is where the aesthetic sensibilities of art come into play–choices about Beauty and what makes it. So here were my basics:

6 ingredients


With herbs and spices–salt, basil, lemon, pepper, garlic

And here’s how I put the 18 students in each session to work creating different food projects with some or all of those ingredients:

Group 1:
Caprese salad–fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, sliced onions, fresh basil, and a vinaigrette made of olive oil, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper.

Group 2:
Pizza margherita–fresh pizza dough, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, and basil added after it comes out of the oven.

Group 3:
Pizza with prosciutto, onion, fresh mozzarella, good-quality Italian tomato sauce, but topped with restraint so that all of the ingredients can stand out.

Group 4:
One-Pan Pasta–the Martha Stewart one that Amanda wrote about, with dried linguine, cherry tomatoes, sliced onions, garlic, basil, olive oil, and water all cooked together over high heat.

This may not seem novel to you, but let me tell you, for an average high school student, at least the boys I work with, they don’t give a lot of thought about how things are made or what is in them. It would not occur to them that so many different dishes are basically the same ingredients.

They will not know, though I will tell them, that we could have made calzones, too, or panzella. And they may not quite get the bread or the pizza dough, either; because of the time limitations I have made those in advance.

But I think they will understand the six ingredients. I think that they will grasp that we have taken just a few things and opened, however slightly, the doors of possibility. And I hope, more than anything, that they have discovered the “beauty” of making food for themselves. Because whether it is an art or whether it is only a craft or just a skill, the ability to do so is the ultimate freedom of expression.



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About Bob Bires

Bob Bires serves as an administrator and English teacher at a private boys' school in Tennessee. He makes a mean pizza. Follow him on Twitter: @bobbires.

  • Trout King

    You rule, Bob! Sounds like they learned a lot, though not how to make your insane brisket!