How Art, Creativity, and Cooking Are Connected in My Kitchen

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Mercedes Leon)

Today we welcome a new contributor to our Kitchen Diaries series: Mercedes Leon, a pescatarian (but mostly vegan) cook who lives in Amsterdam with her husband and four children. We’re so excited to welcome Mercedes and her point of view to The Kitchn. Meet Mercedes! — Faith

My journey begins fifty-one years ago on the island of Cuba. By that time the revolution had already succeeded and Castro had become the leader of the country. The new government instituted food ratios in order to try to equalize food distribution in the country.

As a result, besides often not getting enough to eat, much of the food that was available to the general population was simple and basic.

Luckily I (as well as many other Cubans) had a very creative abuela who was an artist in the kitchen. To me this meant that with the often limited ingredients available to her she was able to create simple, traditional, and delicious dishes. I learned from her, but it wasn’t until many years later when I became seriously interested in cooking that I made a connection between my grandmother’s simple and creative way of cooking and the scarcity of that time.

Although creativity may seem to be the result of affluence and abundance of resources, I have been thrilled to experience how with just a few simple ingredients one can perform magic in the kitchen. As a result good cooking for me is the art of turning simple, mostly plant based ingredients into beautiful and nutritious dishes.

Life takes all source of turns and I ended up as a classical musician, which has had me hooked on art, beauty and creativity long after I decided to move on from my career as a musician. I see art happening all the time, everywhere, and believe that art is something that all of us humans do, and we do a lot of it. Not only are we all productive artists in our daily lives, but our lives are like works of art in and of themselves: novels, short stories, poems, paintings, songs, sculptures, dances, deliciously spicy, bland, tasty and colourful dishes. Becoming aware of our daily works of art will enhance the quality of our lives and give more meaning to them.

Cooking is one of the activities in which I engage daily, and just like most other activities it can be experienced as a vehicle for self expression and creativity. Home cooked meals may not be the kind of works of art which you find in museums or concert halls, but the essence of it is the same: combining ideas with a sense of purpose and creativity, and as a result receiving and giving insight from and to the world around us. Cooking is a medium I have chosen to inspire and awaken awareness of the way that I and others engage in daily works of art.

As with any form of art the art of cooking is inseparable from our own personal stories, our memories and associations. Therefore I thought it important to let you into my world of foods and how foods participate in my world.

Just as with most choices, my food choices partly define who I am. There are are stories and feelings behind many of the dishes that I regularly cook for my family. Some are dishes which are reminiscent of my Cuban background, some reflect a certain Spanish influence from my mother’s side and from having lived in Spain as a child; many have an American influence as a result of having spent a big part of my youth living there; and of course there are Dutch influences behind some, since Holland is where my adult family life takes place as wife and mother of four children.

Most of the food I cook is vegan because that is how my cooking has mostly been for the last 15 years. Plant based cooking has been my basis since I became health conscious 20 years ago, and five years later when I came across macrobiotics.

But, my journey with foods did not come to a halt with those discoveries and my fascination with cooking has continued to grow and develop beyond the confines of philosophies and trends. My goal has been to combine ideas with a sense of purpose, receiving and giving insight from and to the world around us. I don’t consider myself an official vegan since I will occasionally bake with eggs and sometimes eat fish, but my heart is and most likely will remain with the magical world of plant based foods.

→ Visit Mercedes’ personal blog: The Art Is Cooking