October 26, 2015

The Other Culinary Arts: Food Designer


Drawing Parallels: Design with Culinary Perspective

I have always been a graphic designer by trade; someone who manages the visuals of type and image to convey ideas and messages. This work divides my time between an active design studio and a teaching commitment. As a practicing graphic designer, I relied heavily on sight, sound, and tactile senses to envision and create pieces. I often wondered how I could sharpen my other, less-used senses. What kind of training would assist me in enhancing all the human senses that I have?

My idea of how to accomplish this was unusual, and would turn out to be extremely demanding. I wanted to enroll at the CIA. I wanted to learn and go beyond the aspect of cooking fundamentals to understand and develop my less-practiced senses of taste and smell.

If looked at closely, the design and culinary professions are quite closely related. They share the activities of gathering elements, working through a creative process, and arriving at a refined result that makes a statement. Beyond the physicality of preparation—speed and timing—I began to appreciate the role of food’s shape, size, texture, color, temperature, balance, mouth feel, and taste.

I was propelled forward by the idea that what one could make and combine was endless.

Paramount in this culinary experience was my discovery that food could have hierarchical layers of importance in order to craft a successful result. What is primary, what plays a secondary role, and what perhaps is the tertiary expression that becomes a component in the food being made? I was so involved in this new media of food that I barely noticed my looming graduation date or the job offers that were coming in. I ended up working in the food industry for two years, honing my culinary skills and senses before turning back to my graphic design projects and career.

Today, I maintain my own design office and have a multitude of professional projects, some of which are restaurant branding and menu design. I also teach full-time at a university. I often find myself presenting graphic design principles using explanations that are culinary-minded. Everyone understands the universality of food, so teaching this way is both powerful and memorable. When a class project is about restaurant identity and menu design, we discuss the size of type, the shapes of letterforms, the spacing and readability of lines, and the hierarchy of elements of the page. That is typical for designers. What is special is our discussion of food and the parallels between food and design, and the total participation of students as they share their food memories. The projects’ final results are enhanced by embracing the relationship between the design and culinary worlds. Mine is not the typical result of an education at The Culinary Institute of America, but it is a lively and satisfying one for me.

Aleanna Luethi-Garrecht was an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz. Sadly, before publication she passed away. We honor her memory by printing her piece as she would have wished in the CIA Alumni Magazine, Mise en Place.