A few weeks ago when explaining why winemaking is sometimes more like an art than a craft, I made a distinction between objects that are created from a preconceived plan vs. those that take on a life of their own as they are being created. Unlike a craftsman who works from a preconceived plan, an artist typically has only a vague idea of what the final product will look or sound like and she is using skill to explore and discover how the work should develop. The end only emerges in the process and often surprises the artist.
Famed chef Jacques Pépin makes a similar point about cooking:
When writing a recipe, one records a moment in time which can never be duplicated exactly again. The paradox is that the recipe tells the reader, this must be done this way, when, in fact, to get the result you’re looking for, the recipe has to be modified each time.
The exact reproduction of a taste, which is what the making of a dish is, only works when the processes, timing, and ingredients are adjusted and changed to fit each particular situation.
Pépin is talking about the execution of a dish rather than its conception. But it is an interesting point nevertheless—the chef has to be constantly adapting to circumstances and the proper execution of a dish is not about strict adherence to a recipe but making modifications on the fly much like a jazz musician improvising around a theme.