Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Chefs Don’t Just Stir the Pot

As a denizen of the Gulf coast beaches, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the BP oil spill and its ill effects on the environment. Also, the fact that entire countries are blocking Internet sites because of campaigns to draw pictures of a dead dude have come into my periphery. Stories of tornadoes raging through Tornado Alley fill my news sources, and there are always several wars going on to keep me on edge.

But I think we need a break from all that; at least for a little while. Let’s talk about something else.

Seems there’s a new culture emerging in the culinary world fueled by pot. Many top chefs are smoking weed, not only to chill after a stressful workday, but to fuel their creativity in creating and preparing amazing dishes.

Now if you’ve ever had the munchies before, you’re probably thinking, “Duh! Of course it will help them discover what’s delicious.” And maybe the culinary world is the perfect place for that type of creativity enhancement.

But what of drugs and creativity in general?

There has been debate over whether drugs influence genius in music, art, and even science. The late comedian, Bill Hicks, had a great bit about this where he suggested you throw all your albums away if you don’t think they were influenced by drugs.

But what do you think? 

Do drugs spark creativity? Have you had sparks of creativity that you credit to recreational substances? Have you had sparks of creativity that you credit to being stone cold sober? Are the chefs being innovative, or are they in danger of focusing too much on sweet and fatty dishes? Do you enjoy food more while “enhanced” with wine, booze, other?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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64 Comments

  1. From my limited knowledge and experience with illicit substances, my hypothesis would be that they reduce your inhibitions. By doing so, you mix things together you wouldn’t normally, because…you just don’t care, resulting in a new creation. Afterwards, sampling it when you/someone else is sober can help seperate the wheat from the chaff.

    (I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but can I get a groan for that?)

  2. The same receptors that drugs activate in your brain that makes you feel pleasant are the same that make you pay attention to things and think they are important. Drug-induced epiphanies don’t make any more sense than half-baked ideas to adapt what your dreams into a movie script. But you have the illusion that you this is a really good idea.

    If you can’t push the limits in creativity sober, than you want to learn to do it sober so you can do more with it. If you learn to do it on drugs, it’s going to become the only way you can get new ideas.

    Everything good I’ve ever made in my life came while I was stone-cold sober and I think I’ll keep it that way.

  3. I’ve never done drugs so I can’t comment on that. Alcohol makes me think I’m more clever than I am in more or less direct proportion to the dose. In the cold light of day whatever I’ve done, writing usually, is only fit for the bit-bucket.

    Oddly enough sleep deprivation inspires tremendous bursts of creativity in me. There is nothing like a sleepless night to get the creative juices flowing the next day. The problem is summoning the energy to write the ideas down.

  4. I used to find that weed made me creative. Then it made me sleepy, which was also good for those insomniac nights. Then one day I started to notice how much more potent weed was becoming. I live only a few hours drive from the interior of British Columbia, where the best weed on earth is grown. I’ve never been a regular pot smoker, but even I could tell that it was getting nuts. Finally, there came a day when after a few puffs I couldn’t focus on the plot of America’s Next Top Model, and I knew it was time to stop.

    I don’t think drugs (or at least weed) make you more creative, I think we THINK they make us more creative. It’s a part of the ritual for a lot of people to smoke a joint as a means to priming the creative juices, but I’d be willing to bet it was more of a mental process than a drug induced process.

    Also, as a musician I can say that acid is the worst thing ever. I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen too many bands full of friends of mine who drop tabs and get on stage. End result? Too much feedback and holding a single chord thinking you’re Eddie Vetter when you actually sound like Eddie Munster.

    Of course, all this should go under the blanket statement that I don’t do drugs presently and in the past was only a very minor user of very minor drugs. Real drug users might have their own testimonial evidence that makes mine look like poop.

  5. I smoke the sticky far more than I drink (alcohol is way harsh on my insides), and my writing tends to be a lot better when I’m high, even when I’m doing some fairly complicated technical writing, probably because I’m much more relaxed and less stressed about the final product. However, smoking is not going to incapacitate most people like alcohol does, and long-time smokers such as myself have a far, far easier time doing normal and/or mundane tasks while high than someone who doesn’t smoke often or at all. I wouldn’t smoke before or during my actual job (that does not sound at all fun), but for writing or certain other projects, it really does help.

  6. @biguglyjim: but I’d be willing to bet it was more of a mental process than a drug induced process.

    I don’t know about that. Do you think Pink Floyd would have been able to make the music they did without the aid of drugs? I don’t think so. Hell, look at bands like Aerosmith, who are now sober and pretty lame.

    But everyone is different, and not everyone reacts the same way to the same things.

    Also, I’ve done acid once before, many years ago. I would imagine it might help the creative juices flow for SOME things, because your personal world is so different when you’re tripping, but being on stage? LOL, no.

  7. I don’t think drugs can make someone who is not creative into a creative genius, but for someone with that mindset, they can help. Writer’s block isn’t unique to writing, and I think that the one thing drugs can do is to alter your approach to a creative problem. It can help you visualize a different direction or more vividly see the picture or feel the feeling that you want to inspire in the observer.

    Pot in particular can also be a sensory enhancement drug. Given the relationship between the arts and the senses, this can clearly endow benefits. Having a keener ear while mixing a recording, for example, is very helpful.

    I think the corelary is that one needs to sober up for analysis (and performance, unless you’re in a jam/noise band). If you stay stoned all the time, everything seems to sound/look/feel better than it really does.

    I definitely don’t believe that it’s the only source of creativity, but rather a tool for those who want to use it. One of my favorite bands is the wildly creative and mind-blowing Deerhoof. These guys (at least greg and satomi) don’t drink or do drugs and make some of the coolest music I’ve ever heard. Pink Floyd (ugh) has nothing on these guys.

  8. My experience is that pot (where most of my past drug experience is), whether or not it makes one more creative, tends to make one feel more involved with and more appreciative of creative works, including any that one may be in the process of creating while high.

    In other words, if you get stoned and (for example) play music, it will sound really great while you’re playing it; just this immediate positive feedback will probably help one get enthusiastic and motivated, which probably has some beneficial effect on the creative process. Does it actually make the end result sound any better to someone who’s not high? Well, probably not, though I think it depends upon how capable one is while sober: a lousy musician probably sounds lousy while high, even if s/he thinks s/he’s sounding awesome. But a genuinely talented musician on pot probably benefits from the relaxation, focus, and “outside-the-box” thinking that tends to come with marijuana usage.

    In other words, it doesn’t increase a person’s potential, but I think it can absolutely help a person do new and interesting things with the potential they have that they might not otherwise do.

  9. I remember once, after drinking a few too many beers, writing a program for the Apple ][ (hey, it was a long time ago, OK?). It worked but the source code was completely incomprehensible when I looked at it the next day.

  10. @jynnan_tonnyx: Yeah, it kind of surprised me as well. Greg Saunier is an oddball, but I think I read an interview where he said he had never drank or done drugs ever. Frank Zappa as an example is both good and bad. His weirdness always seemed forced and his compositions always seemed like soulless theory excercises* to me. I think the man could have benefited from some drugs, but to each his own.

    *this is from someone who gives almost no shits about ’emotion’ in music, btw.

  11. @marilove: don’t know about that. Do you think Pink Floyd would have been able to make the music they did without the aid of drugs? I don’t think so. Hell, look at bands like Aerosmith, who are now sober and pretty lame.

    Why not? Mahler and Shostakovich wrote much more intricate and incredible music without being gunned… Also, Pink Floyd wrote Bike, which proves that sometimes even bad ideas are awesome.

    As far as Aerosmith goes, they were always terrible. :)

    I’m not saying there’s no benefit, but that I think it’s a perceived benefit.

  12. @biguglyjim: Mahler and Shostakovich aren’t Pink Floyd, and I never once said anything about how intricate or complex the results were — this is a topic about creativity and using drugs to fuel creativity. Also, “incredible” is subjective (though so is creativity, for that matter).

    I doubt Pink Floyd would have been able to do what they did (whether you like what they did or not) sober, because that wasn’t the kind of band they were. Drugs were VERY much part of their music. It’s in every aspect of their music, especially the earlier stuff. They would not have been the same band if they had been sober.

    I don’t think Bob Marley could’ve created the music he did if he had been sober, do you? Because, again, the drugs were VERY much part of his music. And his stuff isn’t necessarily complex, but it’s very creative and amazing in its own way.

  13. @marilove: Most of my buddz and buddettez are bohemians from the Heights and Montrose districts of Houston, Sam can tell you about those areas of town. Funny such a Conservative state has such a liberal town. I like having jobs where i don’t have to peee to satisfy anybody as to my worth.

  14. As I chef who smokes weed, I’d have to say that it does help me a bit. Opposite of many people, weed actually helps me focus on a single task when usually my ADD sends me off in 30 different directions and makes me easily distracted. I find that when I go take a break and take a few puffs, not enough to get me wasted but enough to mellow me out a bit, I make a lot less mistakes, and get significantly more compliments about my cooking.

    Of course, this isn’t the case for everybody. I know a few other chefs who indulge on the job and their performance suffers for it.

  15. @biguglyjim: And btw, the same goes the opposite way — there’s a good chance Mahler and Shostakovich wouldn’t have been the same had they done drugs while creating music, if they used drugs significantly to fuel the process. Some people are occasional users so it’s probably not as noticeable, but for bands like Pink Floyd and artists like Bob Marley, drugs and the culture of drugs are very, very much intertwined into their music.

  16. I have done many a drug in my lifetime but I have also been many years sober now. I would have to say that looking back on all the drug doing, here are my sober observations:
    Pot/Hash: don’t remember a damn thing – made me very munchie and I probably ate frozen waffles more often than creating some edible masterpiece.
    Coke: Stimulating but not creatively
    X: FUN!!! but ended up dancing and not thinking much
    LSD: Most long-term creative, mind-blowing experiences EVER. Not only do I still remember the experiences, I am quite certain they changed the way I think permanently, and not in a bad way. I came to sort of understand neural pathways in a way I never had before.

    The rest of the drugs were really just one timers or not that interesting (fell asleep, stayed up all weekend). If I was ever going to do anything again, it would most certainly be the acid.

    And now the DEA is looking up my IP address…

  17. @faith: I wasn’t a fan of LSD — but shrooms, man. I did shrooms on two occasions, many years ago (about the time I did the LSD), and holy cow. I’d do that again in a heart beat.

    X gave me hardcore hallucinations, panic attacks, and massive vomiting sessions … so never, ever again. Coke is hard on my stomach as well and really, I am high-strung enough. I do not need uppers, lol.

    This is why I think I like pot, though. It doesn’t put me to sleep. Sometimes if I smoke too much it makes me kinda sleepy, but generally it just relaxes me enough to take off some of the edge of my anxiety. I think that’s why it tends to help my writing. I also love it in social situations.

  18. Da booze makes a good meal better but to much just makes you eat to fast, bite your lip and utter regrettable things. I’ve never smoked pot and had a good meal that didn’t also include wine so I couldn’t separate out the two. My creative side tends to be expressed while singing in a choir. I would never sing at a public performance in a choir after drinking or smoking leaf. But singing karaoke? Sure, every Thursday but not when getting it right matters. And being creative in the bedroom is always a good thing, to much drinking or leaf never helps in that department either.

  19. I’ve smoked pot a handful of times and I’m not really a fan (I usually get sick). As for the times I didn’t get sick, I know I’ve written down things that seemed, at the time, amazingly insightful, but upon sober reading, silly. I’ve gotten better stuff out of high fevers. Never tried to make art while high. Sometimes while drunk, but I’m much too meticulous and it always looks like crap.
    So much for the hopped up artist in me :)

  20. I read thru all of these wonderful, thoughtful well reasoned responses rich with personal experience and understanding of the issue at hand.

    And all I can think is did someone really use “plot” and “America’s Next Top Model” in the same sentence?

  21. I seem to have no trouble with being creative without drugs and alcohol. So I don’t buy it when people say they NEED it to be creative. No question that altering your mental state can augment your creativity but anyone who think they need it are making an excuse for wanting it. It’s their decision of course but they should be honest about their motives.

  22. @marilove: I’ve done mushrooms a few times and I found them to be awfully sketchy in potency. I like my drugs to have much more of a known efficacy.

    Y’know, ’cause I’m all scientific method-y with my dope.

  23. @Noadi: But you aren’t everyone. You shouldn’t make what is true about you into a generalization about everyone. Just because YOU don’t need it, doesn’t mean that someone else doesn’t. “I seem to have no problem…” is awesome for you, but says absolutely nothing about anyone else.

    Most likely, however, what happens is that they are *more* creative when under the influence, or have an easier time tapping into that creativity, and it’s not so much that they are only creative when they are high.

    I don’t NEED pot to help with my writing process, but if I’m stuck, it can REALLY help. My last assignment probably wouldn’t have been nearly as thorough if I had been sober the entire time I was writing it, because I would have been far more impatient and tense about the whole thing. As it was, the editor told me it was freakin’ awesome.

    I DO need it to help me sleep sometimes, though, especially since OTC sleep aids are out of the question and I don’t like taking xanax all the time because it is highly addictive. So in a sense, I do need pot on occasion to help the creative process — because I am unable to get anything productive done when I am not sleeping well (and that counts for work, not just creative stuff; or hell, even stupid shit like walking, because when I’m deadly tired, I tend to walk into walls, I’m so spacey and out of it).

  24. @marilove: I think Noadi is talking about the good folks out there who say that they NEED drugs to be creative, period (I have known many and they are objectively creative with or without). I can agree with you on the tapping-in or enhancement by using drugs.
    But of course everything the 3 of us have written so far is anecdotal :)
    We should sit down, smoke, and then, after I throw up, we can write or draw or something.
    Who wants to be the control?

  25. Much like anything, people are affected differently by their drugs of choice. What process may work for one person/band, may not work for another. I don’t really think the term of use has much to do with it. Some work-flows just don’t work with some people.

  26. I’ve done mushrooms three times. The first time it was an amazing experience. The other two were in Amsterdam, and to no effect. Talk about a bummer. My buddy’s tripping balls and I had to smoke a joint after two hours.

    As far as Pink Floyd and Bob Marley, of course they wouldn’t have written the same music. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have written equally impressive music that was influenced differently.

  27. As an artist and a former user, I have some intimate experience with this most interesting question. This is how it seems to have worked out for me (and I admit up front that this is just my take. Other people my view it differently).
    I have been drawing and painting since I was a little kid. When I was in high school, I started smoking pot pretty heavily. In retrospect, I have realized that indeed, drugs did spark a wave of creativity in me. Now, I am much more technically proficient, but not nearly as creative. You might ask why I stopped. Well, I noticed another aspect to drug use that outweighed the value of that creativity. I became lazy as hell. I was apothetic about everything including life itself. I think that if people want to indulge in drugs these days, go right ahead, but they should be aware of the possible price to be paid for that indulgence. For me, the price was too high.

  28. @marilove: “I don’t know about that. Do you think Pink Floyd would have been able to make the music they did without the aid of drugs? I don’t think so.”

    ..you mean the one album that Syd was on more than one track (Piper at The Gates of Dawn)? The rest of the Floyd weren’t particularly druggy (especially considering some of their contemporaries)…sorry, just a mega Floyd nerd here.

    that said, I think that without Syd’s excessive drug use which led contributed to his mental demise, Rog wouldn’t have had much of the material that we all know so well.

  29. When I first started smoking weed (how I miss those beginnings) it did some pretty amazing things for me. First of all, it made me realize that believing in god is ludicrous. Yup! That’s right. Weed was a huge contributing factor to me giving up on the catholic faith. It made me make connections between things that I just couldn’t do before.

    I’m also hoping that it will extend my life expectancy. You see, I am very clumsy: I walk into door frames, in front of cars, spill things over my keyboard, misspell COTW with CTOW, etc. But I notice that if I have even just a little bit of a high, I’m less inclined to walk in front of a passing car then I am when sober. So that’s good.

    As for creativity…

    Hmm… Well.. It helps when I have writing goals (example: if I’m looking to write “x” amount of words in a day) but not really with the creativity per se. To get creative I have to distract myself doing something like reading or playing video games. Ideas come to me when I’m not thinking of trying to find new ideas.

    I like reading how people react differently to the same substance.

  30. @whitebird: And quite frankly, marijuana may not fit under the “no drug” rule for many, especially if they consider it on par with alcohol. If one or two previous or current members smoke the occasional ganja, I wouldn’t really say, “They are LIARS!”

  31. The best parts of my Masters thesis were written whilst rather tipsy off wine… Gave me the courage to directly criticize one of the most revered authors in my field. ::Happy::

  32. Wow, I am surprised that a story about food and pot ends up in a conversation about creativity and I have yet to hear any mention of the amazing cuisine people have come up with using pot. We’re way beyond the cliche brownies here. Pot can be used in many ways to cook with I could go on and on, but I will refrain and get back on topic. I will also mention that its omega and fatty acids as well as being high in protein make it extremely healthy too!!!

    O.K. back to the topic, I know a few artists and musicians, and one thing that most of them have in common is they are usually bouncing off the walls, and smoking this stuff tends to get them to calm down just enough to focus on one thing at a time. I can’t really attribute their creativity to it as they are creative people in the first place, rather helps them relax enough to be able to focus on producing their creative works. This behavior has been going on way before the Pink Floyd era. What about Beethoven, Dali and Edgar A. Poe? All under the influence of one thing or another. Did they create their respective works because of this? I doubt it, it’s not like I ever met any of them, but they all seemed to be a little eccentric to begin with.

  33. I’m generally unable to do much of anything very useful while drunk or stoned. When stoned, I just laugh uncontrollably at music videos and crude anatomical humor. Drunk, I get irritable and pissy at first. Then, if I keep drinking, I get confrontational, hyper-active and shouty.
    I can’t draw or write worth a damn in either state.

  34. @whitebird: I was pretty much only referring to Greg and Satomi. I think I’ve seen other members drinking beer and stuff, but I know Greg is pretty much the primary creative force in that band and the only original member that currently plays with the group (though I would count Satomi too because nobody listens to the pre-Satomi stuff), and I’ve definitely read interviews where he says he’s never drank or done any drugs.

    Also, was it Chris? I was bummed when that dude left the band, he and john had some serious guitar chemistry (not to diss on Ed, I just haven’t seen them live with him yet because they got too famous to come back to my little city).

  35. @icontrolelectrons: I was actually going to talk about this yesterday, but got distracted.

    Great tip: Get a vaporizor. They can be on the expensive side, but in the end they will save you money, because they waste less.

    Not only do they get more THC out of every bud, but the extra bit that’s left over can be used too — to make “Pot Butter”! So basically, you use every single bit of the marijuana. And the cookies that come out of that pot butter are delicious.

    The trick is to use GOOD greens, not scwhag.

  36. @marilove: They also claim that vaporizers are healthier. I can’t know for sure how accurate this is since I’m not scientifically literate. But it really is worth the investment if you’re serious about smoking. We got the Deluxe Daddy and have no cause for complaint. Maybe except that the wand is a pain to clean out.

  37. Drugs promote a change in perspective and that can be very helpful with creativity.

    But simply claiming that they boost creativity ignores the vast majority of pro weed activists that have never realized that looking like a fucking homeless person might hurt their ability to be taken seriously.

    If you do it all the time there is no change of perspective, you’re just stoned.

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