Learning By Doing Part 2 – In the Kitchen
Meagan Vanderhill | Aug 2, 2019
For the next several months, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation 2018-2019 Graphic Design Fellow, Meagan Vanderhill, will be exploring the concept of learning by doing. Here, she tries her hand at cooking and working in the kitchen, much like members of the Fellowship once did.
Part two of my Learning By Doing series explores working in the kitchen, an important learning opportunity that was a part of the Taliesin Fellowship. The goals of the Taliesin life were outlined by Frank Lloyd Wright as:
- An honest ego in a healthy body
- A heart to feel nature
- Courage to follow nature
- A sense of proportion
- Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work
- Fertility of the imagination
- Capacity for faith and rebellion
- Disregard for commonplace elegance
- Instinctive cooperation
Communal dining is a big part of the culture at Taliesin West and has been since the Taliesin Fellowship began with Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in 1932. Today, students of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and residents of Taliesin West continue the tradition of dining together by gathering daily to share lunch and dinner. Sharing meals is important because it allows people to come together to talk about work and life, and create a community of people with shared interests.
When the school is in session, the students and residents, and the graphic design fellow also continue the tradition of joylist. Joylist is a list of duties, besides school work, that students and residents participate in. These duties include washing dishes, preparing the dining room for meals, and assisting in the kitchen. These duties not only teach practical life lessons, but also create community by giving everyone at Taliesin West a common responsibility.
Wright believed that students could learn as much from their work in the kitchen as they could from their work in the studio and on construction. In the William Wesley Peters Library at Taliesin West there is a binder, created while Mrs. Wright was overseeing the Fellowship, that explains life as a Taliesin Fellow and the different opportunities, learning experiences, and duties involved. “Three of the most important learning experiences at Taliesin are in the Studio, on Construction, and of equal importance, in the Kitchen. Especially as cook, the learning opportunities for the receptive student are endless.” Practically, students learned about math, conservation, and science. From the experience, students also learned about self-awareness, management, flexibility, and teamwork.
In an effort to learn for myself the lessons Taliesin Fellows had also learned, I decided to experience cooking from a new, self-aware perspective. Before living at Taliesin West, I ate most of my meals alone. If I cooked, I would throw whatever ingredients I had together and hope it tasted okay. I knew how to make a few dishes and would just make variations of those without ever trying anything new. Stepping out of my comfort zone, inviting my friends over to cook and share dinner with me was eye opening and I learned something from every step of the process. Cooking for others and making a conscious effort to create a space for community presented unique challenges that I would have never expected.
Choosing the Recipes
My approach to cooking rarely involves recipes, but creating a healthy, satisfying meal that accounted for other’s tastes, dietary needs, and sought to keep ingredients and food waste at a minimum required strategic thinking. I combed through hundreds of recipes collected by past Taliesin Fellows. Thinking about how our meals are structured at Taliesin West, I decided to focus on three categories of food: protein, vegetable, and starch. After debating different recipes, I ultimately chose 40-clove garlic chicken, garlic dill potatoes, and a fruit/vegetable salad. (Admittedly, while the other recipes were from the Taliesin collection, the salad was my own because reading through several different recipes clipped from books or handwritten inspired me to create something of my own!) I chose these recipes for several reasons. First, it’s hard to mess up chicken. Second, each recipe had ingredients in common which I thought would help reduce cost and waste. And third, the recipes were fairly simple.
Cooking the Meal
Part of the learning process was figuring out how to tailor the recipes to smaller yields. Instead of cooking for 20 or more people, I was only cooking for three. Here are the original recipes and how I adapted them to work for me.
40 Cloves Garlic Chicken (My Version)
- 3 Chicken Breasts
- Salt and Pepper
- Drizzle of Olive Oil
- 3 Cloves of Garlic
- 3 Tbsps. of minced garlic
- 3 handfuls of fresh parsley
- Juice from half a lemon
- Salt and Pepper Chicken to Taste
- Drizzle Olive Oil across each breast
- Spread 1 sliced glove of garlic and 1 tbsp. of minced garlic on each chicken breast and drizzle with lemon juice
- Place chicken in air fryer and cook each side for 10 minutes at 360°F
- Top with fresh parsley
Potatoes with Garlic and Dill (My Version)
- 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 4 tbsp. Butter
- One bag of small red potatoes
- 8 tbsp. minced garlic (excessive but delicious)
- ½ cup fresh chopped dill
- Melt butter in oil in large pan over medium heat
- Cut potatoes in half and add to pan
- Add minced garlic, pepper, and salt to pan
- Stir occasionally
- Cook until tender (about 20-25 mins)
- Stir in fresh dill
Watermelon, Cucumber, Feta, Dill Salad
- 2 cups cubed watermelon
- 1 cucumber
- 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbles
- ½ cup fresh chopped dill
- Juice from half a lemon
- Add watermelon, cucumber, feta, and dill to a bowl.
- Add lemon juice and stir to combine.
What I Learned
Honestly, none of these recipes went as planned and I ended up having to improvise a lot. I had a friend assisting me in the kitchen, but even with her help, trying to multitask and stay on top of every recipe was a huge challenge. The garlic on top of the chicken burnt while cooking and we forgot to add the parsley as a garnish. I accidentally used the same spoon on the raw chicken in the minced garlic jar and decided last minute to double the amount of garlic the recipe called for so that we could use up the rest of the (now tainted) minced garlic in the potatoes. It was chaotic and messy, but also a ton fun. In the end, setting the table and serving a meal to my friends that we had all helped create made all the imperfections seem small. And, it ended up being one of my favorite meals I’ve ever had. The food was delicious, but the conversation it fostered was even better. I didn’t even mind that my hands smelled like garlic for several days after.
Undertaking this experience and evaluating my life at Taliesin West has changed my perspective on shared meals. Sometimes I miss dining alone, watching Netflix on my couch, but I also realize how special this experience is and how important it is to preserve these traditions at Taliesin West. I have learned so much from the people around me by engaging in conversation over amazing food. I have listened as people have shared their experiences at Taliesin and of their lives. I have heard stories that have been passed down from dinner table to dinner table. I have engaged in the community by washing dishes, setting the table, helping in the kitchen, and trying my hand at flower arrangements. Without this opportunity to reflect, I might not have learned to cherish every moment of this truly incredible experience.