Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies in the Kitchen

Sometimes the most obvious truths in life are the ones no one thinks to point out. It’s a cliché to applaud the pairing of peanut butter and jelly; people seldom bother to note the glories of marrying a juicy burger with fries; and I’ve yet to hear anyone relate the fine craft of cooking to the elusive art of making music.  That is, of course, until I read Adam Brent Houghtaling’s eye-opening article for, “Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies in the Kitchen.”

Producer Brian Eno, the creative rock behind such bands as U2, Coldplay, and David Bowie, and a musical force in his own right, created a set of cards with friend and fellow artist Peter Schmidt that apparently serve equally well in the kitchen as they do in the music studio. The Oblique Strategies are modeled after the ancient Chinese I Ching, or “Book of Changes,” and offer intriguing observations and recommendations for dealing with creative roadblocks. For example, when a song’s hook just won’t fasten, or that one refrain refuses to step up to the job, one might pull a card from the ol’ Oblique deck for help. It’s amazing how an idea like “Turn it upside down” can put everything in its place.

But how do these cards fare in helping cooks whip up fresh recipes? Surprisingly well. Mr. Houghtaling realized Eno’s shared passion for music and food and put his deck of wonders to the test in a – you guessed it – test kitchen. Gourmet food editor Ian Knauer and others began looking to the cards whenever a dash of inspiration was needed, and the results were quite tasty. One card pronouncing “Be Extravagant” led to the decadent combination of strawberries and cream in the Fruit-on-the-Bottom Tapioca Pudding dessert.

So the next time you’re caught at the crossroads of culinary genius and catastrophe, you might consider consulting the foodie oracle that is the Oblique Strategies…and it might not hurt to turn the volume up on your favorite album, too.  


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