CREATIVITY, the theme of my life!
Here I am, well into my golden years, once again ruminating about this or that. And this morning in particular, I am trying to pinpoint where this astonishing creativity, a common thread running through my long life, comes from. Why have I never been satisfied with the reality before me? Why have I always tried to transform everything in my own way, to reinvent things?
It doesn’t spring from irritation or a need to challenge the universe; I am among those who consider Mother Nature to be perfect. I know that babies cry, children complain and teenagers rebel against their parents. As adults we go through storms, alone or with others. Our bodies wear out and sometimes they leave before their time. No, I have nothing to reproach the Creator for. On the contrary, I often think the heavens spoiled me. As a child, I used to make my life seem less dreary through writing. As a teenager, my quatrains embellished my days. And when I became a mother, I sewed attractive overalls for my kids; artist smocks with embroidered necklines and little coats just as pretty as those worn by children of rich families.
Later on, as a restaurateur, I surprised our clientele with new combinations of dishes, mixing two usual ones to form a third, completely new one. Dissatisfied with the ordinary 2 eggs and bacon, ham or sausages, I created a hundred new breakfast dishes that were both delicious and exceptional.
I also inaugurated a new category in the restaurant industry: breakfast restaurants, open 7 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., serving only simple and affordable breakfast and brunch-style meals. My "big little" culinary revolution has also spawned a fierce community of new early morning restaurateurs, all trying to measure up to famous Madame Cora.
Who’s to blame? For my new lychee jam I was gently stirring this morning?
I’m constantly experimenting with something new. A new fruit, a new way of cooking, using a little less than half the sugar recommended in the recipe. I try and try again until I find a better way.
This is the story of my life: my extraordinary appetite or capacity to transcend given ways of thinking or doing in order to go beyond the conventional and bring new ideas, new procedures and new creations to life. What is going on in my head? I remember in my early days, whenever I wanted to impress a client or to simply please them, the creative process, if there actually is one, was instantly triggered.
One day, a customer called Dennis asked for a grilled cheese, “but surprise me if you don’t mind, Madame Cora.” And straight away my eyes scanned the counter. A minute later, two big slices of brioche bread dipped in French toast batter sizzled away on the grill. And two minutes later, the big grilled sandwich with a thick layer of peanut butter in its belly, along with a sliced banana and a generous amount of strawberry jam, arrived in front of him.
- “Wonderful,” Dennis exclaimed. “You’re a real fairy, Madame Cora.”
- “And you, Dennis, are a real threat to my pantry.”
I was never satisfied with the ordinary. I was driven by the satisfaction of creating and the great joy of delighting a hungry soul. No one had made Quebecers eat spinach for breakfast until I decided to incorporate it into my pancake batter. Yet, after tasting it, customers loved it.
- “Why didn’t I think of this?” customers would often say to me, amused.
I always had an original response to customers’ wishes. I loved listening to them because, very often, the very thing I would use to transform the ordinary into extraordinary came out of their mouths.
I have to say that working with my daughter has greatly stimulated my creativity. Gigi shared my love for new things, and together, we dived into our imaginations like uninhibited children who believed that anything was possible. And because we believed it, it did become possible. We had fun making believe that for every item, there were dozens of different forms, dozens of ways of working with it and hundreds of possibilities.
In my time (1955), we weren’t taught in school to see the invisible, to imagine the unimaginable. We were not taught to think differently or to respond differently, so we thought we had to do what everyone else did instead of expressing our originality. It is woeful that we have been copying each other for so many moons. In my opinion, copying what already exists is to renounce our uniqueness and the opportunity to discover our own potential. To copy is also to deprive ourselves of authentic self-expression.
Creativity has been the common thread throughout my life. All these years, it has fed my insatiable need for expression. The more I drew, the more I wanted to draw. The more I wowed my clients, the more I wanted to wow them. I devoured all the "breakfast" books, newspaper articles on food and great food magazines as I could afford. I spent evenings in the library of the Hospitality Institute, browsing the valuable culinary encyclopedia and costly dictionaries. I gathered as much information as possible in order to do my job well.
Everyone has ideas; better than my own very often. But most of the time, people just mention them, discuss them with friends and receive a few compliments. In my case, I had no choice but to actually act on several of them to keep my kids fed. That’s how it all started; by committing myself body and soul to realizing my ideas. Initially out of necessity, and then later, out of pure creative pleasure. This journey also made me realize that we can change not only our reality, but our personality and especially how our minds work. Of course, you have to want it bad enough. It is possible to transform indifference into enthusiasm; laziness into boldness. Just like it was possible for me to change my own perception from a doubting artist to a disciplined bee.
So dear reader, you now know the blessing the heavens bestowed on me the day I was born. And today, in front of you, as witness, I ask forgiveness to all the deities of the Universe for lamenting my fate for so long. In spite of my talents, all my life, my damaged heart thought it was miserable, disadvantaged, lonely and somehow guilty of some fault. I, who so wanted to deserve a tiny piece of Heaven. As I ready to punctuate this letter with a final mark, another joy emerges from within me. Through the window in front of me, it seems as if an immense blue sky is moving towards my cheek. I feel its embrace, a feeling as delicious as a healed heart.