“No Excuses, No Apologies!”: Personality and Culinary Experimentation
“No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.” – Julia Child
A pinch of this, a dash of that, simmer for fifteen minutes, and voilà: an inedible mess and a call to the take-out place on the corner. Experimentation can lead to knowledge, but sometimes that knowledge is that we should follow the recipe! This is what some of us face when we cook from inspiration, but for many, culinary experimentation can reveal wonderful new flavor combinations and provide an outlet for creative expression. Others of us, however, would rather not improvise at all.
To understand how a person’s openness to experimental cooking may stem from broader trends in their personality, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the following statement: “You rarely experiment when preparing food.” A minority of respondents (39%) agreed that they rarely experiment, meaning that most of us like to play around with new ingredients, techniques, or tools. But certain personality types are definitely more interested in sticking with what they know in the kitchen.
How did this survey turn out? We serve up the results below, with a little advice along the way from one of the world’s favorite culinary masters – and improvisers – Julia Child.
Sentinels (42% agreeing)
Although the survey data indicated that our Strategies play the biggest role in whether or not we experiment when we cook, the Energy, Nature, and Tactics aspects all have some influence as well. Judging personality types were 6% more likely than Prospecting types to avoid improvisational cooking, and Observant types were 4% more likely than Intuitive types to do so.
Since Judging and Observant are the two core defining traits of Sentinels, this Role topped our results. Sentinel personalities are highly organized and pragmatic, and they much prefer predictable outcomes to spontaneity and uncertainty. Epicures among them may already have strong ideas about what works and what doesn’t in any given type of cuisine.
Of all the personality types, Turbulent Logisticians were the most likely to avoid experimenting with food. Logisticians are known for going by the book, rather than making the book up as they go, and they also take their personal responsibilities very seriously. When they consider trying something new, practical concerns probably kick in: If my kids don’t like this, what will I feed them? How much money will I be wasting if this meal doesn’t turn out?
After all, purchasing unusual ingredients, just to try them out in one or two new recipes, can quickly become expensive. For Logisticians, especially Turbulent ones, worrying about such risks often stops them from experimenting. These personalities may do well to bear in mind Child’s observation that, usually, when something doesn’t turn out, “You haven’t lost anything, because you can always turn it into something else.”
Even though Analysts’ Intuitive trait makes them imaginative and open-minded when it comes to food, those qualities are counterbalanced by their Thinking trait, which grounds them with a strong sense of logic and rationality. Thinking personality types overall were 3% more likely to agree with our statement than Feeling types.
For some Analysts, especially the structured and deliberate Architects (48%), their logical bent can make them more inclined to follow accurate measurements from a reliable recipe. On the other hand, Debater personalities (32%), who live for testing out new ideas, are much more open to experimentation in the kitchen – and in fact, some believe that Julia Child herself was a Debater.
Nearly tied with Analysts were the Explorers. Explorer personality types are good improvisers, thanks to their Prospecting trait, so they’re often comfortable trying new things in the kitchen, but for some, that flexible approach is outweighed by the strong habits that they develop from their Observant trait.
This is best exemplified by Virtuosos (46%). Their relatively high agreement may seem surprising, since we tend to think of Virtuoso personalities as experimenters. But keep in mind that they can also have short attention spans. Once they feel they’ve mastered a certain type of dish or found a personal cooking style that they like, they’ll probably make it a habit, so that they can turn their energy toward new, more interesting pursuits.
Diplomats, as Intuitive, Feeling personality types, were the least likely to agree with our statement. More willing to go with their instincts, Diplomats are probably also encouraged by their emotional sensitivity to cook creatively. Feeling excited after a great day at work may inspire some innovation in the kitchen, while wanting to comfort someone else may call for coming up with an extra-special treat.
Agreeing at a rate of just 26%, lower than all other personality types, Assertive Campaigners experiment with their cooking the most frequently. Incredibly creative, Campaigners are always ready to pursue an idea they’re passionate about, no matter how strange it may seem to others, and Assertive Campaigners have particular confidence in their experiments. Willy Wonka, the famous fictional Campaigner from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is an excellent example – his three-course-meal chewing gum and everlasting gobstoppers are anything but ordinary.
Constant Improvement and Confident Individualism (44% and 40% agreeing)
The most significant influence in this survey proved to be the Mind aspect – Introverted personality types agreed the most and were 9% more likely to agree than Extraverted types. Why are Introverts less interested in experimenting with cooking? For one thing, they’re more sensitive to external stimuli than Extraverts, and that can include tastes and smells. They may be averse to bold flavors, or at least more nervous about trying them.
They’re also more likely to be cooking for themselves, and while many welcome the opportunity to try new things (and make mistakes) without subjecting others to the results, some prefer to keep things simple when cooking for one.
The Identity aspect was also an important factor and helps explain why the Turbulent members of the Constant Improvement Strategy agreed at a higher rate than the Assertive members of the Confident Individualism Strategy. Turbulent personality types tend to be perfectionists. Constant Improvers specifically are always concerned about their performance. It can be hard to let loose and try new things if you’re worried about what will happen if you don’t get it perfectly right. As Child wisely noted, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
And that attitude is just what Assertive personality types have. Confident Individualists put much less pressure on themselves, so if they try something daring and it flops, they won’t care too much. But members of this Strategy also tend to know what they’re good at and stick to it. If they’re not confident in their culinary skills, they’ll probably prefer to rely on a cookbook, and they won’t in any way feel like boring or inadequate cooks if they do.
Social Engagement and People Mastery (37% and 31%)
When it comes to cooking creatively, Extraverted personalities differ from Introverts primarily because they approach cooking as a social activity, whether it’s gathering around the kitchen with family, impressing their friends with a new dish at a potluck, or posting photos of their latest mouthwatering creation on Instagram. After all, who’s going to like a photo of the same old PB&J sandwich? And since Extraverts are constantly drawing inspiration from others, whether it’s a four-star chef, a friend at a dinner party, or a food blogger, there’s always something new to try – the more creative, the better.
Social Engagers, as Turbulent Extraverts, are more hesitant to experiment when cooking because, as perfectionists, they’re going to worry about disappointing others or being judged poorly for serving a meal that is anything less than delicious. People Masters don’t share that reservation and are the most willing of the Strategies to experiment. If something goes wrong, these personality types can always try to fix it, ask others to jump in and help, or simply find something else to eat. Besides, a disastrous foray into fine cuisine will probably make an entertaining story for them to tell later.
“This is my advice to people. Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” – Julia Child
Curiosity and adventurousness could easily translate to inventive and delicious results in the kitchen, while having a proven recipe and following it to the measure can ensure consistently satisfying meals. Almost everyone’s responses indicated a willingness to try new things, but everyone has their own idea of what that means.
The next time you’re thinking of trying something new in the kitchen, just remember what Child would say, in her lilting voice and her best French: “Courage! And bon appétit!”
What about you? Do you follow the recipe or cook by instinct? How do you get outside your culinary comfort zone? Share your tips below!