Scott Heimendinger

Eight Lessons for Living a Creative Life and Making Creative Pizzas

Scott Heimendinger plays with food for a living. The director of applied research at Modernist Cuisine, he etches images onto tortillas using a laser and bakes pizza with champagne. He is also the co-founder of Sansaire, a home sous-vide machine whose popularity set a Kickstarter record when it launched in 2013. In his 2014 talk, “Creativity in the Rearview,” Heimendinger looks back lessons he wasn’t able to appreciate until much later. Here are some of our favorites.

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1. Familiarize yourself with Microsoft Office Suite.

“Because I work in culinary research, it should be fairly obvious that I started out in software. I went to school for information systems. I worked at IBM and then at Microsoft. I was a program manager on the Excel team. Being ridiculously good at Excel will help you in any industry.”

2. When life hands you an egg, scramble it.

“I was at a restaurant in Seattle, and I ordered a dish that came with an egg that was cooked sous vide. I could talk to you for days about sous vide cooking, but let me just say this egg seemed to violate the laws of physics. This egg was so incredible that it changed the course of the rest of my life.”

3. Pursue the absurd.

“[I found out] what happens when you run 110 volts of household current through a small pickle. The point here is that I didn’t care if anyone else thought this was cool. I thought it was cool.”

4. Find the right sandbox (or pond!) to play in.

“People talk about being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. I found the right pond. And for me, this pond was about combining an engineering mindset with cooking and being unabashedly geeky about all of these things that I loved.”

5. Find fellow enthusiasts. And if that fellow enthusiast’s name is Jethro, all the better.

“I got an email from a guy named Jethro sent to me saying, ‘Do you want to come over and experiment with [molecular cooking] together?’ And if I will give one piece of prescriptive advice, if a guy named Jethro emails you and invites you over to his house, just go. Do it.”

6. Success looks different to everyone.

Make Magazine picked it up and ran [my blog post detailing how to make a 75 dollar sous vide machine], a huge badge of geek pride for me. My favorite though, was that it got parodied on The Simpsons, in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon where the cat disembowels himself.”

7. Learn how to succeed at failing.

“If you’re not failing on a regular basis, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. The key here is about your relationship with failure. If you get good at it, you can fail really well. You can fail quickly and short-circuit a path to a solution that doesn’t yet exist. One of my favorite failures, I wanted to make glow in the dark oysters.”

8. Obsess over your experiments.

“I went through a summer of pizza. I baked about 100 pizzas over the course of a summer. In one test, I varied the liquid component. Instead of water, I used flavorful stuff. Champagne turned out to work really well; Bacardi dark rum was terrible. That pizza spontaneously ignited in the oven while it was baking.”

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