By several measures, I am not a relevant person. I don't watch reality cooking shows (no, not even Great British Bake Off). I did not make sourdough starter during the pandemic. I do not like macarons. I did not eat soufflé pancakes in Japan (they aren't that good, guys). I finally finished The Bear last night, weeks after it released.
This is perhaps why (among other reasons) sustaining a career in food media has been so elusive for me. Most of the time, I can't be bothered to stay on top of trends and gossip because I came up in a pre-media food world. In that time, the only trends were the seasons of the year. When we took photos of food, it was to seek inspiration for our own creations rather than posting online that we had enough disposable income to eat at a renowned restaurant. Most of the time, we drew our dishes, envisioning them first in pen strokes before knife strokes and scrawling ideas for tart fillings and garnishes (which were always, always edible. If I see another panna cotta with a useless mint leaf on top I will punch you back to 1997.).
Call me a Luddite, but in this old world, food was not about staying relevant. It was about eating the seasons and connecting to something bigger than us. It was about serving and sparking happiness, even if our own happiness was in shambles. It meant finding fulfilment in delighting at least one person with your dish, even if that one person was yourself. Creativity came first, and as long as you engaged in it outside of the push and pull of the Internet, it became a part of you.
In today's world, chefs and cooks are almost required by the invisible rule of media to be both relevant and creative. If video is trending, you better be filming TikToks or Reels or let's be real, both. You are only as good as your last piece of content, which must be both unique yet fitted to the trend. Your recipe must be easy enough to make, interesting, and visually stunning, and your life is only important if it's one paragraph long. Anything longer and you are designated (or worse, cancelled) to the land of long and boring recipe headnotes.
But relevancy glitches when creativity appears. Because being creative often means not being up to date about trends. It means breaking from the norm or else repackaging it into something new. In music, the best producers are masters at taking an old, even forgotten song, flipping it (aka slowing it down or speeding it up), and finding newness in it. The reimagined song may enter the relevancy circuit, but it doesn't originate from it. If it does enter, it could end up paying off, as relevancy is often rewarded swiftly, publicly, and financially. Creativity spends years in hiding, and an external reward may never come. If it does happen, it is rarely enough to sustain a creative lifestyle. The intrinsic reward needs to fuel you enough to keep going, because when all the trends are outdated and the world has moved on, it is this intrinsic motivation that is all you'll have left.
According to my Instagram, the last dessert I made for the Internet was on 19th May. Since then, we'd been traveling, and I've been marathon training, but really, nothing felt relevant or creative enough for me to cook. My kitchen is large for a London flat and summer is the most abundant season for produce, but I've been caught in the snares of wanting to be relevant. Even I can't escape the allure of posting something online and being praised, even though all of that praise is for pure presentation and my ability to take good photos and edit them in Lightroom.
Without a kitchen or an influencer job, I am cooking for friends and family, and I'm good at it. I remember everyone's dietary restrictions. I know what type of pastries travel best on the tube so they arrive at a dinner party in one piece. I know that in order for people to actually eat the pastry I bring to the dinner party, pre-slicing it is the way to go, because being the first to cut a dessert is one the most anxiety-inducing things a diner can experience. I have fed my people but not the Internet. And while I am still a writer and a cook, if I make a pastry and the World Wide Web isn't there to see it (they will of course, probably never eat it), am I still relevant?
When you've taken time off from creativity, it is hard to know how to navigate back to it because nobody is creative in the way that you are. Friends have asked if I felt inspired after our East Asia trip in July, but the truth was that upon returning to London, I really wanted a nostalgic dessert that didn't take too many steps and evoked a carefree, old world vibe. But I didn't want it be too old-world. I wanted to take something forgotten, flip it and make it new. That's where this corn and blueberry cake came from.
The entire cake is made in a food processor or a blender. It's corn bread but better, because the batter is made up of fresh corn kernels pureed with coconut milk (hence the food processor) and topped with fresh blueberries. The berries sink in, but the baking powder raises them back up to create a beautiful mess of blueberry streaks across the top of the cake. You can serve with whipped or ice cream, but I went full British and poured cold cream over a slice. This cake isn't relevant in any way, but it is damn delicious.
Corn and Blueberry Cake
- 250g corn kernels
- 250g (1 cup) full-fat coconut milk
- 120g (1/2 cup) whole milk
- 100g (1 cup) cornmeal
- 180g (1 cup) AP flour
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 110g (1/2 cup) vegetable or sunflower oil
- 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk
- Pinch of salt
- 14g (1 Tbsp) baking powder
- 1 pint of fresh blueberries
- Cold heavy cream, to serve
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Spray a 9 or 10-in cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
- In food processor or blender, combine the corn kernels and the whole milk and blend until smooth.
- Add the coconut milk, cornmeal, sugar, oil, eggs, and salt. Pulse until combined.
- Add the baking powder and pulse one or two times, just to incorporate into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan until the pan is 3/4 of the way full. You might have extra batter leftover, so reserve it for another use. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Remove from the oven and immediately run a thin knife around the edges to loosen it. Let it cool for about 20 minutes before slicing. When ready to serve, pour some cold cream on top.