Have you ever embarked on a new venture, only to find yourself doubting your progress? Am I doing a good job? Is what I’m doing a joke? What would the “professionals” say about me? We all find ourselves there at some point — and it’s never pretty. So, here’s one story that may help us rethink our success in our creative work and focus on what’s really important so that we can find the right steps to where we want to be!

In 2009, a man by the name of Allen Hemberger found himself, quite by accident, cooking every one of the 107 recipes in the Alinea cookbook, one of the most complex cookbooks in the world. Making foams, using test tubes, and approaching the kitchen as a laboratory to create foods that sometimes seem more art than edible.

Over the five years that it [took him to finish the book, Allen faced the same ups and downs, worries and triumphs that we’re all familiar with. But eventually, he hit a recipe he just couldn’t replicate at all. And after a desperate plea for help from an expert resulted in the unexpected, he came to a realization that we could all benefit from hearing.

So before you head off into your next project — and even if you’re in the middle of one right now — give this a watch. It may just prevent you from the unneeded stress that comes from measuring our skills to others.

Image: Panoramic shot of a dynamic molecular gastronomy dish that Allen created.

Spoiler alert: This is the dish featured in the video today!
Courtesy of Allen Hemberger.

“The doer alone learneth.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

After a meal at the Alinea restaurant in Chicago,  Allen Hemberger was hooked on the particularly intricate craft of molecular gastronomy. Part science, part art, part experience, molecular gastronomy isn’t something your typical hobbyist home-cook picks up. Experimenting in this artform involves entirely changing compositions of food, incorporating foams, gels, and bubbles (yes, bubbles) into meals and therefore altering the tasters’ experience (Check out this article to learn more about molecular gastronomy.)

So, picking up the cookbook from Alinea restaurant, a place renowned for its work in molecular gastronomy, was a bit like the average person being handed the manual on how to build the international space station and gleefully heading off to try it.

It’s a seemingly precise craft. I mean, you’re dealing with science here. But following the abundant and complicated recipes set out in the book didn’t get Allen very far. As much as he tried, there were dishes that just weren’t working as written in the cookbook!

So he consulted the expert. And what he heard back really changed his game.

Here’s Allen’s story of going through the entirety of Alinea cookbook — and the surprising realization that hit him near the end — in a beautiful film brought to us by Foodie by Glam.

A photo of the dish created in this video was used as our featured image for the article! You can hear all about the fascinating process of making it in his blog post. (It features items like “tomato water”, “candied dried onion sticks”, and of course, that jelly roll we all saw earlier!)

The recipe could be wrong.

“I had always assumed up to that point that when things went wrong it was because I was messing up.” — Allen Hemberger

We often get ourselves caught up in how everything “should be”. Measuring ourselves to how other people have done whatever we’re doing; weighing what’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s especially easy to fall into this loop of self-doubt when we’re embarking into unfamiliar territory. But there’s this wonderful phenomenon that occurs when learning something new.

The more we work at it, the better we get.

But often we don’t realize that our useful understanding is expanding in many, often unexpected, directions. We get much better at thinking for ourselves and bringing our own unique experiences to the process.

And with our experience comes freedom in the craft.

“Hang in there dude. You’ll get better at this.” — Allen Hemberger

Not a single one of us are experts at anything in the beginning. Sure, there are those fluke times where you’ve won the game in the first go. But did you actually know what you were doing?

When we put in the time and effort to learn about what we’re doing, we create the space to play. As we saw in the video, the very “rules” we’re going by could be wrong. And it takes someone, like yourself, to try it your way and make it work.

Check out Allen in action creating one of the recipes from the book in this video below!

Via: Allen 2

The Unexpected Can Happen

After completing the Alinea Project, both Allen and his wife, Sarah (who’s an artist) were invited to move to Chicago and work for Alinea. Which just goes to show: you never know where the journey will bring you. The only thing we can know for certain is that we’re going to keep going. And we’re going to keep doing the best we possibly can as we do.

You can read all about Allen’s experience in the blog he kept throughout the Alinea Project! Every entry is an intricate look at the recipe in question. It’s a fascinating capsule of the ups and downs of the learning process. Click here to explore.

Want to give this specific project a go? You can purchase your own copy of the Alinea cookbook here.

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So… what do you want to do? And what’s stopping you? Find those perceived limitations and then dig into the steps you need to take in order to work with them. The road to success is walked in steps. Take them.

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein 

Did this article remind you of anything you’ve experienced?

A particular skill you’ve mastered? Levels of education? Share your story with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! #itsstillanamazingworld


  1. “Allen & Alinea: One Man’s Odyssey Through an Iconic Cookbook.” YouTube, Food by Glam , 11 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLPUGIftRq4. Accessed 24 June 2019.
  2. Hemberger, Allen. “The Alinea Project – Pork Belly.” Vimeo, Allen , 8 Feb. 2011, vimeo.com/19693818. Accessed 24 June 2019.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.