Fish & Chips & Beeple
September 26, 2016

So, lemme tell you about my new hero.

A short while ago, a close friend of mine introduced me to Mike Winkelmann, otherwise known as Beeple. Beeple’s backstory: one day, Beeple decided he wanted to be better at ‘art’. To address this, he committed himself to creating something every day. To keep himself honest (and to encourage some standard of innovation), he vowed to post what he’d created online.

He made this decision over 10 years ago, and—get this—hasn’t missed a single day since.

Beeple’s “Everyday” project is absolutely staggering in its breadth and depth. Over the past decade, he’s wandered around amongst several media, from photography to graphic design to music composition to 3d computer graphics. At the point I intersected with him, I was flabbergasted; despite having a couple decades’ experience in computer graphics, it would take me weeks to make one of the pieces he cracks out in a few hours one day.

There are several factors that lead Beeple to be uniquely inspiring to me:

  • His focus on his ultimate goal (“be better”)
  • The obvious fact that his commitment has paid off in spades: his artwork is incredible. It’s unique, surprising, complex, and, above all, good.
  • His work has style. It smacks of Ferran Adria’s indelible quote: “Being creative means not copying”. Making heaps of art is one thing. Making heaps of original art, and making it a point to constantly throw out your own playbook, is quite another.
  • His self-deprecation at every turn (“beeple-crap”, “The best I can do”, etc.) make it clear that he doesn’t have his head up his own ass. This, to me, is critical. It supports what I might call my Golden Rule: “be really good at something, and don’t be an asshole about it.”

Now, to suggest I’m unique in finding this guy inspiring is just an abomination; Beeple has inspired hundreds of clones on social media; a quick search for the hashtag #everyday will open the gates to his followers. Nevertheless, it’s hard to not find his project motivating.

The problem of innovation under constraint has developed into a fascination with me, and Beeple exemplifies this magnificently. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the resources of some of the world’s best visual effect facilities…and yet, I’ve never churned out a picture as complex and complete as one of Beeple’s “Everydays”. Here’s a dude cracking out amazing image after amazing image on his own computer at home, without access to swarms of artists or a massive render farm. The thing that I find so compelling about this is the same question I asked myself about my Alinea project: Can I do this by myself?

Beeple’s ultimate accomplishment is being proof-positive that it’s possible.

So, for the past couple months, I’ve tried to do what he’s doing: I try generating a piece of art, every day, using just the resources I have available to me at home (namely, a macBook Pro). It’s interesting trying to do this. It’s also interesting trying to be staunchly against copying anything (myself included). Trying to force myself to try new things—to remind myself when I’m doing something that’s comfortable to stop and try doing something uncomfortable instead—is exceedingly difficult for me. My opinion of myself is that I’m rarely visionary, but I’m a really good craftsman. If you slide me an idea, I’m good at executing it well. The Alinea project, as I saw it, was basically me just executing a bunch of someone else’s ideas. And the visual effects industry as a whole is far less about free-flowing artistry (at least, at the level which I’m involved) and far more about being a digital craftsman at the behest of a high-powered director. Forcing myself not to refine, but to come up with something new, is challenging.

I’m sharing these experiments on Instagram.

It happens that this ‘hobby’ is a good one for this point in my life: with a baby daughter and an exhausted wife, it’s a quiet activity that I can chip away at late at night or early in the morning when they’re asleep, and I can let renders simmer while I’m giving baths, cooking dinners, or changing diapers.

While I undoubtedly find this mission captivating, there’s also something about it that feels a little, well, ‘flailing’ to me. The challenge of preserving my curiosity while also trying to be a good husband, and now a good dad, persists. Part of the allure of the Alinea project was carrying things thoroughly through to their natural conclusion. Right now, I feel like I’m hopping from short-term-project to short-term-project for the sake of maintaining my sanity/identity, but there’s something that feels a little hollow or less satisfying about it. Why is that? Is it a lack of an overall vision or goal? Maybe that’s ok? Also, copying someone else’s project, especially when the theme is “don’t copy”, feels itchy and derivative to me.

At any rate, this weekend I felt especially un-directional, and so I asked Sarah if it’d be ok if I tried to cook something. It’s been a while since I’ve had significant time in the kitchen, and I miss it. I find myself returning often to Atelier Crenn; while I can’t say it offers a philosophy that I find as uniquely captivating as that of Alinea (or Beeple), it’s undeniably pretty, and there’s something comforting about knowing that it’s a ‘home turf’ cookbook (the lower bar for acquiring ingredients makes it a more ‘relaxing’ book to cook from, relative to Alinea).

One of the recipes Crenn outlines is for a play on Fish & Chips. This recipe benefits me at the moment in that it’s visually beautiful and also pretty straightforward (my bar for “straightforward” right now is “I can do it in a day”). This recipe, like the Carrot Jerky one, involves some interesting techniques I wanted to try.


The dish hinges on a technique Crenn’s chefs developed for pommes souffle. Pommes souffle (or “puffed potato”) is classically made by slicing potatoes into thin discs of about 1/8″ thickness or so, frying once at a low temperature to cook the potato through, then frying again at a high temperature to puff the potato. Having tried this method a few times before, I can agree with Crenn’s assertion in her book that the method is kind of an unpredictable one: the potatoes don’t consistently puff. At home, this is annoying; in a restaurant, it’s wasteful. Crenn and her team sought to devise an alternative, more-foolproof method.


The idea starts thusly: small potatoes are sliced paper-thin on a mandoline, then grouped together by size. Half the slices are dusted with potato starch; the other half are painted with egg white. The two halves are pressed together and cut into a round, then fried quickly in oil. The act of cutting the round is meant to ‘seal’ the outer edge, while the interior remains wet and puff-able.


While Crenn describes her recipe as consistent, I have to admit that it took me quite a bit of futzing around with this before I got it working. After making it through maybe 50-60 discs that failed to puff, I grew frustrated; the method seemed to consistently fail. I started modifying the variables involved: fry temperature, amount of egg white, amount of potato starch, pressure applied when sealing, how long the discs sat before frying. The one clue the book offers: Crenn describes the egg white/starch mixture as a “batter”. I found that if I went pretty heavy with the potato starch and the egg white, there was indeed enough ‘stuff’ between the discs to be batter-y. Ensuring a good seal around the edges, this batter-y version yielded the highest puff rate of all my tests.


The potato puff is accompanied by a traditional (and delicious) tartar sauce, which is a homemade mayonnaise mixed with parsley, shallot, and gherkin. A small hole is bored in the puff with a pin, then the puff is injected with this.


Topping the puff is a small slice of snapper. I found Tai (New Zealand) snapper at Tokyo Fish Market up in Berkeley, which is totally delicious and worked great for this. The snapper was cured for about a half hour in a mixture of salt, sugar, lemon zest and parsley.


For as frustrating as I found the potatoes, I am fully on board with this curing trick. The fish’s flavor intensifies and is beautifully perfumed by the parsley and lemon; I want all my fish to be treated like this.


This simple bite is garnished with a dust of malt powder, lemon zest, a parsley leaf, and a small slice of fresno chile.

Overall, the final dish is awesome; it tastes familiar, comforting, and fancy all at once. The bite is tiny, the size of a quarter or so, which made it pretty easy to eat like a half-dozen before I made it to actually photographing anything.

More satisfying than the bite itself, though, was just having a bit of a larger block of time to spend in my own head and laboring over something. Maybe that’s a good clue about myself; maybe the fast context-switching required to juggle fatherhood/a marriage/my own interests is yet another muscle I need to work on toning and learn to be satisfied with. I’m still on the upward slope of this particular learning curve.