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Beer and Napkins’ Creative V Sessions: Featuring Despina Panagakos Yeargin


By Despina Panagakos Yeargin, a.k.a. @despidoodle

DESPINA joined us from her sister Antonia’s Chicago kitchen on February 21. She advocated shucking the rules so that we can all RE- learn to play with our food. She believes that, beyond feeding our hunger, a kitchen is also a place where different challenges give us opportunities to express our creativity. “The kitchen is where I support my friends,” she said. “It’s where I show my stepchildren that I love them and where I honor my family’s cultural traditions. Yes, my creative space is my kitchen!” 

LINK here to Despina’s V-Sessions Creativity Zoom talk with photos and specific examples of how she has used her creativity in the kitchen – Passcode &v5zF^e7


Let me tell you a story.

This took place a few years ago. My husband, Dewey, and I are preparing dinner for our granddaughters. The oldest, Corley, is about 7 or 8. We have soup ready to go, and we’re getting everything ready for grilled cheese sandwiches. Counting out the bread slices, we had just enough plus one slice, but upon close inspection, we realized that three of our slices had big holes in them. GASP! Just a gas bubble that had built up during the proofing and baking of the bread, but how to make grilled cheese sandwiches with a big hole in the bread? The cheese would melt and ooze out!

Dewey and I were ready for one of us to run to the store for more bread. After a full day at work, dinner should be easy. We were programmed for fun and relaxation, not problem-solving.

Enter Corley. She was still young enough to be truly open-minded. She is still young enough to apply skills learned in one area of her young life to another. “Why don’t you just tear up the extra slice to fill in the holes,” she said, “just like we do with Play-Doh.”

How Playing with Food Inspires Creativity

At a very early age, we are encouraged to play with our food in our high chairs! Studies indicate that playing with food encourages sensory development. As we begin to use a fork and spoon, the expectations change. We must now learn new rules. Don’t put your fingers in the food. Eat with your spoon. Wipe your mouth. Don’t play with your food.

Rules. Restrictions. Lots of don’ts. This stuff kills creativity!

The workplace can kill creativity too. Yes, even in a restaurant kitchen. Especially in a restaurant kitchen! In a professional kitchen, we have to produce the menu items consistently. There’s no room for “how about this” or “what if we tried it this way.” The customer wants the same dish, prepared the same way, garnished the same way, and with the same flavor! It’s a very stressful setting, and unless you’re working for a high-end restaurant with lots of kitchen staff, keeping things the same is critical. The only person who is allowed any creative growth is the chef.

That was me 29 years ago. I made it for one year and a few days. I’m happy not to have that kind of stress anymore! It beat the creativity out of me. It can happen in any work setting.

Once I had recovered, I realized I was happier sharing recipes than banking and cooking them. I started a food blog–a creative outlet I have maintained since 2006. I started out slowly, and increased to bi-monthly and monthly posts. Later I managed to post every other week. Now I try (I do have other demands) TRY to post weekly with time off for holidays. Currently, there are over 61,000 views of my blog.

Today, I play with food all the time!


Remove the phrases I don’t know and I can’t.

Forget the fear. Let it go. It’s like doing a crossword with a pen! Move forward boldly. What can go wrong? Really?

Plan ahead. Measure everything and group the ingredients that will be combined. Typically things like dry ingredients are mixed, sugar and butter are combined first for a cake, oil and onions/peppers/garlic (aromatics), and so on.

You don’t need a recipe. SO true, but people are afraid of this more than anything else. You know that you can make a salad without a recipe, right? Of course. Well, it’s the same concept as cookery. You must know a few basic things: Heat the pan first before adding oil, dry meat, fish, or shrimp with a paper towel before adding to a hot pan. (Cold pan or moist protein will cause sticking like the devil!) Add herbs at the end for a fresh flavor pop; dry herbs and spices at the beginning. You almost always begin with onions. Don’t add the garlic until the onions are almost done. (Garlic can burn and turn bitter, so don’t give it too much time in a hot pan before adding liquids.) After browning the meat, you can deglaze the pan by adding any of the following: wine, stock, broth, tomatoes with juice, and onions.

A recipe can be good (it’s a formula for success), BUT you don’t always need one. If you’re baking a cake, you need a recipe. It’s crucial. Surprisingly, if you have the essential knowledge (ratio of baking powder to flour, number of eggs and sugar in a typical recipe), then you can create your OWN recipe from that. You decide on flavors. You decide if it will be a layered cake or if you’ll cut it into squares, pour chocolate over each square and serve it on individual plates with whipped cream and toasted almonds. Adding salt and pepper to the pot is the same as adding them to your plate. You add what seems appropriate, taste, and adjust. It’s as easy as that. 

Your imagination and experience in tasting food combinations all of your life have prepared you for creativity in the kitchen.


Many creative people have their finger in several projects:

TONY BENNET: Singer & artist. He built a new following by collaborating with younger singers like Lady Gaga.

JACQUES PEPIN: Chef, cookbook author, artist. Jacques sees beyond the kitchen to the front of his restaurants. Every menu is hand-drawn by Jacques, as are many illustrations in his books.

SCOTT AVETT (of the band The Avett Brothers): First an artist, then a successful musician. Now both.


I believe that we learn in one creative endeavor we can apply to another. Creative problem-solving in the kitchen prepares us for the office, for backpacking on a remote trail, for planning a big event–for just about anything.


Forget the Fear

Plan Ahead

You don’t need a Recipe

A Recipe Can be Good (it’s a formula for success), BUT you can create your OWN.


Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (one of the stories in her book Seven Gothic Tales)

Also, a movie. In Danish with subtitles. Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by Questlove

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin I recommend the audio version, which is like being led in meditation. A very Zen-like experience. I’m listening to it currently, just letting wash over me for now.



Her Website:

Her Instagram:

Her Cookbook Facebook Page:

Despina’s Food Blog:

Beer and Napkins Kicks Off Creative with their New Year V Sessions

Artist and Designer John Digney will inspire with his creative journey

One of Beer and Napkin’s goals for the New Year is to nurture the creative soul of the community. Initially, the V Sessions or VUCA Sessions aimed to support a small group with connections and knowledge sharing around change. This has expanded to a larger audience and will serve a greater purpose of brewing creative inspiration.

Our initial Beer and Napkins V Session Creative Kickstart to 2023 will feature Artist and Designer John Digney. John will share some of his journey from Director of Industrial Design with American Greetings to his post-career passion for his Irish heritage, ancient stone craft, and design. His latest work is with the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland, You can read more about some of his adventures here.

You can sign up for our Jan 3rd, 2023 Creative Kickstart on our Beer and Napkin’s Meetup Page

About our Speaker
John Digney is an Artist /Designer who received his BFA in Industrial Design from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He was raised in the Cleveland neighborhood of Westpark near Kamm’s Corner, and he and his wife, Kathleen, now reside in Greenville, SC.

About Beer and Napkins V Sessions
Beer and Napkins V Sessions are designed to build a community around knowledge sharing with the specific purpose of creatively nurturing resilience in the face of change.

Brewing Ideas for the Future

Experiencing collective in-person events has always been the catalyst of the Beer and Napkins Community. One of our last live events was in January 2020, presciently titled The VUCA Sessions: Navigating and Embracing Chaos; little did we know of the things we were to experience in the last few years. Of course, we pivoted and adapted to technology like many other communities. Our intimate VUCA group discussions help us thrive amidst such an isolating dynamic. This adaption and evolution of the use of emerging approaches to enhance our experiences will be ongoing. However, the spirit of camaraderie, the clinking of mugs, the tactile exercise of scribbling on a napkin will not be forgotten and permeates everything we do. AI is an exciting metaphor for using technology to support the creative spirit. Artificial Intelligence will continue to infuse in all we do. For example, a friend of mine, Dave Gray, introduced me to MidJourney AI, where AI-generated art is produced with descriptive words and phrases. As an artist, we can either adopt or reject creatively. I have adopted and used this to support my artistic endeavors (See AI art produced with sketching in pubs as some keywords). The same thought can be applied to Beer and Napkins, using technology to enhance the community experience. We are excited about the possibilities.

As we move onward, the Beer and Napkins community will continue to brew ideas for the Future, virtually or in person. We will leverage our third places, technology, and talent network to support idea development within our community and beyond.

Phil McCreight, Founder

Beer and Napkins Supports Furman University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Scholarships available for their new GVL Starts Entrepreneurship Program

Beer and Napkins is excited to be supporting Furman University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship GVL Starts. For a program overview, please visit  or for more information, contact [email protected]

The Institute will give a 50% scholarship to the first 5 who apply (so it would only be $149). Just enter “50% Beer and Napkins Scholarship” in question 18/last question of the application. For application, visit