Today’s guest is Dorette Snover, owner and chef of the C’est si Bon! Cooking School, and an aspiring author. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she has worked as a doughnut maker, a cook in a fraternity, a chef for equestrian barons, and even had a stint on The Food Network. Her food pays tribute to her French heritage, and as an occasional tour guide in that country, she’s the one to ask if you’re searching for truffles in Provence. Her novel-length fiction, entitled City of Ladies, recently won Anderbo.com’s No-Fee Novel Contest, The Mercer Street Books Fiction Prize.
She’s here today with a unique slant to consider — how writing and cooking are similar. Bon Appétit!
Treat Readers Like Fine Diners
Nothing beats teaching the culinary classics to my students unless it’s creating a delicious world for my readers. When I was writing my first novel, City of Ladies, I struggled with balancing these two worlds. But after a few years I have decided to merge them, and I’ve been seeing so many parallels and how one art really helps the other.
When I apprenticed to learn the craft of fiction I felt much like when I was a student in the professional kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America, learning the art of seduction with food. Do readers want seduction? You betcha.
Satisfy the Reader’s Appetite
It begins by enticing and arousing the appetite. When readers step into your story they should already feel the ambiance, the setting. They shouldn’t have to think, “Oh, this is the French countryside,” they should feel it. Don’t overwhelm readers with too much smoke, abrasive vinegars or spice. Gentle them, appeal to their senses. Begin and build your story like a chef plans a dining experience.
To be sure readers, like diners, come to the page with expectations. To be nourished. My hope is that the nourishment will be both physical and spiritual. Some are satisfied with crepes, but others want variations. Sweet and savory. So give your story many layers so it can satisfy readers beyond the surface level. Give your story what is known in the culinary language ofNew Orleans as “lagniappe”—something extra that makes it memorable. An unexpected side dish or sweet that makes the meal extraordinary. Something your readers will not easily forget.
Consider the Entire Meal
Is the first taste of your story like an amuse bouche that carefully pulls and folds into a longer feast? Other chapters or courses can be consumed quickly and hurriedly without much thought. But also like a fine meal unfolds, so does a story. With careful planning. Timing and pace are everything. Like the chef, the writer is orchestrating the outcome. A story unfolds with little morsels of compelling and unexpected textures.
You must begin with honesty and trust. This is what this meal or story is about. From there they will feel it’s safe for you to lead them. Spoons of comfort, enhanced with intrigue, and building towards a denouement, imbued with resonance. The resonance that results comes from the developing layers in your story, much like the layers of a sauce. On the plate/page you shouldn’t see the moments spent in the kitchen toiling over reducing (editing and revising, oi vey) and tasting again and again, adding the subtle pinch of smoked paprika, ground Szechuan pepper, or the splash of sherry vinegar.
But then there is a surprise. An unusual pairing. A new twist that surprises even the chef. Two ingredients sitting side by side are tossed and tasted; this new dish is where the characters were leading.
Create a Lasting Impression
I learned as a Scholar in the French Wine Society how a swirl of wine is measured in professional tastings. After a sip is swallowed, the story read, you are about to make an important observation. Without thinking do you swallow more than once to relive the experience? Do you reflect on the story? Does it impact your day? An exceptional wine does, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. But a story or a wine can be said to have lots of “extract” if it has many complex flavors. Taste a wine and see. Not all mean to endure but some wake your spirit with a lingering haunting perfume of violets, just dug earth, and of roasting birds over a walnut fire. So is it true with a story. Does it stay with you? The memory of a good meal resonates.
So chop the shallots of your story, hang out in the kitchen, open the door to collect wood, perfect and reduce the sauce over a fire until its taste transports your readers.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Alexis Fam Photography