Treat Readers Like Fine Diners

PhotobucketToday’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.

Readers, you can learn more about Dorette through her website and blog, and by following her on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Alexis Fam Photography

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Comments

  1. says

    Dorette,
    I love the meal analogy. I never thought about writing in this way. I especially liked the unexpected textures. Best of luck with your novel. It is clear you have strong writing skills.

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  2. says

    Food and fiction – two of my favorite things! (Oh, along with football! Hmm, I am an F person.)

    Anyway, thanks for the Fascinating perspective. ;)

    Also, side note: I’d love to read a story about a Female cook in a Fraternity. (OK I swear I’m not doing this on purpose anymore. They’re everywhere!) Given my (limited) experiences at frats, that just seems like a recipe for entertainment.

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  3. says

    This is really lovely. Enjoyed the analogy with food. Makes me want to deliver a scrumptous meal for my readers. Thanks.

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  4. says

    Hi Alex, Thanks, so glad that it seemed to intrigue and lay a new ingredient on your table! Would you liken your work to a certain dish? A particular cuisine?

    CG, Mmm, texture, yes! Maybe this is a remedy for a smooth plot? Though, should plots be smooth as egg custard? Is that why so many like Creme Brulee? The crunchy exterior demands to be broken to reveal…? I like your thought! Pass the toasted pita, please!

    Kristan, Ha, you made me laugh! Well I see! Love the sound of f in food and fresh, fried, and funghi…and ..Merci for your comment. And what I could tell you about being a cook in a fraternity would curl your hair! it did mine!

    Robin, hi there — and how exciting! I’d love to hear more about your work! Thanks for being at the table, here! Do you get lost in the kitchen cooking, to inspire your story?

    Everyone, I appreciate your stopping by! I wonder what would be your your choice for your very. last. meal.

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  5. says

    Monsieur Maas, How honored and tickled – Merci — to have you here! It is getting closer to lunch, so I hope you have a pleasant pairing! Perhaps the mutual inspiration also affected Henny Penny’s story of her childhood and crazy aunt, Hazel. Hazel-Nut, A Novel – the day the sky fell and the pie filled.

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  6. says

    Oh my… this was the best sensory experience I’ve had reading a blog in a long time. What a powerful analogy. The lessons here will stick with me. Thank you!

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  7. says

    I love this metaphor, particularly about editing being akin to sauce reduction. I had no idea that honesty would form part of a chef’s mission statement. Not sure why that is, other than it seems more spiritual than I would have anticipated.

    I also know a writing friend with whom this post will resonate. Off to share.

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    • says

      Jan, Merci for being here and that’s very interesting that you were surprised by the honesty part of a chef’s credo (or at least this Chef’s mission) Have you had some less than scrupulous dealings with chefs? Thank you for sharing with your writing friend!

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      • says

        Happily, no dishonest chefs in my world, at least not to my knowledge. It’s more that I hadn’t contemplated the importance of trust in a gourmet experience. Now that you’ve put it on the table, so to speak, it seems evident.

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  8. Porter Anderson says

    Dorette, I like your post not only because you get at the delicacy of preparation (and the mechanics of combining subtleties) but also because you do it without dwelling on sweets.

    It’s refreshing to have somebody trot us around the kitchen about literature without rubbing our faces in chocolate and leaving us squealing in confectioner’s sugar. If you’ve hung around any of our publishing conventions for long, you’ll know that a great many of our writers need to think less about dessert (and squealing) and more about protein.

    As a sometime sommelier, I’m particularly glad to read you mentioning wine and roasted meats in one go. I’m so happy with that, in fact, that I’m off to do something about it, so thanks for the prompt.

    Porter “I Want a Meal Not a Snack” Anderson

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    • says

      Porter, I enjoyed your comment and perhaps like you, and it sounds like I won’t be going out on a limb here to say that you also adore savouring the less sweet aspects of writing? Getting to the roasts, the spitted shoulders and haunches of the story. I have heard writers go on about the bones of the story, but heavens I want something to chew on! I’d love to hear more about your favorite wines.. and your work as a sometime sommelier! Merci!

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  9. says

    A beautiful post with a great view of how to hook readers. I love food, fiction and fiction laced with food. I really loved your observations, Dorette.

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  10. says

    What a perfect analogy! As someone in the wine industry, I found myself mentally swirling, sniffing and sipping along with Dorette’s words, savoring the idea that a story can entice you in with such insistent appeal.

    I still remember those few extraordinary wines that stayed with me long after the finish, much as a great book will linger in your mind. And as an amateur chef who loves food and wine pairings and the surprise of intriguing combinations, I could so appreciate the “lagniappe” of writing a story with something extra to make it special.

    Now, if only I could apply all that to my actual writing I think I’d have found the secret to compelling fiction. But right now I just want an Oyster Po’ Boy and a Beignet!

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    • says

      Deborah! I’m in! I think when you write with that passion, it comes across on the page! Intriguing combinations, I love how you put that1 What are some of those that you experienced? Have a great one!

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    • says

      Kathryn,

      Merci, and Oui! Yes, I do wonder what it is about the two pleasures? Ingesting the world? Physically and spiritually. Not sure…Marvelous to meet you! Bon appetit!

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    • says

      Sophie, So wonderful to have you here! I hope you enjoy this St Patty’s day with something extraordinary…Thank you so much! Glad to have your visit!

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Trackbacks

  1. […] The link to James Scott Campbell’s Listen to the Book appeared on our AWM twitter feed (thanks to @porteranderson). It’s a short post, but a useful one. And Speakeasy reader Bonnee recommended  the Writer Unboxed blog in the comments last week (being a fan of food and fiction, I was naturally drawn to their post  about Treating Readers Like Fine Diners). […]

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