‘Food is known as fluffy and feminine, but it’s not,’ Misti Traya explained. She recommends reading Julia Child, Elizabeth David and Anthony Bourdain. Food writing isn’t just recipes or restaurant reviews, writing about food is actually writing about other things. She read us the piece that won her the YBFs, a funny, family-filled, cut grass under foot, piece about some delicious sounding american thing that I’m having to hunt on her blog to remember the name of, aha! Here it is, it is called ‘Lemon Icebox Pie’. I yelled ‘is it like cheesecake?’ and was told ‘no!’ with huge, horrified eyes, but it sounded a bit cheesecakey according to her description. Mind you now that I am living in D.C. I realise the word ‘pie’ has a totally different connotation to in the UK. Here ‘pie’ is semiotically sweet and childlike and Halloween or associated with festivities. Pumpkin pies and apple pies line recipe magazines in Trader Jo’s. In the UK, ‘pie’ is more semiotically aligned with pubs, from ‘steak and kidney pie’ to ‘chicken pie’, it’s more grown up and muddy wellies. Scrolling through Misti’s blog, I can see that there is an actual recipe there and according to the pics it looks like a really big, style tarte au citron: https://chagrinnamontoast.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/lemon-icebox-pie/
Misti Traya had the room of our Food Writing Supper Club (an event concocted by myself, cosy coffee shop in the heart of Portsmouth: Southsea Coffee and the Portsmouth Central Library Theatre) howling with laughter, but pensive as well. Of course food is linked to identity, to memories just as Proust explained in his famous madeleine section of In Search of Lost Time. Misti confessed getting so interested in the idea of food that she contacted neuroscientists at UCL to ask questions about how food memory is stored in our brains.
Misti highly recommends blogging as a medium, despite finding the word ‘blog’ rather ugly, Misti told us how useful it had been for her to collect her thoughts in a blog. She uses it as a notebook, to post recipes she has practiced in time for a celebration. I’ve just seen that she has posted a recipe for Galette des Rois, one of my favourite things to eat, not just for the taste but also the theatrics around it. Invariably the youngest in the family had to get under the table and shout out the names of every person there as the older sister was cutting the slices and distributing it. This ensured that if, during cutting, the ‘feve’ was spotted, the person under the table couldn’t shout out their own name and ensure they become ‘queen’. My sister has never stopped laughing at my terrible inability to remember names. Invariably my parents would have invited people over for Galette des Rois whose names I had forgotten and my sister had to shout out things like ‘is this slice for Bernard or Penelope?’ as she knew exactly what was going on as I sat under the table going ‘ehm, the next slice is for…. ehm…’
I have always admired people who can keep up with the regularity of a blog. Just like a columnist who manages to make a seemingly dull topic fascinating. One of the hub writers who has a regular blogger is Wendy Metcalfe https://wendymetcalfe.blogspot.com/ and from the Sunday Times I admire columnist Caitlin Moran https://www.thetimes.co.uk/profile/caitlin-moran?page=1
But back to food…
Some food words are funny, so use them: eg: Piccalilli
Create a scene when you write about food.
If you are writing a review, you can cheat by listening to other people’s conversations around you.
If food is the thing you want to talk about, you are a food writer.
Don’t worry about not being a trained chef.
It’s ok to insert recipes into narrative, see Nora Ephron. (I’m pretty sure Jenny Colgan does this also with her Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop books. It can be a bit twee, particularly if you are sharing uber complicated old fashioned recipes with no pics as to what the damn things are supposed to look like. It’s like being thrust into the Bake Off tent during a technical, but it also can help with immersion in the world of the character I think).