Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

In honor of my final week as a pastry student - after this week, I will be calling myself a pastry chef, though I will still be a culinary student working on my associates - I present a feast (or is that a library?) of culinary to fiction parallels:

If the final product is too staged and composed, it is unappealing.  In plated presentations, a bit of randomness catches the eye; in display cakes, gum-paste flowers and leaves look more real when occasionally torn (my chef recommends putting in a puncture mark 'bug bite' now and then); and in fiction, the best tales have a bit of real life's messiness.

The dish you are eating is made of both what you can see - fruits, nuts, lamb - and what you (usually) can't - herbs, spices, and in the case of baked goods, baking powder, yeast, and other invisible ingredients that are crucial to structure.  There's also a lot going on in fiction that goes beyond the casual read and between the lines.

If you play a trick on someone - bread that looks like a carrot; blue food - there are people who will appreciate it, and people who will have to suppress the urge to smash the plate over your head, and the response only partially depends on how clever you are.  I don't think I have to elaborate how this applies to trick endings in fiction.  ;-)

You can make a gorgeous, soaring sugar-piece or beautiful gum-paste blooms to accent a pastry piece, but none of that matters if the cake is two inches tall because you don't know how to properly emulsify a batter.  (Sponge cakes rise in large part because you are incorporating air into the batter.)  In fiction, spinge-tingling prose and intriguing plotlines fall apart without basic grammar and punctuation.

You have to know the rules before you break them.  See above:  blue is typically not used (via dye or other methods) because there are no true blue foods.  Blueberries are actually more purple.  But certain cultures traditionally have blue plates, and it can be quite effective when used correctly.  I don't even know that I can pick out a single writing rule to apply this to:  there are times when it's very effective to tell, not show, or to use passive voice to convey a feeling of helplessness, or ...

And there's one parallel where I feel it's most appropriate to start with the writing aphorism, because it is one of the most infuriating and misunderstood bits of advice in the author's world:  write what you know.  More properly, this should be "know what you write."

I am one quarter Welsh, one quarter Italian, and a random dollop of Scottish, Scots-Irish, German, Swedish and ... oh, never mind, I've lost track.  The fact is, I am ridiculously European, and until relatively late in life, I had no experience with Indian cuisine.  That hasn't stopped me from cooking Indian food, but I've spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the spice profiles and understanding the philosophy behind certain flavor combinations.  I can confidently say now that I could "invent" an Indian style dish, but if I had tried when I first started cooking?  It would have rung hollow.

So ... know what you write, know what you cook:  know your inspirations.

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