Fiction in the Kitchen

korean-foodDuring my undergrad studies, a student brought in a poem he’d written about he and his father cooking traditional Korean food. The poor kid was terrified. Our professor lacked tact, and could be pretty harsh at times. With worried hands, he confessed his fear to us: “It’s just about cooking.”

To his astonishment, our professor loved it. He proceeded to tell us how rich food is with imagery. If you’re a fan of food network, I don’t need to tell you this. You already know.

Food, and cooking especially, is an art rich in sensory detail, in cultural traditions, in familial traditions. Few things bring people together like food.

When we write, when we focus on imagery, we’re prone to lean on our two primary sense: sight and sound. Still, an entire world exists beyond those two senses. Taste and smell are so deeply rooted in us, several of our memories are rooted on experiences of these senses. Entire emotions are conjured by simple descriptions.

If you’d like to get the most bang for you buck, consider these senses when writing your next scene. Consider the role that food can play in your character’s life. Consider the memories of food, of smells and tastes, wrinkle-deep in his mind.

My challenge: Spend some time in a kitchen. Watch Food Network. Help someone prepare a meal. Learn the language, the technical terms for green onions, for the particular way they chop a potato, a carrot, a stick of celery. Read recipes. List ingredients. Learn this so you can, with simple, accurate descriptions, evoke your readers’ emotions that, at times, are best unlocked through the sense of smell and taste.

Until then, good eating.

Think and Respond: What memories do you have of food/cooking? Do you have family traditions, special recipes handed down from generation to generation? Who do you cook with? Eat with? How does that change who you are as a character?

17 thoughts on “Fiction in the Kitchen”

  • My memories of me myself cooking,is full of nothing but self pity. I haved cooked with my mother and my now deceased father including barbecue. I always feel presured when it comes to cooking,(mainly because I have alote to learn when it comes to cooking) Cooking is something I do not really at all have a passion for.Due to my serious lack of skill and inspiration I veiw it almost as hard work. Little note I hate pealing shrimp, cause I take forever, and I hate cutting onions cause that stuff is strong and it burns whoa! In all I dont like the math, but I love the the after math.

  • My memories of the kitchen are fond, my parents are both amazing at cooking and I usually watch them. I remember one time I was making french fries and when I dropped the potatoes into the oil they was a huge splash back and I burnt myself. But the sound of the bubbling fries was very unique. I also love cannolli (it is an Italian pastry, not many people in California have had them or had them made well) and every time I make or eat one I remember when I was younger and still lived in New York, I remember my family and friends. Food definitely plays a huge role in everyone’s life and it should in a character’s too.

  • My memories of cooking primarily involve me pulling out either a frozen entree or a box of instant meal mix. Yes, I do realize this is pathetic. Yes, both of my parents cook and they are amazing. However, the fact that I once managed to burn simple sugar with water is a testament to my cooking expertise.
    I do watch Food Network however, and I find it more entertaining than I think I’m supposed to. Food is loaded with emotions and imagery, but my problem is creating a dish that contains something other than instant mixes and enough artificial flavors to knock a dragon out cold.
    Connecting characters with certain foods or cooking styles is a great way to discover more of their personality and backstory. For example, a male lead might eat or drink something he hates because his love interest happens to enjoy that particular food or beverage. Play around with your characters’ tastes and see what happens!

  • Some of my memories cooking is that i love to see my mother cook and also my grandma in the kitchen. The couple of things I don’t like to cut or cook is onions because they make you eyes hurt and water so much. Some of the things i love to cook is cakes,cupcakes and pumpkin bread that my grandma cooks when it gets close to certain holidays. Sometimes i watch the food network channel to see what they are cooking and to see what seems good to cook one day. It seems like my character will love to cook more food once she has her own family and a whole different life that she has now. Every character has some kind of love for food and some show it and some decide not to, but we all do in way different ways!

  • the only memories that i have that involve cooking are ones around the holidays, when the rest of the family actually has to help cook. i’m not even a good cook at all, but sometimes i have to warm up tv dinners or something- so i guess that kind of counts as cooking. usually when i go down to visit my dad and my that side of my family- we all eat together, other than that i don’t really eat with anybody.

  • The only memories that i have of cooking is for my mom’s birthday. my sisters and i make chicken pasta and rice with garlic bread. i sometimes help cook the pasta because i think that easier then rice and garlic bread. we cook this every year for my mom’s birthday.

  • Karolina Bibian

    Growing up coocking was extremly important in our house. My mother loves making mexican food! (: i try to cook now more than ever because i have come to realize that its going to be really important once i grow up and move out of my house. I want to be a good grandma that can cook and be like your great grandmother made this!!! i love making rice beans, and spicy foods!!

  • i have alot of memories of food. i eat it everyday! hahahaha i dont think i have a fav meal though coz a meal consists of specific type of things put together in one… like salmon and mashed potatoes… but what if i like fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravvy? or what if i want green peas and mashed potatoes? so i cant possibly have only one fav meal. or if you say meal of the day,,, then it would be lunch because you can eat anything at lunch. but anyways, i have a good memory with pankakes.. me and my cousins were home alone one day,, and my parents went to the store to go get things they needed to make dinner. not lunch… so we figured we had to make lunch ourselvs. so we couldent decide on what to eat and we looked through all the cabinets to see what would be most appealing. and we all decided to make pankakes. it was funny . and then my parents ended up going to one of my aunts house and eating dinner there and totally forgeting about all the kids in the house that needed to eat. so we ended up making pankakes again… so steven, my cousin, said that we can now walk around saying we literally had pankakes for breakfast lunch and dinner!! hahaa happiness!

  • In all honesty the closest thing to “cooking” I have gotten, is throwing something into the microwave and heating it up. yes its pathetic and horrible but I defiantly don’t cook ever. I do watch my mom though and she has it down to a science:) very precise with the way she cuts and how she puts things together making some of the weirdest foods taste the best. I am proud of that so hopefully shell show me the secretes one day:)

  • As odd as it sounds, I love to cook, for it brings out a certain level of creativity in me even if I cook something simple. Everybody in my family absolutely HAS TO follow a recipe, but I always put in what I feel that I need to. It is nice to return the favor to my mother every once in a while by cooking something for the family, and my fondest memories of my own cooking are when I made chicken curry, chicken wraps, and odd concauctions that include beans and sausage. Whatever it is that I make, I feel that I excercise my creativity whenever I cook

  • Cooking is great way to bring people together. Food comes with all senses and many memories. When people can write and hit those senses its incredible. It’s not an easy task. It takes skill and effort. Passionate writers can really get into the deepest part of thinking. THey can bring back so many feelings.

  • I have several memories of food and cooking. My entire family and I always sit around a large table full of food every holiday. Holiday’s are always a great time to spend with your families. The only recipe I can think of that has been past down from generation to generation is tortilla soup. I usually don’t cook much, but if I do, I usually cook with my mom or sister. We usually eat as a family, but sometimes we have absent family members. I think it changes who you are as a character, for eating together as a family brings a lot of love, and you feel glad that they’re here.

  • I remeber every christmas my mom and little sister and I would always make cookies or other different types of sweets. I’m so clumsy in the kitchen, so i goof up alot, and there always winds up being flower everywhere. Last year (2011) we made russian tea cakes, there was sugar and.flower everywhere! And I even remeber its sweet taste in my mouth.

  • thanks this really helped me with my imagery! My memories of cooking with my mom tamales for chirstmas. i don’t know how that changes my character but now i understand more of how my characters show act and how/what i should write THANKS!

  • I absolutley LOVE cooking! My memories of cooking are of cooking with my mom or dad, discovering new favors and how different foods collide and make something beyond ordinary! I think my favorite part would be the sizzle from when you lay a cold cut of raw meat on the screaming hot pan and the steam dances up to your face. Or maybe when you bake and the house smells like cookies, cake, and muffins- even if you just bake one of them! I can go on forever with this but I think I’m going to save it for my writing!

  • I never thought about food playing an important role in a characters life. It makes sense to me now that specific tasetes could trigger a flashback or make the character remember something that happened previously because of food

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