Butcher, Baker, Story Maker
I am a chef by profession, a baker by accident, and perusing my original passion by choice. Before its too late. That means writing, using words to formulate artistic expression from the rambling thoughts that burn within this cranium. Or hippocampus or whichever part of the brain deals with the mysterious and unexplainable mental explosions.
I first got into cooking as a way to make money. I was 16 and already a rebel spirit who didn’t fully understand that knowledge was power. It wasn’t easy knowing everything but it was a chore I took on gleefully, making sure everyone knew how clever I was using my biting sarcasm. I had a decent job in a restaurant and knew I could do it all on my own and had no need extended education. Besides, I needed beer money, weed money, money to entertain lady friends, and money to save for a better ride. A beat up VW was cool for smoking pot with the guys but not much of a chick magnet. With only my beetle to cruise for love with I had to rely on my unyielding charm in order to get laid. Fate introduced me to a free-spirited hippie chick and then began its legendary twisting. Hence life snuck up on me and I found myself with a pregnant girlfriend. Ever the idealist I did the honorable thing and got married. We gave it our best go but it meant trading in my dream of writing the worlds hippest novel to a attending cooking school so I could raise a family. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, that’s just a situation that took me off the course of chasing what I wanted, to become a writer. Missed opportunities but WTF.
I’m still cooking for a living. I did do some butchering, I worked at a number of high end New York City Restaurants, and food became my focus and my passion. The years pealed by and I became better and better at cooking, and more and more knowledgeable about food. It sidelined my passions until now. So this tiny segment of the writing world is where I am, and as small as my audience is they are faithful and encouraging. I was fortunate to have trained under a French chef who was young, passionate about food, and very cutting edge. He taught me technique, dexterity, and how to convert my pent up creative energy into food. He showed me that cooking can be more than just a job, it can be a creative outlet. That’s when I realized that writing is not so different that cooking. They both involve all the senses, as a chef I need you to enjoy the smells, textures, and tastes, and I need to make you see the beauty in my presentations and hear the sounds of what eating good food brings forth. Proper cooking is performance art. A writer needs to make you feel the same things without any props, with only words. We can’t use color, texture, aroma, taste or sound, we have to make the reader sense them, believe that they are right there.
That when I thought about this experiment. To describe the parallels between writing and cooking as it relates to science and art. Since cupcakes are what have become my marked territory these days, I’m writing the great American cupcake.
The first thing I do is conceive the composition of my cupcake. What the main flavor, where will I start it and how will I get to the end. So I don’t know what my finished product will be, but I know where to start. Once begun the cupcake will write itself. So I gather the basic elements of the story and place them all in a mixing bowl. Once in the bowl they blend together and begin to take shape. I have the basic start, the batter. Chapter 1.
Now I know what the cupcake will be about and its time to fill in the events. I need to follow some structure so the batter is symmetrical and forms in a manner consistent with the rest of the finished cupcake. If I baked the ingredients before mixing, the storyline of the cupcake wouldn’t make sense. It needs to have integrity. I choose what size pan and fill the batter in. Now its time to place it in the oven and let things begin baking. But at what temperature? That decision creates the first conflict the cupcake faces as the true story takes shape.
After the conflicts have percolated enough and resolutions have been achieved the cupcake comes out of the oven. I have my base and I set up the standards to follow. The look, smell, and taste of the story will remain consistent from here but I must add some more flavor and juicy situations, and of course some more conflicts. My brain has been working overtime, so now I need to decompress a bit. I let the story cool and I get drunk. Not because I want to, but because my art is so important to me I need to suffer. Hangover, here I come.
A good three bottles of wine and restless sleep has worked wonders for my cupcake bakers block. Idea’s course through my head while I’m in the shower. Why always in the shower?? I get my best ideas when I’m wet, naked, and without paper or pen nearby. My wife merely shakes her head as I run dripping wet from the shower to the desk to try and commit the recipe to paper. She suggests a small tape recorder but my problem is I’m old school, and my creativity runs through my fingers. Besides, I hate the sound of my own voice, it makes me sound so dorky.
At any rate the pounding of hot water on my body shook loose a new cupcake plot twist. A pomegranate and plum custard filling! A cupcake love triangle, which always interests the reader! So be it, the very second I arrive at the bakery I take out my keyboard and begin to prepare the tasty custard, with its silky rich texture. Once it becomes cool enough I inject all that drama into the center of the story. Now the cupcake continues to write itself and takes shape. But this is the tedious part, filling in all the cracks. Maybe I should go back and rewrite part of the cupcake, I sense that something about it just isn’t perfect. I struggle with the cupcake for days and finally decide to keep going to the end when I will edit the whole thing.
Now for the icing on the cake. (that wasn’t an analogy, its time to ice the cupcake) I won’t say the icing is the most important part of the story, but it has to have a powerful statement, and have the consumer understand how the entire cupcake came to this point. It needs to leave a lasting impression. Maybe even set it up for a cupcake sequel.
The finish has to have everything. The look, the feel, the taste, and a sense of continuity leaving the one eating it with a sense of closure. After ingesting the tastes the reader has vested so much personal time in its impotents to reward them with a strong finish, the story should leave a good taste in the readers mouth and hopefully such a good taste they will think about the baker next trip to the bookstore.
I guess what I’m really saying here is directed to the young written (or typed) word expressionists here. Never quit, never give up. If you have to take on a job to live do it, but continue to write in your spare time. All your work is worthy, don’t toss any away. Even when you get pissed at what you wrote and in a fit of self deprecation decree your work unworthy don’t. Put it aside, pour a vodka, light a joint, meditate, so whatever calms you down and chill. Rest the brain waves for a while. I have a few notebooks of written emotion that have been discarded and sent to a senseless death. Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep believing. A cupcake will go stale but a great idea will last forever if you put it into words…..PEACE