Tongue in Cheek…Musings on Literary Food Porn

May 7, 2009 at 8:12 am 2 comments

Radishes

One of my best friends once dated a guy who claimed to read his pornography.  I don’t mean he **air quotes** purchased Playboys for the articles, I mean that he didn’t care for erotic pictures; he found lusty stories and written accounts to have a greater appeal and, er, effect.  The peccadillos of a true intellectual I suppose…

Until this past week I would have denied that the same preference was possible for a lover of food porn – that aside from the real thing nothing could make the mouth water more than a gorgeously styled gourmet photograph.  Of course, I’m not the first to repeat the wisdom that we taste with our eyes first.  The sight of a deep crimson strawberry, plump and glistening with morning dew can evoke the sumptuous sweetness of the fruit before it even hits the tongue, and increase the anticipation all the more.  Websites such as FoodGawker and Photo Grazing cater to the needs of the average degenerate foodie — offering a harmless fix (It’s just looking!) to get him through the day until he gets home to his own dinner.

Brussels sprouts

Yet this week I have discovered literary food porn and damn, it is gooood…  Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients is my first indulgence (and you never forget your first, I’m told).  This novel, the author’s debut, is exceptionally crafted.  Bauermeister sculpts each character with rich language and heartfelt empathy, revealing them slowly through their most intimate histories – an elderly couple’s crisis of infidelity and eventual reparation, a young man’s heartbreak over the death of his wife, a new mother’s conflicted self-perception – and then bringing them all together around the counter at the cooking school named in the title.

I find this book nearly impossible to put down.  The stories are intriguing and deeply sincere, and the writing is decadent.  Certain passages have completely blown me away, particularly the lush descriptions of food and the simple but profound metaphors the author composes to explain her characters’ emotional strife.  At one point she writes, after a series of insults from a contemptuous, critical boyfriend: “Chloe felt sometimes that he was tying her up with string, into a small ball that he could throw far, far away from him.”  I cannot tell if you will read that and find it as apt and poignant as I did, or if it will mean nothing without reading the context, but I see that as further evidence of how engrossing the narration really is.  The words are not indulgent literary flourish – they are the story.

tomatoes

I contrast my experience with this book to my reading of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School, a memoir by Kathleen Flinn.  Also about a cooking school, specifically Le Cordon Bleu, Flinn’s writing lacks all of the elegance and expert pacing of Bauermeister’s.  Admittedly, Flinn is a trained journalist and is writing non-fiction.  Nevertheless, the reader could have been, but is not, transported by her book.  I don’t fall in love with her husband-to-be along with her.  I do not feel her frustration or her intense determination — I just hear it.  Does that make sense?  I recall the most basic lesson of college-level creative (and academic) writing — Show Don’t Tell.  Flinn’s book was more of a telling.  As one reviewer put it, “It’s all matter of fact: this happened, she had this amazing experience, she lived this dream, wouldn’t you like to read about it?”  Sure, I guess.

French spice marketThis is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all.  I did.  As did many other bloggers and critics.  The thought of dropping everything (or having everything dropped for you and against your will, as in Flinn’s personal story) to go to live in Paris and attend cooking school full time is quite enticing for me!  Plus, the book is riddled with funny stories and some great recipes I cannot wait to try.  I am just saying that I didn’t read The Sharper Your Knife with the same kind of hunger that I did The School of Essential Ingredients.  One review on Amazon.com of the latter book reads, “My main complaint is that there isn’t enough of it. It’s a very short book and feels highly polished, every line labored over until it gleams…but there’s just not enough of them.”  You certainly leave The School of Essential Ingredients wanting more… much like the first course of a fantastic meal.  I cannot wait to see what Erica Bauermeister comes out with next.  Consider your appetites whet!

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Entry filed under: About the Author, Review/Opinion. Tags: , .

Tiramisu Cake Happy Mother’s Day

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joooolie  |  May 8, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Such beautiful photos K… xxx

  • […] my quasi-review of Kathleen Flinn’s The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, I thought that I would be remiss […]

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