A Recipe for Better Food Writing

The key to great writing, a wise friend once told me, is to look at the subject from the inside out. “It’s not about what you think you should say,” he said. “It’s about what’s going on inside of you.” So, though I’d love to say I have a great recipe and sexy food shot for you today, instead I have a recipe for observing*.

Food + Eyes + Nose + Mouth + Imagination = Taste

 

The first step in this equation is to make a dish. Or buy a ripe piece of fruit. Maybe even sneak a square of chocolate from your secret hiding place. Then, take a quiet moment to take in all that it is. What do you see? What do you smell? What does it feel like? Does this food remind you of something?

recipe for better food writing
Non-SEO’d illustration

I’ve been obsessing over pears lately. It all started up in San Francisco when I took an aggressive bite of a perfectly ripe Frog Hollow pear. The surprise of texture, flavor, and—let me be honest here, sticky juice running down my arm–gave me one of those rare food moments that instantly  transported to the bedroom of my mind. Everything about that pear reminded me of tossed sheets and pulled curtains.

If you were at the tasting pavillion at the Food Buzz conference, you might have seen me blush. It’s been a while since I had one of those sexy fruit moments.

So, ever since that sensual bite, I’ve been feeling up pears all over Los Angeles. I seek the green and browned skinned fruit at the market with eager fingers. Is this one soft enough? How about this one? A farmer at a fruit stand today watched me as I picked over a pile of hard, green pears. “These guys are crisp,” he said, “but they’re really good.”

I couldn’t hold back my displeasure.  “I want something really juicy and dirty,” I said and scurried away before he could identify me. What’s gotten over me?

So, yes. Ripe pears are pretty extraordinary. I eat them over the sink with my eyes closed so that I can relish in their messy pleasure. Flesh with the perfume of fall leaves and white fruit makes me whimper a little. My teeth rub up against the miniscule grain hidden within the fruit’s juicy inside. And then I go back in for another bite. I contemplate the subtle sweetness of the meat all over again.

No wonder I take my relationship with food so seriously.

Perhaps the thing that’s so compelling about food is its base nature. It nourishes—regardless of its pedigree–from the moment it enters the mouth. Maybe it fulfills a nutritional need, a craving, or a purely sensual one. But regardless, once you place that food on your tongue, you begin the process of becoming one with it. I think we food blogger types get stuck at the looking outside of ourselves part of the equation, when really, all the good stuff starts from inside. Go to any food blogging event, and you’re sure to see men and women clamoring to get the best picture and forget about the pure joy of the first bite.

Getting the money shot

So I invite you to skip the technology, the SEO, and all the other shoulds you’ve collected up along the way. Instead, step up to that darling morsel and sink your teeth in.

Maybe you’ll find something new.

Drop me a line if you want to share what you’ve written!

*Note: No cameras should be involved in this writing exercise. So don’t tempt yourself by pulling the old DSLR out of its cushioned bag.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

14 Comments

  1. stephen
    November 16
    Reply

    I made a beet, satsuma mandarin and pear salad the other day. The balance of earthy beets, tart sweet oranges and ripe floral satiny pears made for an out of this world dish. Talk about sexy salad moments!

  2. November 16
    Reply

    Brilliant. This might be my favourite post yet. It is ALL in the first bite. Never forget to savour. That’s why TV and movies are so evil when you eat in front of them. They rob you of the joy of food– of mingling flavours, the subtle notes and obvious hits working together to create sheer pleasure.

  3. November 16
    Reply

    I’m loving the imagery, Brooke.
    I haven’t had many memorable encounters with food, lately. Last night, however, I did appreciate the simplicity of a small potato dish I tossed together from gifted CSA goods…Small potato slices, ruddy carrot shavings and baby arugula settled alongside an egg, in a pan heated slick with bubbling butter. All was seasoned with another friend’s secret family spice blend. After recent chaos, the act of inhaling the toasty aroma of browning potatoes equaled instant relaxation.

    • Food Woolf
      November 19
      Reply

      Jennifer,
      “bubbling butter”. “ruddy carrot”. I love the textures of these paired words. Thanks for sharing!

  4. November 17
    Reply

    I had the best time cooking this past weekend. I tried out a potential Christmas menu on guests who joined us in a cabin in the woods in N GA this weekend. Want to know the best way to cook a Christmas dinner for seven? with scheduled hot tub breaks. Everytime I stepped out into the cool crisp air with another item on or in the stove merrily cooking away (overseen by the non-hot-tubbers) I was happy, and each time I came back in the fantastic smells welcomed us with anticipation of what was to come. Everything came out on time and got rave reviews, and I got to share it with people I don’t get to see nearly enough. That is why I cook.

  5. November 17
    Reply

    Flesh with the perfume of fall leaves and white fruit makes me whimper a little. I had to write that incredible sentence down because that’s one I want to remember. You really captured the passion of eating in this post. Hugely inspirational. Thank you!

  6. November 17
    Reply

    I’m digging your being transported to the bedroom of your mind by pears. Metaphors and imagery bring so much to a piece. As I continue to work towards stepping out of my manual and how-to type writing, reading things like this are invaluable.

  7. November 17
    Reply

    What a wonderful post. You get so caught up in how the final product looks, you forget about the taste. I try to take my time and savor each bite, but life sometimes makes me hurry through meals that should be leisurly. So, thanks for reminding me to stop and savor every bite as often as I can.

  8. November 19
    Reply

    This is so good..Its nice to relate food in such close association…

  9. Oh, how I love your writing. I did have one of those moments today; I popped open a freshly jarred Apple Thyme Butter so I could take pictures and post about it, but was so over-taken with the smell of sugared thyme I blanked out for a mili-second (which in a busy day feels like an hour). I realized I was smiling and breathing in my new concoction as if the jar had my needed oxygen instead of the room I was standing in. Without thinking I dug my finger into the jar to taste, forgetting spoons and trendy foodstyle spreaders. Then, I recovered and got busy getting my FoodGawker-hopeful. I had one of those pears from FrogHollow, and you certainly wrote the song they sang.

  10. November 19
    Reply

    The vast place that informs your writing is a world I’d love to enter with you some time.

    On another note, just wanted to drop by and tell you how wonderful I think you are. Love, Linda

  11. I adore the image of you over the kitchen sink biting into a ripe, juicy, sensous pear with your eyes closed…I have been that person too…and it was THE best bite!
    And I LOVE your statement: “all the good stuff starts from inside”. Thank you for the precious reminder.

  12. December 8
    Reply

    Oh, the fruits of Frog Hollow. You’re making me yearn for them.
    You can whisper in my ear any time.

    I do care about food writing. I love reading it. As an English teacher, I’m pretty picky about showing not telling. But I find that my brain is dulled when it comes to describing foods. I’ll work on it.

    And why didn’t I meet you at FBZ?

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