By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
So what do you think of the new crop of food writers, the ones being trained side-by-side with chefs at the culinary institutes so that they’re highly, technically educated about food and food service?
That’s so wrong. I think that’s barely a step away from all the home economists who used to put out food sections in newspapers. Writing from the food training side, they get so fascinated by the factual content, the writing gets so technical and juiceless. Such expertise should inform the writing, but not be in the writing.
Food writers are writers who choose food as their topic. You need to be an interesting thinker and bring more to food writing than just a knowledge of techniques. I mean, it’s great if someone knows how to make sole Duglere, if they know who it’s named for, and what’s in the sauce, and the history of butter — all of that is good for a piece, but it’s not a piece. It’s just where you start. You want to bring in everything around, like the people involved and how the sun feels on the day that you’re eating that dish. As a writer you have all of these things to pluck from. Also, the things you don’t write are so important, as are the things that you cut — even if it all goes away, it leaves a ghost behind.
You once gave me advice that changed my approach to writing, and eventually enabled me to finally write — and finish — a novel. I was a young restaurant reviewer, I’d written just eight or 10 reviews for theL.A. Times, and you called me up looking for that week’s copy. I said, “It’s right here, but it’s awful, and I’m just trying to make it better.” Then you said, “Michelle, when you write a weekly column, some of them are going to be jewels and some of them are going to be dogs. Everybody writes the occasional dog. You have to accept that and get your piece in.” This was the first time I’d been given permission not to be perfect, and just finish the thing. As this advice sunk in, I eventually lightened up with the perfectionism that had been hindering my fiction writing.
I do remember telling you that. And that’s the advice that M.F.K. Fisher gave to me. I had been writing so slowly, polishing forever, finishing nothing. And Mary Frances said, “You have to go do daily journalism. Go work for a newspaper.”
It’s great training. You learn to get the job done. There are times you just have to let go of what you’ve written, send it in and know that, anyway, it’s tomorrow’s fish wrap. You just go on.
I love that I’m the second generation to get Fisher’s advice.
It really works.
Michelle Huneven is the author of the novelsRound Rock, andJamesland, to be published next year by Knopf.
COMFORT ME WITH APPLES: MORE ADVENTURES AT THE TABLE By RUTH REICHL | Random House 302 pages | $25 hardcover