Dispatch 9 - Writing Food Descriptions

I love food. I should have written Eat, Pray, Love or Chocolat. I still have time, right? Maybe I can pick out a fancy new pen name and write novels about food. Who should I be: Cherry Bouillabaisse, Rosemary Sandwich, or Cinnamon Sweet? That last one kinda sounded like a stripper name. Okay, scratch that idea.

I love to write about food. In my forthcoming steampunk series, I have a couple of nice scenes where I pay close attention to the pleasures of food. I think I write about food because I write at night, usually when I am hungry, and usually when there is absolutely nothing to eat in the house. Hunger inspires writing. I find myself thinking about all the food I wish I had at my fingertips . . . a nice crème brulee with a glossy sugar coating that taps when you break it. Sigh. It feels too trendy to call myself a foodie and too much like an episode of Dr. Phil to call myself a food addict. I appreciate food so I pay attention to food details when I write. Writing about food is fun!

Angeli on Decatur in New Orleans, home of the best pizza I have ever eaten!

For today's dispatch, I offer five tips for writing great food details.

  • Describe the texture. Is it bumpy, smooth, or frothy? We love the frothy texture of a freshly blended banana smoothie. We love the smooth texture of homemade chocolate pudding served in grandma's blue, plastic parfait cups. Don't forget to write in texture.
  • What do you hear? Do we hear the silverware clattering against fine porcelain plates as we sit at long, polished-cherry banquet table? Do we hear the clink of crystal wine goblets? Do we hear the sizzle of meat roasting on a spit or cheap hotdogs frying in scratched teflon pan? What we hear as we dine can impact our overall experience.

  • Describe how it smells. Sometimes a simple scent description like "fresh baked bread" is great, but how does rosemary infused lamb smell when it's cooking? What did that beautiful buttercream wedding cake smell like? What scent is the air filled with when something is fried, baked, sautéed, etc?  

  • Give me a visual.  Does the pizza's cheese pull away with long strings as you lift a slice? Does watery blood seep from the undercooked deer heart? (yuck). Does the overwarm chocolate sweat with beads of sugary oil? Whether or not we want to eat something is often cued by our sense of sight. Don't like escargot? I bet the look has something to do with it (because they do taste good, no matter how ugly they look). Every good chef will tell you that plating is important. You need to mentally plate the food for your reader. Can you come up with a clever metaphor for the colorful shish kabobs being cooked during at a Fourth of July backyard BBQ? Does the dish of dill-infused salmon sprinkled with capers and sided by dainty fingers of asparagus coated lightly in pale-yellow hollandaise sauce also have a pale blue pansy on the plate? Eating is visual!

Plate your writing!

  • Taste is king. It doesn't taste good, how does it really taste? Try to expand your descriptions of taste. Ever eat a bologna sandwich on white bread slathered with too much Miracle Whip? How does it really taste? Gross, sure, but also tangy, slimy, mushy, salty, etc. You might want to say disgusting, but there are other ways to make the point.

Escargot, can you believe it?

Writing about food is a lot of fun. If you really love food, a fun writing exercise might be to describe the best or worst food you've ever eaten. Adding sensory detail to your writing, as described above (notice we touched on taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing), can be a lot of fun!

Au Petit Paris in Frostburg, MD, home of the BEST food I've ever eaten!


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