Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Coobooks & Wine Reviews: What Is Compelling?

"There is not a recipe without a story."

You will find some cookbooks which are merely compilations of recipes, very functional books but some would say they are missing a soul, a heart that elevates them beyond the usual.  Then there are others which take the time to explain the origin of the recipes, the stories behind them.  Those cookbooks are far more compelling, providing a foundation that bolsters the impact of those recipes.

At the Chefs Collaborative National Summit, I attended a panel of food-book authors, one of which was Lynne Christy Anderson, a local author. Lynne lives in Jamaica Plain, teaches at Boston College and Bunker Hill Community College and wrote Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens.  While teaching English to immigrants, she found a significant way to connect with them was to discuss food, and the students shared their tales of food, family and friends from their native countries.  This was the inspiration for her book, providing recipes and the stories behind them.

Lynne is the source of the quote at the start of this post, and her words resonated with me.  As I pondered her words, I also thought about those cookbooks I most enjoyed.  I found that those that provided a story behind the recipes were those that stood out the most to me. That connection to the people behind a recipe, that insight into their lives, was fascinating to me. We can relate to those recipes far more than a clinical list of only recipes.   

It certainly makes sense, in many related topics as well, such as wine.  The most compelling wine reviews don't merely provide the technical details of the wine.  Instead, they share a story about the wine, relating details of the wine region, the wine maker, the grapes, and much more.  It is those stories which best hook a reader, which are most likely to lead that reader to try the wine.  When I talk to wine store owners about Sake, an intimidating beverage for many, I advise them to tell stories about the Sake, to draw in their customers.  A customer may not remember Sake terms like Junmai and Ginjo, but he probably will remember the brewery that is over 800 years old.

I try to inject those stories into my own writings, though I probably don't always do so.  But maybe this will spur me on to be more diligent in that respect.  It should stand as advice for all writers, the way to make their work more memorable and compelling. 

Just tell a story.

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