I’ve been ignoring writing in favor of watching cooking shows the last couple of days, hoping that mindless viewing of celebrity chefs and exotic ingredients would spark an idea that would get me past the big dime I got stuck on in this third book.
No big ideas yet. That dime is as sturdy and immovable a K-wall roadblock.
But I did get a kick out of my weekend-long immersion in the Food Network. In fact, I found a whole new way to categorize the shows: celebrity chefs as crime fiction writers.
Cozy chefs: Semi Homemade’s Sandra Lee. Robin Miller. The diet conscious Ellie Krieger. And the big sister of them all, Rachel Ray.
Sandra Lee, a willowy blond whose curtains and dish towels always match her menu, began as a purveyor of craft, quilting and scrapbooking supplies to Target and K-Mart. (And if I ever use the phrases “tablescape” or “cute little accessories” in public, just go ahead and shoot me.)
Robin Miller (Quick Fix Meals) can show you how to stretch a meal over three days. Ellie Krieger (Healthy Appetite) will tell you how to cut calories so that it tastes one third as good.
The ubiquitous Rachel Ray has taken over the cooking universe, with at least three shows running on the Food Network, and one on NBC, along with a whole line of books, cooking utensils and videos. If I ever wind up in a white-tiled room like that in the denouement of “The Devil and Miss Jones,” Rachel Ray will be my companion in that room, and I will be doomed to an eternity of her vapid ejaculations of “Delish! Yum-oh! It’s a stoup! Thinner than a stew, thicker than a soup. Just add E-V-O-O!”
I do not mean to cast aspersions on cozy writers with this list. I enjoy a good cozy as much as I enjoy a home-cooked meal. But none of our cozy writers misuse the word “nice” like these women do on their shows. “Nice and spicy.” “Nice and cold.” “Nice and tight.” “Nice and brown.” When did “nice” become an adjectival replacement for “very?” Herewith, I’m asking them nicely to stop it.
The Researchers: Think Tom Clancy. Ridley Pearson. Any writer whose book can teach you about cavitation on a nuclear submarine or how to uncouple a train car with one hand.
Their cooking equivalent is Alton Brown, a man who takes the mystery out of food by explaining the science of oxidation or the thermal dynamics of cooking in a pouch. Alton’s an egghead, and if he were a writer, I bet he’d be an outliner.
England’s Jamie Oliver gives us the opposite characteristic: a seat-of-the-pants creator. Use a recipe? Measure? Moi? “Just bang a knob of butter in there.”
The Pros: These guys might be the culinary equivalents of our legal thrillers and police procedural writers. Guys who have been trained to get the job done, and have a fine time showing us how. Bobby Flay. Tyler Florence. Mario Batali. Emeril Lagasse. They were trained as chefs. They own restaurants with stars behind their names. They never tasted an ingredient they couldn’t name.
If Mario Batali were writing crime fiction, his character would be a pizza-chomping, orange clog-wearing detective on the Lower East Side. And he’d solve every crime with the help of his Sicilian cousin, Marco.
The Amateurs: Well, they’re hardly amateur chefs, anymore than our characters are really amateur PI’s. They’re the caterers and the party pros. Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa). Michael Chiarello (Easy Entertaining). Dino’s granddaughter, Giada De Laurentiis.
There may be a crossover to traditional mystery writing here; I see their literary equivalents as the teachers, the veterinarians, the real estate agents and the tarot readers that populate our genre today.
The Regionals: Paula Deen (Paula’s Home Cooking), who never met a pound of butter she didn’t like, could represent every gumbo-eating, sweet tea-sucking, Southern ex-debutante in crime fiction. Her roots, like those of her mystery counterparts, are as important to the story as the crime/recipe itself.
Noir: the bad boys of chefdom. I give you Tony Bourdain (No Reservations) and Gordon Ramsey (The F Word).
I wouldn’t classify Lee Child’s work as noir, but I can’t help drawing a connection between Bourdain’s lanky, smoky, different-location-in-each-episode presence and that of Jack Reacher. And I love spending time with both of them. And Ramsey’s curse-strewn, high-octane approach to cooking mirrors that of some of our darkest writers.
And finally, one of my all time favorite categories: the international chefs. Nigella Lawson. Kylie Kwong. Their exoticism is as important as their food. They whisper words like“cardamom” or “star anise” and I melt. They transport me to another world.
Hmmm … maybe it’s time to order in some sushi and pull that new Natsuo Kirino off the shelf.
Do you have any author candidates that fit somewhere in these categories? Or have I left some categories out? Come sit, have a nosh, and tell me.
Oof, my least favorite subject. Goes completely over my head.
Hmm, would those with fear of food and cooking fall into the horror category, maybe?
Good luck with that nasty dime. You’ll get past it.
I keep thinking about MFK Fisher, who did so much writing about food.
Reading Colette always made me want to cook.
I used to love those two women on a motorcycle and their cooking show – I can’t think of the name!
I’m embarrassed to say that I’m a Rachael Ray fan, more because of her work ethic than her little sayings. She had this “30-minute meal concept” from the very beginning of her early career, when she had little money and was carting her hot plate to grocery stores for demonstrations. Even getting a regular show on a small upstate New York TV station didn’t lead to much money, but then her fan base was slowly beginning to grow, enough so that she had all these recipes that she wanted published. So she went to NY to find a publisher. Finally a small press decided to take a chance on her, and Al Roker, of all people, happened upon her show, an invitation to the Today Show was extended, and her empire was launched.
A definite midlist/regional success story! And a model for a cozy/traditional writer who is so dedicated to her series concept that she’s willing to weather the lean years.
Who would fall in the category of AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN? Reviewers? How-to mystery book writers?
How about IRON CHEF? Short story writers who are given the same theme?
Ha! Louise, you’ve hit a great one here.
My older daughter — who is dedicated to only eating white carbs — adores cooking shows. She loves America’s Test Kitchen and anything else she can watch (given that we don’t have premium cable).
Since Billie mentioned MFK Fisher, I’ll put in my vote for Calvin Trillin.
And, I so miss Julia Child. When I was young, our whole family would watch her shows together. My stepdad and mom would take notes. My sister would be bored. And, I’d be waiting for her to decapitate another large fish, its head flying across the room. Loved the knives.
Perhaps I WAS born a mystery writer.
What interesting and varied responses!
Alex, I think you once said if we ever wrote about food, you’d write about eating disorders. I’m not sure what mystery genre that equates to, but it sounds like horror to me. Interesting that there aren’t many (any?) protagonists in mysteries with anorexia or bulimia.
Yes, Billie, MFK Fisher’s work could send me right to the kitchen.
Naomi, I agree with you about RR’s work ethic, and the parallels to a small press/regional writer making it big. But when your personality passes into the realm of caricature … was it worth the price?
Pari, a white carb diet? That sounds like what I want to eat when I’m sick. Hmmm … I wonder who Julia Child’s mystery writing equivalent would be? Maybe Dorothy L. Sayers?
I guess it’s worth it to her. And if you go that route, you have to be prepared for this:
Julia Child/Sayers sounds about right.
And I dare you to reread Kirino’s OUT while eating a bento from Japantown, Louise. As for myself, I aspire to be a Ming Tsai or maybe a Roy Yamaguchi.
There was a wonderful crime fiction pastiche on UK television some years ago called Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown where the investigators were thinly-disguised TV cops and the victim was a TV chef.
Please feel free to keep Jamie Oliver over there. We’re not desperate to have him back!
Careful, Louise, “Don’t tread on me.”
Besides you, Patty, Jackie, and Naomi, I have a crush on Rachael and Giada, and who cares about the food, anyway?!
What about the mystery writers who center on food, such as Joanne Fluke, and (whoops! mental block or senior moment?)the one who writes about a caterer?
(Thanks for Rach’s picture: YUM-O! Have one of Giada?)
Still a male chauvinist pig at heart, I guess.
Paula Deen needed to be stopped. She has amassed weapons of mass destruction (aka butter) in dangerous quantities…
Whereas Giada…sigh…can do anything she pleases…sigh…
Very funny, Naomi. I love the website’s reference to Rachel Ray as Retch. And I must admit that I didn’t eat much of anything for a while after reading OUT. Haven’t read the next book yet. Any of you out there reading the next Kirino?
Ooh, Detectives on the Edge of Nervous Breakdown. From what I’ve seen of Gorden Ramsey’s “The F Word,” he’d be a candidate for dead chef in that pastiche.
Tom, where’s your good taste gone? Giada is the one my husband used to call “the big headed girl.” Not for her presumed ego, but because she had an adult size head on a child sized body.
Louise, I’d like to make a reservation for a weekend in your brain. I’d create a cozy little nest, watch the magnificent workings in awe, and I promise not to leave any crumbs behind.
This post is priceless.
Votes here for Gaida. (Must be the Italian in me.)
I used to love the Cajun Chef, Justin Wilson — “How y’all are?” “Dat some good gumbo, I tell you for true.”
First Tom, then Simon. And now JT! What is it with this Giada cult? Except for JT’s admiration of her, I’d guess it was a cleavage thing.
Good Lord. She’s the Queen of Stating the Obvious. “I’m going to add ice … to make it colder.” “I’m adding the onions right inside the pot … just like this.”
And JT, I’m not sure why you’re interested in a vacation chez my brain. There’s not much going on there most days.
Well, you, Jackie, Naomi, Patty, and now rachael are all married, I’m still depressed that my favorite Killerette, Alex, said she has a boyfriend–that she has one, not that she SAID she has one–that leaves Giada. . ., and my wife thinks Food Channel shows are harmless.
Cleavage? They use knives, but I don’t recall cleavers. . . . Beaver Cleaver? Oh, nevermind!
Au contraire, ma chere. Au contraire. Your mind is a fertile beast.
Though I’m sitting here LMAO at the ice comment. You’re so right, she is the queen of “Duh.” Maybe I don’t admire her as much as get a kick out of watching my husband drool over her. And the head thing has become such the norm I rarely notice it anymore. Look at all the little actresses, heck, look at your local newscasters. Emaciated bodies and bobble heads. Comes from being underweight.
Ahem, I have never watched the food channel except once when I saw two British ladies, one of whom rode in a side car the other drove the motorcycle. These’s just too much cooking going on in those shows for my tastes.
Okay, Tom, I guess drooling over the chefs instead of the food is pretty safe wanderlust. And it sounds like lots of husbands are doing it (you, JT’s, and mine at least).
Patty, you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s nothing quite as mindless on TV as a cooking show!
Giada states the obvious…I hadn’t noticed. Sigh…
Excuse me… She doesn’t have a big head…just a slender neck.
And excuse me again…it’s not just a cleavage thing…it’s an everything thing. She’s just very dreamy. And I know her affections aren’t all one way. When she’s on the telly, she’s always looking directly at me, regardless of where I am.
PS: Louise, privately, I’ll share my top 3 TV loves and why…
“PS: Louise, privately, I’ll share my top 3 TV loves and why…”
Oh, do tell! I need some good gossip right now.
And I do so love the notion of Giada looking right at you on the screen. I’ll bet there’s a secret love “code word” she uses, too.
Giada secret code word is every other word. If you take either the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th letter of every other word she says, it spells, Simon my love, run away with me now.
Ramsay is my kinda guy.
But then-so was Vincent Price. Bet you didn’t know he was one hell of a chef. His his leather bound/gold embossed cook book takes pride of place in my kitchen.
Giada is a wannabe star. Rachel Ray’s giggling is getting worse – the first sign of meltdown.
You do know that Tony Bourdain has penned crime novels? I haven’t read them but someone emailed me and said that she couldn’t read his books for the same reason she couldn’t read mine: the naughty language. But Kitchen Confidential is one of the best books I’ve read and is a must read.
Ramsay. What can I say? I think he and Bourdain should do a show together. Not that would be a must see.
No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain…thanks for mentioning him Louise…the other night he was in a Kuala Lumper street market eating pig intestines or was it fried, crispy locusts?
Ah, it looks like we have a trio of female fans of Mssrs. Bourdain and Ramsey! It’s the allure of bad boys, I know.
I haven’t read Bourdain’s mysteries, but my buddies at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore say they’re quite good, and that he’s a talented cartoonist as well.
But Elaine … Vincent Price? Come to think of it, he also published a volume of poetry that my mother swooned over.
The one I DON’T miss is THE FRUGAL GOURMET guy who used to be on PBS. All his recipes sounded like “and if we boil kale in unflavored water for seven hours and withold the salt, it makes a tasty bed for this shredded lutefisk I found at a garage sale last week… with tripe.”
Yep, Vincent Price! Vincent Price (and his wife) were fabled cooks – the book is almost a collectors item.
Wow, great write up and analogy.