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.