by Hillary Manton Lodge, special for EIR
If you look at fiction in general – and romance in particular – it’s all about the senses. Sight, sounds, touch – all of these make regular appearances as a scene is drawn out.
But taste sometimes gets left behind. What foodie fiction does is make taste a part of the whole reading experience. The food becomes a secondary character, and the flavors help to augment the scene.
The awareness of the food we consume is something of a recent phenomenon. During the middle of the 20th century, middle-class households streamlined and women began to cook for their families, rather than employ a cook or housekeeper to do it for them. We saw the dual rise of classic cookbooks such as the Joy of Cooking and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French cooking alongside the marketing and availability of convenience foods. As each household added a television, along came cooking shows instructing viewers about technique.
During the seventies, chef and restaurateur Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse and spearheaded the idea of using local, seasonal, and organic produce. The conversation shifted from technique to ingredients.
And while instructional cooking shows have been around since the 40’s, they’ve grown in popularity over the last fifteen years. Even if you weren’t cooking yourself, you could watch someone else cook – and their dishes always turned out.
Good food, prepared at home, became aspirational. Romantic. Something to aspire to in a perpetually hectic world.
Food writers such as MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, and Molly Wizenberg helped to propel the recent spate of food memoirs, with the authors examining their own lives through the lens of food.
Foodie fiction, I think, grew out of those nonfiction volumes, as well as the vicarious experience of television cookery. And why not? Characters can prepare and consume meals that might be out of reach of the reader, but no less delicious. If we travel vicariously in a novel, why not eat vicariously? Why not surround characters with food that’s delicious – and also tells us about that character, and about the world in which they live.
In Siri Mitchell’s Chateau of Echoes (which I reread about every year), the protagonist uses the kitchen as a way to control her world, and as a place to hide. In Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients, as the students in Lillian’s cooking class learn their way around the kitchen, they also come to greater courage in their own lives. And in Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, the food prepared by Claire Waverly has the power to alter people’s behaviors and decisions – everyone but the man next door.
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Reservations for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge at Amazon
In my latest novel, Reservations for Two, food plays a large part of the characters’ worlds. Partly because it’s their business – the protagonist, Juliette D’Alisa, grew up at her parents’ Portland restaurant. But it’s also her heritage – Italian on her father’s side, French on her mother’s. The family’s interactions, and the way they deal with times of tragedy, all revolve around food.
And in several chapters there are recipes at the end. The reader can experience Juliette’s world that much more, and even if the recipes go unprepared, they paint a more detailed picture – how much vanilla and orange zest go into something such as a blueberry buckwheat cake.
In the end, the purpose of the food in Reservations, as well as the others in the genre, isn’t to show off or add unnecessary flourishes. Instead, it serves to broaden the reading experience while creating and even more delicious world for the reader to savor.
About Reservations for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge
(from WaterBrook Press)
A culinary concoction of taking chances and finding love in the most delectable places
Food writer-turned-restaurateur Juliette D’Alisa has more than enough on her plate. While her trip to Provence might have unlocked new answers to her grandmother’s past, it’s also provided new complications in the form of Neil McLaren, the man she can’t give up.
Juliette and Neil find romance simple as they travel through Provence and Tuscany together, but life back home presents a different set of challenges. Juliette has a restaurant to open, a mother combating serious illness, and a family legacy of secrets to untangle – how does Neil, living so far away in Memphis, fit into to her life?
As she confronts an uncertain future, Juliette can’t help but wish that life could be as straightforward as her chocolate chip cookie recipe. Can her French grandmother’s letters from the 1940’s provide wisdom to guide her present? Or will every new insight create a fresh batch of mysteries?
HILLARY MANTON LODGE is the author of Reservations for Two, A Table by the Window, Plain Jayne, a Carol Award Finalist, and Simply Sara, an ECPA Bestselling book. A graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, Hillary discovered the world of cuisine during her internship at Northwest Palate Magazine.
A storyteller at heart, in her free time she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, watching foreign films, and exploring her most recent hometown of Portland, Oregon. She shares her home with her husband, Danny, and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Shiloh.