Monday, August 19, 2013

Why I Write...David Tanis. . Cooking and writing

Photograph - 
Andrea Gentl

Cooking can be a kind of self-expression. Aside from the obvious purpose of providing nourishment, cooking may inspire a mood, and, under the right circumstances, be positively transporting, for both the cook and the diner.

Writing is another form of self-expression, and it’s always nice to have more than one. I am a cook who writes about food, among other things. (Full disclosure: I was an English major before I ever thought of cooking professionally.) Food writing can be daunting: there are just so many ways to say “delicious,” and everywhere are shameful examples of overused food adjectives. Yet there are odes to asparagus and poems about pancakes

Food is evocative. The mere aroma of onions slowly stewing, or bacon frying, or tortillas on the griddle will instantaneously summon a childhood memory or a long-forgotten moment. For me, a mere whiff of pasta cooking is a culinary trigger. Something about the steamy starchy vapors haunts me every time, and in my mind’s eye I see an old battered aluminum pot and colander—my mother’s. That pot produced some rather mundane dishes, but just the smell of boiling noodles, even now, carries a hint of nostalgia. And it’s strange how the nose can name a dish long before the eyes have noticed. Every ingredient has its own perfume.

Writing about food can be a way to document a culinary event. Indeed, it is a slower way than dashing off a quick tweet or photographing each dish in a meal and zapping the image to the known universe before eating it. Such technological advances are amazing, and a picture may well be worth a thousand words, but the images become obsolete at an incredibly rapid pace. The nuanced history behind these “sound bites” might deserve elucidation; often more words are required to tell the story well.

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