I’m facing a slump. It’s almost October and I’m facing a major slump.
Some food writers can whip out an article minutes or hours after a meal. Others take days to write, taking multiple visits and a lot of thinking before making that article. In any case, I’m not sure how other writers motivate themselves, be it through their passion or out of necessity, but I say their output are impressive.
As for me, well… I haven’t been writing properly these past days. Writing about Boracay’s food culture left me really drained, energy and creativity-wise. Not to mention that I haven’t gone on a food raid for a while due to lack of funds and time. Eating is easy, but eating out and writing about it is difficult.
So what do I do during times when I can’t write anything? I read.
Lately, I’ve started rereading Anthony Bourdain’s books. I bought three of them – one after another – last year so I could learn his style of writing. It took me less than a week to finish each book, though I simply reread them afterwards.
I’ve watched Tony’s show, “No Reservations,” and I love how he talks about food, cooking, and dining. I also love his observations, insight, and side comments on the places he visits, the food, and the culture behind each cuisine. It helps that they have great shots of the dishes in question – they look so appetizing, your mouth would water.
Of course, I appreciate Tony’s books just as much. One could say that Tony’s writings have heavily influenced my goal to be a food writer. And why not, I like his style of writing. You can tell that he’s really into food.
For example, “Kitchen Confidential” was about his experiences, travels, and lifestyle as a chef, as well as his insights on the culinary industry. He even has frank, brutal advice for those who want to be – and who can endure to be – chefs.
“A Cook’s Tour” is about Tony’s travels around the world. I hear it was also made into a TV series. I like how he wrote about the countries he visited and the cuisine of each place, with much of your imagination being forced into play, leaving you hungry for the stuff he’s eating. (The parts with the pork and the oysters were my favorites.)
And then there’s “Medium Raw,” Tony’s follow-up to “Kitchen Confidential.” This time, he talks about his new life as a television personality, and his views on the changes in the culinary industry. He even has words about his fellow celebrity chefs, fastfood, and even something as simple as hamburgers. A lot of things have changed for him and for the industry, by then.
I’ve yet to read other titles that have caught my eye, such as those from Andrew Zimmern, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, among others. I don’t intend to be a chef, but at least I could learn how to appreciate food better. I’m nowhere near Tony’s, or anyone’s level for now, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
By the way, I also got “Linamnam: Eating One’s Way Around the Philippines” by Claude Tayag and Mary Ann Quioc during my trip to Bale Dutung (the same place where Tony dined). “Linamnam” is a compilation of dishes from various regions of the country. It’s more or less a comprehensive list of what food to look forward to – and where to get them – when you’re going out of town.
Seriously, I wish I could do just that – going around every province to study their respective cuisine. That’s why I got the book. I know I’ll have the chance someday.
Someone once asked me how I manage to write stuff about food. It’s a good thing I’ve been working as a writer for a long time now. Unfortunately, food writing is like feature writing, and years of writing straight news has made me dull in this field. It’s something that can be relearned along the way, though.
Before I started this blog, I looked for reading material on basic food writing. One of those I found was this article on Wikihow. Now it’s the same list that I follow, not to the letter of course, but still.
- Be able to eat all sorts of food, and describe with details about the texture, taste, smell, and feel to the food. This probably means you have to be a repeat customer, or you have to be in a group that is unlikely to order one type of meal only.
- Consider how you will record the experience. Mental notes, pictures and captions, or discreetly opened notepad?
- Assess the table set up before you begin the meal. Disregard this when you’re eating at a very busy hour, when clearing tables will take a bit longer; more so if you’re in a fastfood-style restaurant.
- Order food that gives as broad an experience as possible of the menu in front of you. Two words: Set meal. One word, best example? Japanese.
- Assess the food as you consume it. The article has these items to take note of:
Ask questions to the staff.
- The presentation – clean, beautiful or messy and tired?
- The temperature – Was the warm meal warm or was it cold? Was it supposed to be warm/cold when you ordered it?
- The level of cooking – That awful moment when your deep-fried chicken still has bloody bits inside.
Consider the ambiance. Do the people inside look like they’re enjoying themselves? Or is the restaurant emptying quickly or not filling up at all? Is the staff friendly? Is the place pleasing to dine in?
- Does the waiting staff know their food and ingredients? If you’re ordering a new or less-popular item and everyone’s having trouble explaining it to you, then trust your instincts instead. Then take notes.
- How do they respond if you make a compliment or a complaint? Watch out for defensive ones.
On the other hand, most food writers and bloggers have their own guidelines, tailor-fit for their style, audience, and medium. And then there are other, probably better, self-help reading materials on the subject. Your mileage may vary. It didn’t matter for me, though; I read as much of these as I could.
Let me admit something: At this point, I’m just writing whatever’s coming out of my head. I have a lot of questions, doubts, and worries regarding my food writing. For once, how can you write about food is you can’t eat out? How can you write about food if you can’t travel? How can you take pictures of food if you don’t have a proper still or video camera?
When is a food writer most inspired to write? Is it when he’s hungry, or when he’s full? Is it when he has spotted a new place to dine in or hang out? Or is it when his senses are stimulated by the look, the feel, the scent and taste of good food? How and where does one get the drive to write? Is it really possible to force oneself to write about food?
I know I sound like I’m whining about what I don’t have and what I can’t do, but I am whining. I’m facing a slump, and I’m not in good shape. October is coming soon, and I don’t have a lot of time left. I’m having a hard time writing and I don’t know what to do.
Now I have many others in mind that I feel like writing down too, most of them about love and enlightenment and other diabetes-inducing feelings, but I’ll stop now. So there.
(Pics from the anime “Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi”)