Roasting, or Searching for a Food Writing Style

‘”I’m thoughtful when I come to class. My aim this weekend is to bring more personality and feeling to my writing and photography, to transform the sterile and soulless and help it resonate with a wider audience.

Telling stories like this doesn’t come easily to me – I’m not an emotional person – but I know that the proof of the pudding is in the story; that it’s the tale that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, that illuminates the subject and makes it come alive.

Roasted Veggies Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The gilded smoky scent of roasted vegetables emanates from the oven. Aran has made lunch. I fix myself a plate of roasted squash, beets and carrots, perfumed with oil and herbs and speckled with spices. The tender squash is velvet smooth, the flavours nutty, complex and cosily sweet, the subtle colours running the gamut from gold to caramel by way of saffron, ochre and honey. In contrast, an uncooked squash sits on the counter with dishes of fresh raw carrots and beets. The raw vegetables are hard, knobbly – their colours almost aggressively vibrant – subtlety is clearly not their thing.

Vegetables Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I chew thoughtfully on the warm soft velvety squash. I know now what I need to do. Roast my stories to bring out their flavour and sweetness. Texture them with salt and herbs and fragrant oils to reveal their hidden subtleties and complexity. Knock off their hard edges and soften their crunch to make them palatable and sweet.

I take another bite. Food for thought indeed.”

Food Writing Workshop Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Ugh. The above is a writing exercise I did at the second workshop I took last October at Aran Goyoaga’s studio with the very lovely and inimitable Tara O’Brady (check out Luisa Brimble’s fab workshop here). All I can say is that I most definitely haven’t found my ‘voice’ yet. To me something like the above still sounds pretentious and inauthentic and I have to fight the urge to be snarky even when I’m writing about feelings and emotions that are actually genuine and real. Maybe snark is my authentic voice. I dunno. The only thing I know is that this food writing malarkey is hard, people.

Food Writing Workshop Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tara on the other hand makes it all look easy. The author of the wonderful Seven Spoons blog, she writes with a genuine depth of emotion that I can only dream of achieving; develops all her own distinctive and tempting recipes and does all her own food styling and photography. In her house. In between looking after her kids.

She’s also an amazing teacher. We focused during the workshop on writing and photographing with intention and purpose; developing and building a connection with your audience and how to evoke atmosphere and emotions with both words and photography.

It was heady stuff and brought to us by an accomplished wordsmith, who, unlike some purely visual people, could actually explain her thought processes and ideas. If you get the chance to be taught by Tara, jump at it.

Soup - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The above is a quick iPhone shot of the soup that Tara is styling and photographing above. Girl is a genius AND she’s bringing out her first cookbook later this year. Jump at that too. We saw galleys and it looks FABULOUS.

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m curious, Paola. Do you have a “snarky” version of that story? Would you be willing to share? If you do, I’d be interested to read it. As you said, that that is your writing voice.

    • says

      I don’t have a snarky version – and sometimes a snarky voice doesn’t seem to work. The emotions in the above piece ARE genuine, it’s just when I write them down they sound embarrassing. Also my snarky voice doesn’t really match my photos, which I’m finding to be another interesting conundrum…

    • says

      But as I said to Marilyn above, sometimes snark doesn’t seem to fit. I just can’t find the right non-snarky but still authentic voice… it is a conundrum…

  2. says

    okay, so i’m obviously no expert but i think that piece read really well. from the comments above i get the impression there may be something holding you back from letting yourself go and being free with food writing? maybe you reach for the snarky to deflect all the potential criticism you have imagined you will get? could it be imposter syndrome even? my point is really try and get to the root of why you won’t let yourself get comfortable with food writing and hopefully you won’t hold yourself back…

    • says

      Ding, ding, ding! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t think I imagine I’ll get criticism, but I do definitely reach for the snarky when I want to hide. I think it probably IS imposter syndrome… Thanks for this. Much food for thought…

  3. says

    In the past I have enjoyed your snarky blog posts, but most of them actually are not snarky at all and I like them just as well. I still laugh when I think about your family rising at 2 am to celebrate the Minx’s birthday thinking in the winter darkness that it was time to get up. There was no snark in that one, just humorous self-deprecation. I think bushra is right about snarkiness as a shield, but I don’t think you need it.

    • says

      Thank you! As a family we were reminiscing about that morning just the other day (when the Minx hit ten would you believe). It was great to have the blog post to relive it through, as we had already forgotten a lot of the details… and yes, I’m realising that snarkiness is a shield, because I’m not good at emotional stuff..

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