One of my favorite shows on the Food Network
, a reality-based cooking television series. Four chefs have short periods of time to create luscious meals from outrageous ingredients. Three judges from the world of food judge and critic their dishes on different criteria. Whoever doesn’t “cut” it is chopped or doesn’t advance to the next round. This sparked my interest in food critics.
Also, as the proud owner of a shelf full of books about cooking, I wonder how you would go about creating a best-selling cookbook. Who writes all the cookbooks we see at the local bookstore or on Amazon? Which would be the best career for the character in your next novel, cookbook author or critic?
The terms food critic, food writer, and restaurant critic can all be used to describe a writer who analyzes food or restaurants and then publishes the results of their findings. While these terms are not strictly synonymous they are often used interchangeably. Those who share their opinions via food columns in newspapers and magazines are known as food columnists.
Food critics and “restaurant critic” are synonyms, in practice. Both suggest a critical, evaluative stance that often involves some kind of rating system. The distinction, if any involves the range of possible investigation. “Food critic” has a more contemporary vibe, suggesting that restaurants, bakeries, food festivals, street vendors, and taco trucks are all fair game.
“Restaurant critic” is the more traditional title and can connote a more restricted sphere of operations — traditional restaurants, with perhaps those serving French cuisine being the exemplars. The internet has slowly become more important in forming opinions about restaurants. New generations of discussion forums and rating systems have become influential such as Mouthfuls, Yelp, and eGullet
, as have some food criticism blogs like GrubGrade
For most of the past century, the most highly visible food critics have been those who have written for daily newspapers throughout the world and a few who have been restaurant reviewers for influential magazines, such as Gourmet in the United States. Television has become an outlet for many shows involving food or restaurant critics.
A cookbook is a kitchen reference publication that typically contains a collection of recipes. Modern versions may also include colorful illustrations and advice on purchasing quality ingredients or making substitutions. Cookbooks can also cover a wide variety of topics, including cooking techniques for the home, recipes and commentary from famous chefs, institutional kitchen manuals, and cultural commentary. Anyone can write a cookbook, given they have recipes. How did the cookbook get its start?
The earliest cookbooks on record seem to be mainly lists of recipes for what would now be called haute cuisine, and were often written primarily to either provide a record of the author’s favorite dishes or to train professional cooks for banquets and upper-class, private homes. The first recipe books to be compiled in Europe since Late Antiquity started to appear in the late thirteenth century. About a hundred are known to have survived, some fragmentary, from the age before printing.
Cookbooks that serve as basic kitchen references (sometimes known as “kitchen bibles”) began to appear in the early modern period. They provided not just recipes but overall instruction for both kitchen technique and household management. Such books were written primarily for housewives and occasionally domestic servants as opposed to professional cooks. Related to this class are instructional cookbooks, which combine recipes with in-depth, step-by-step recipes to teach beginning cooks basic concepts and techniques. In vernacular literature, people may collect traditional recipes in family cookbooks.
Professional cookbooks are designed for the use of working chefs and culinary students and sometimes double as textbooks for culinary schools. Such books deal not only in recipes and techniques, but often service and kitchen workflow matters. Many such books deal in substantially larger quantities than home cookbooks, such as making sauces by the liter or preparing dishes for large numbers of people in a catering setting.
Single-subject books, usually dealing with a specific ingredient, technique, or class of dishes, are quite common as well; with books on dishes like curries, pizza, and simplified ethnic food. Popular subjects for narrow-subject books on technique include grilling/barbecue, baking, outdoor cooking, and even recipe cloning.
Community cookbooks (also known as compiled, regional, charitable, and fund-raising cookbooks) are a unique genre of culinary literature. Community cookbooks focus on home cooking, often documenting regional, ethnic, family, and societal traditions, as well as local history.
Cookbooks can also document the food of a specific chef, cooking show chef, or restaurant. Many of these books, particularly those written by or for a well-established cook with a long-running TV show or popular restaurant, become part of extended series of books that can be released over the course of many years. Popular chef-authors throughout history include people such as Julia Child, James Beard, Nigella Lawson, Edouard de Pomiane, Jeff Smith, Emeril Lagasse, and Claudia Roden.
So your character who needs an occupation can be either author or critic. Try a twist. How about a football player who writes a cookbook packed with his favorite pie recipes? Or a stay-at-home mother of triplets who is a blogging food critic of baby nutrition products? The food industry is evolving and your next novel can evolve with it.
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Today’s writing prompt: Josie reached into her great grandmother’s heavy plastic suitcase and wiped off the dusty book. Must be forty years old, she guessed, as she lifted it with care. The title read, “Cooking for…”