I do this for a living...
Welcome back to Elle's Kitchen. There are many people who work in food and hospitality. My husband was a baker and my father-in-law and brother-in-law both chefs, so I'm familiar with those particular roles. There are many more. A common one to find in fiction is the role of the bartender. Have you considered what a role in the food industry could mean for your character?
I have recently read a few novels starring people working in the food industry. The first is A Taste For Scandal by Erin Knightley. The novel is set in the late eighteenth century in London, England and stars a young English lord and a common girl who runs her own bakery. The author uses food very creatively and a lot of the action happens in the kitchen.
One of my favourite moments is when the spoiled English lord is given a baking lesson and discovers it is not as easy as it looks.
'Getting into the spirit of the challenge, his sister snapped up her bowl, and together they began to whisk. The uneven scrape of metal on metal gave testament to the fact that he had no idea what he was doing, but, by Jove, he would do it with gusto.
The egg went from clear to frothy fairly quickly, but seemed to linger in that state no matter how fast he moved. In less than two minutes, his arm began to ache from the unfamiliar motion, and Bea had already switched hands twice. Finally, she gave up, plunking the bowl down on the table with a thud.
"I can't possibly go on," she panted, dropping onto one of the kitchen stools. The sunny curls framing her face were looking decidedly droopy. "Miss Bunting, I do believe you are my hero. I honestly don't know how you do it."
"Nothing more than practice, my lady." Kindness warmed Jane's tone as she reached across the table for the abandoned bowl. "Only half my work takes any amount of skill. The rest is nothing more than endurance."
Richard paused to brush his forearm over his brow. Truer words, and all that. His shoulder burned like the fires of Hades. He boxed regularly-he should at least be able to outlast his baby sister.
"Giving up as well, Lord Raleigh?"
Did she know how husky her voice could get when she teased him? He did his best to look as though his arm were not about to fall off. "Of course not."
She grinned, effortlessly swishing the whisk all the while.
A Taste For Scandal, Erin Knightley
In another scene, the author uses flavour to introduce new information about the whereabouts of another character to the hero. Very clever! Andrew Grey's 'Taste of Love' series features not just chefs and waitstaff as main characters, but diners and suppliers as well. Most of the critical scenes take place over meals or in the restaurant.
'The kitchen door opened, and Darryl looked up from behind the line and saw Billy peeking over the shelf. "Someone wants their steak frites with regular butter instead of the herb butter, is that okay?"
"Of course." Darryl felt his mouth go dry as Billy smiled at him and handed him the note to go with the ticket. "You can just enter it on the computer. You don't have to come back to tell me whenever you have a special request." The smile faded just a little bit, and Darryl found himself wanting to put that smile back. It just brightened everything. "You're doing fine. Don't worry. You'll get the hang of it."
Billy nodded a little and turned around, leaving the kitchen, and Darryl found himself watching the door until a steak flared on the grill and he returned his attention to where it should be. He heard Kelly snicker a little, and she turned away from him, but he glared at her nonetheless. She must have seen him anyway. "Come on, boss, it's funny."
"What is?" He turned the steak, thankful it wasn't burned. "I need two frites and a Nicoise salad," he said, looking ahead to the next ticket.
"Okay, chef," Kelly replied with a knowing smile, dropping the frites into the fryer and starting on the salad with practiced ease.
"You have something to say?" Darryl glanced up from his work, adding another steak to the grill and setting up two orders of mussells to steam.
"Nothing. It's just that every time Billy comes in here, you forget what you're doing. It's funny."'
A Taste Of Love, Andrew Grey
The examples above are from romance novels, but as some Writing.com members have already discovered, an occupation that involves sharp knives is almost an invitation for the perfect horror story. What might one be thinking, shortly before one walks in on a murder scene in a restaurant?
'This was before Burl had written his own obituary. It was a humid night, cooler than the day had been, but the darkened streets were damp in an unclean way that suggested the day's perspiration, and Burl trod gingerly, in his heavy, steady style, the hundred yards from his parking space to Gardenia's, where they would have his customary mooring comfortably prepared. He would have the fried squid in hot sauce, a Caesar salad, clams in that gray salty broth so good you used bread to sop up the liquor, and finally the veal saltimbocca, slender elegances of flesh blanched in wine and butter, draped in mozzarella and crowned with swirls of salty red and white prosciutto, spoken with just two syllables, the last and silent vowel dropping from the rest like Sicily from the Italian mainland. The whole was set over fir-green spinach shocked by boiling water and garnished with exquisite gratuitousness: hard egg, and against the brine, a vinegary heart of artichoke. Burl's bushy eyebrows rode high, his face alight with expectation. It had been a good day, a hard but satisfying day in which his skills had shone, and so instead of the usual Chianti he would have a big Barolo, which would set his tonsils tingling toward the end.'
St Burl's Obituary, Daniel Akst
Make you hungry? Shortly after that, it's all dead bodies, so be mindful of that if you decide to read the novel! I do think a chef sees the world differently though. Food is never far from his thoughts, as illustrated in this excerpt:
'Not far from me, a little girl is sitting on the aisle seat. A peach glows in her hand. Moments ago she asked her mother, What do we miss most when we die? And I almost responded. But her mother put a thick finger on her lips: Shh, children should not talk about death, and she looked at me for a brief second, apologetically. Food, I almost said to the girl. We miss peaches, strawberries, delicacies like Sandhurst curry, kebab pasanda and rogan josh. The dead do not eat marzipan. The smell of bakeries torments them day and night.'
Chef: A Novel, Jaspreet Singh
Think of what possibilities a job in the food industry might give your character. I even saw a blurb for a book in which the main characters met at cooking lessons, which gives an opportunity for characters from different backgrounds to meet and share a mutual interest. Whether it's talking over a meal, or convenient access to sharp knives, there are a myriad of avenues for you to explore. I look forward to reading your work!
These first two stories by Jamie C and S. R. Capener are examples of the horror stories I mentioned, both featuring murderous chefs.
'“He really likes working in the cold. In fact I’ve never met someone who likes cold areas, particularly those filled with meat, as much as Marcus does. He was a butcher before coming to work with us, and it seems that this is something that has always remained a part of him. You’ll find that he can cut any and all meat to perfection, and so you and he will most assuredly make a fine team.”
“I’m sure we will,” Ben said, attempting to conceal the mild apprehension that he felt about working with Marcus. The man had given him an odd and slightly unsettling feeling.'
'It was a slow day so Michael leaned against a wall and looked out the kitchen window into the restaurant. He saw the twins, and what was left of his happiness from making the burgers drained from his body. He watched as they took their first bites, touching his food with their disgusting hands. What business had they eating his children? His creations? Michael clenched his fists at his sides, fuming. His mind was a chaotic jumble of words and emotions. All the stress from his life was pouring onto him at once, and it was making him angry. And all the while he could see the sacrilegious destruction of his art.'
Josh Morgan uses a chef as his main character in this amusing short story. The excerpt I've shared doesn't give you a decent taste (pun intended) of the writing, but I had to avoid profanity and that was harder than it sounds!
'It's 6:45am when I finally make it into the kitchen, I'm 45 minutes late and breakfast service starts in quarter of an hour. I have one hundred and twenty Full English's to cook and the ovens aren't even warmed up yet. God I hate my life.'
This flash fiction piece from jimnabby utilises a restaurant setting to engineer a certain situation on Valentine's Day.
'He used to love working Valentine’s Day. He’d tingle whenever he dropped an engagement ring into a champagne glass. He always declined to bake hardware into his creations, though, for fear of choking someone. But not this year! He’s already buried three rings into Heartsy Tartsies tonight. No ambulance yet, he thinks, slightly disappointed.'
Told in the style of a memoir, this piece shows the restaurant world from the perspective of a young boy, just starting out on the road to becoming a chef. An excellent read.
'He was, as usual, busy and shuffling his 400 lb five foot ten inch frame around on feet as light as a ballet dancer. He had been a golden gloves boxing champ in town years before and still could float around the kitchen as if he was punching and jabbing around the ring. He had experienced combat in Korea from 1951 to 1953 as a cook and it showed when he as under pressure to get twelve or more catering jobs out the back door and only had from six in the morning to 1 in the afternoon to do it.'
Use the diner in the prompt as a setting for your next short story, and you could be in to win a merit badge and an awardicon from traviscorter . Check it out!
Andrew is giving away three chocolate cake recipes as part of the March Birthday Bash. The idea is to complete six 'gifts' off the wishlist (there are a variety to cater for any budget, so even if you don't have a single gift point to spare, do check it out) and you'll go in the draw to win Andrew's recipe for his delicious, "hint of stout" Chocolate Guiness Cake, his rich, "so fluffy I could die" Hershey's Chocolate Cake or his dense, "it's melting in my mouth" Chocolate Beet Cake. Mmmmmmmmmmm!
Next month is Easter, so it seems a good time to revisit our newsletter on chocolate. If you missed that edition, it was "Elle's Kitchen Newsletter #6" . Share with me your chocolate recipes, chocolate writing and Easter chocolate-themed activities. I'd love to include them in my next newsletter. You can share it here: "Elle's Kitchen Newsletter Suggestions" .
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