Eight ways writing is like cooking

On the weekends I have more time to cook and write. The week can pass in an automated blur, but weekends make me feel very human. Cooking and writing are two uniquely human pursuits.

Writing is a celebration of the mind – a way we can record and share our thoughts. Cooking celebrates the offerings of the earth and our enjoyment in them. It’s a statement of culture and interests – and the very fact that we are humans. We are shaped by our need for cooked food. (Sorry raw food enthusiasts.) For an interesting discussion of this see the TED talk, Heribert Watzke: The brain in your gut. The speaker explains how cooking has formed our teeth and our guts and their connection to our brain.

When I’m not reading about science news (or writing about pre-washed salad greens for a local paper) I’ll sometimes head over to a food blog or two. Doing that this weekend made me think that cooking and writing have much in common, and that I still have so much to learn.

1. When done well it’s the greatest pleasure. A good meal is both wonderful to partake in and to create. In the same way, good writing is a joy for the captivated reader. And, we hope, enjoyable to create for the writer. (This simple chocolate soufflé is fun to make, it’s not bad to eat either.)

2. The essential principals are quickly explained. Mastering them takes time and patience. (This recipe required rather too much patience, far too many steps.)

3. There is nothing like good ingredients. Fresh thoughts and powerful verbs impart oopmh to your writing. Fresh ingredients and powerful herbs do the same for your cooking. (The mint is a great surprise in this.)

4. Instruction manuals abound, but the best way to learn is by practice under a guiding hand. (I love this man, this one too.)

5. Universal rules exist but much is left to personal preference . We are all on board for disliking burnt food and turgid prose. But I like cilantro, but my father thinks it taste like soap. E. M. Forster’s writings resonate deeply for me, but he makes my cousin yawn. (This recipe was, for me, a complete flop. You might love it.)

6. Work at your skill level and learn gradually. (In an ill-advised moment of over-ambition, I once spent four frustrating hours making this ridiculous cupcake recipe.)

7. With experience and skill you can work quickly. However rushed or sloppy work is apparent. (I’ll sadly admit I have ruined more than one dish in this way.)

8. Don’t give up. (I think I might try the weird soba noodle recipe again someday.)

P.S. The news broke this week that monkeys can now direct movies. As far as I know though, authorship and whipping egg whites into heavenly peaks are still activities sacred to humans. Stay tuned for updates.

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4 Responses to Eight ways writing is like cooking

  1. sly says:

    Nice post. Doing bench science is often compared to cooking, but the analogy never quite tasted right to me because protocols can’t accept the creative substitutions and additions that can often benefit recipes. I like your writing and cooking analogy much better!

    I love Jacques Pepin too! One of my favorite TV chefs.

  2. Melissae says:

    That’s funny, Susan. Cooking is quite similar to synthetic chemistry, requiring creative substitutions, wacky concoctions, and even some voodoo. One plus for cooking that chemistry rarely has–you can eat the final product. I’d never thought about the cooking-writing analogy. Thanks Danielle.

  3. danielleventon says:

    Thanks Melissae and Susan! Since posting I’ve thought about a million other ways they are similar. I might have to do a follow up!

  4. Keith R says:

    Remy the rat (Disney’s “Ratatouille”) has been a recent cooking and writing inspiration for me. He had synesthesia, which I think would be a great advantage for a chef.

    French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was one of the first to argue that cooked food was the beginning of a distinctly human culture. Now that chimps are regularly seen using tools (even spears) and dolphins have been observed teaching feeding techniques down the generations, there’s very little left that makes humans unique from the other animals.

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