Let's step out of the box today. Why not? It's Monday! It's cloudy! It's winter! And I just tried bruléeing a piece of pomelo and almost burned my house down. So let's do something different.
Last week, I took part in a teleconference all about recipes. The featured speaker was Judith Jones, senior editor and vice president at the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, where she has worked since 1957. Her list of esteemed authors includes household names such as John Updike, Jacques Pepin, and Julia Child. Heard of Mastering the Art of French Cooking? Jones published it, and soon became Child's lifelong editor. Jones has also authored several books, including her most recent, The Pleasures of Cooking for One (Knopf, 2009).
The topic of the call was the language of food and the art of writing recipes, and Jones' main point was this: most recipes are rote, clinical, and totally and completely boring, and it doesn't have to be that way.
Julia Child, said Jones, was different. She'd "plop" ingredients into the bowl. Of a roasted chicken, Child wrote of "a swelling of the breast and a slight puffing of the skin" when gauging its doneness. Jones values this sensual, earthy writing, and she laments the tendency of many magazines and cookbooks to whittle down recipes into short, numbered lists that are little more than antiseptic formulas: 1. Sift dry ingredients. 2. Whisk wet ingredients. 3. Fold wet into dry. 4. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. 5. Serve.
She wants to encourage writers, like me perhaps, or like you, to break free from the chains of boring recipe writing and to imbue words with greater panache.
But that leaves me with a question, which is where you come in: would more florid, creatively written recipes ultimately make it harder to cook the food? I can understand that fun recipes are more entertaining to read, and make better, more engaging overall experiences, but when you're in the kitchen with a raw chicken and a pile of onions, are you going to enjoy the literary flourishes of a creative writer, or will you simply wish the person would shut up, cut to the chase, and tell you, step by boring step, what you need to do to get the damn meal on the table?