It’s June, and with June comes another season of Next Food Network Star. But what does NFNS have to do with historical fiction? Well may you ask. This post is about to hop on the mixed-metaphor train because my brain went in a thousand different directions. (Cooking competitions! Cavalier Poets! Johnny Tremain!—Which, in fairness, is where my brain always goes, eventually. Love that book. Also, I’ve received a lot of feedback that says my loyal AiMP readers love it when I write about that book, so expect lots more.)
On NFNS, contestants compete to win their own show on Food Network. To establish their star potential/culinary identity, each contestant has to come up with a “culinary point-of-view.” I see the same ones every year, which leads me to wonder if the contestants have ever actually watched this show before.
- There’s always the healthy cook: “Food can be healthy and yummy!”
- Then there’s the one who wants to convince America that cooking can be fun! Um, you’re talking to people who watch cooking shows. They already believe that. Or if they’re like me, they believe that watching other people cook can be fun. Try some audience awareness.
- There’s also always the person who is “Southern,” and plans to play up being “Southern” as if she is the only person in America who is “Southern.” I am Southern myself (without the quotes since I don’t play it as a character), and this person generally annoys me. Seriously, who cooks like that? Who puts butter in everything? There is not that much butter in the world. And then they try to get all fancy and put cilantro in the watermelon. You know how watermelon is best enjoyed? On the back porch out of the rind.
- There’s always the person who wants to “bring sexy back into the kitchen.” First, stop giving me those creepy eyes through the TV. That’s not sexy. Second, did sexy ever leave the kitchen? Was there a point in history at which someone said, “You know what’s a huge turn off? Someone cooking me a delicious meal.”
At this point, my husband will no doubt fault me if I don’t give him public props for being the chef in our house. (He loves public props.) When I say he’s the chef, I mean he does all the cooking. Sometimes he asks me to, but I whine and get out of it. (I am amazing at this.) Sometimes people suggest to me that my husband would love it if I cooked this delicious dish. They just get high-pitched titters out of me and a, “Yeah, okay.” When he leaves on trips, he makes enough food for me so that I won’t have to cook for a few days in. He knows he’s got me trapped because without him I would eat microwave popcorn and cereal for dinner. (In my defense, he is also Johnny Tremain, and you just imagine sous cheffing for Johnny Tremain. A whole lot of lectures on how I could do it better/faster/etc…He really prefers to do the cooking himself.)
So I already know cooking is sexy.
You know who else knew cooking was sexy? Andrew Marvell. (I promise I will get to the point of this post someday.) I once read a cookbook called Vegetable Love. Six hundred pages of different ways to cook vegetables. The title was taken from Marvell’s most famous poem, “To His Coy Mistress.”
Ahem, point of post upcoming:
This season there’s a contestant whose culinary point-of-view is “Meat on the Side” or “Vegetarian Light” or something like that. The idea is to make the veggies the main dish and the meat the side dish, which is not especially original, but still interesting. We’re only two episodes in, so the concept isn’t really defined yet.
But she nearly got kicked off this week for—guess what?—apologizing for the vegetables. I’ve seen this happen several times, with several chefs, with any food that isn’t dipped in bacon. (Not that you can’t dip vegetables in bacon. Mmmm…vegetables in bacon. This contestant should take a page out of the “Southern” chef’s book and show America how to cook green beans with a ham hock.) The chef starts apologizing for the dish, saying, “I know it isn’t fat/salt/sugar/bad for you, but it tastes really good.” Focusing on what the dish is not rather than on what the dish is. Operating from a point of negativity.
I find myself doing this sometimes when I try to convince people to give historical fiction a try. Saying, “I know it’s not sparkly mermaids or dystopian vampires, but it’s really good, I promise.”
Sometimes, I apologize for my vegetables. But sometimes, vegetables need to be apologized for because people have eaten too many limp, soggy, overcooked, canned, undercooked, generally gross dishes. Sometimes it’s been too long since a new recipe came around. So people think they don’t like vegetables because they’ve never had them cooked right. I’m going to make a controversial statement here: sometimes, vegetables can be as good as bacon. In the hands of the right chef, they can. In the hands of the right chef, vegetables need no apology.
Sometimes, people have read too much bad, boring historical fiction. And then there’s that sneaking suspicion that it might be good for you, so it can’t be good.
But in the hands of the right author…
What historical fiction do think is as good as bacon? (I warned you there would be mixed metaphors.)