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Saturday, 04 June 2016 02:52

The Culinary Three Act Structure

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As a writer I’m familiar with the 3 act structure as it pertains to novel, theatre and film writing. But it occurs to me a similar structure exists in the art of gourmet cooking, especially among passionate amateur chefs.

Act One is the drama of buying the ingredients. This involves a day (or at least several hours) flitting from one market to the next, examining, fondling and (most importantly) sniffing produce. It requires lengthy questioning of market staff (while other customers line up waiting to be served), debating the merits of one fish gut paste over another, and standing in aisles bemoaning to anyone within earshot, ‘If only I could find that beetroot jerky I bought in Florence that time…’

Act Two is the drama of preparing the meal. This again involves hours of intense labor – chopping, grating, mashing, pulping, dirtying every pot and utensil in the house and covering every inch of counter space in a swill reminiscent of industrial waste.

Like the second act of any good play, this stage involves numerous setbacks and complications. It involves lengthy delays, bouts of swearing and frequent updates on the estimated meal time.

As the hour draws closer to the final act and the tension in the kitchen becomes unbearable, dinner quests retire to the living room (or deck or porch – anywhere away from the harried chef) to mop up the last speck of liver pate and fantasize about peanut butter sandwiches.

Finally, after hours of waiting, (long after anyone’s normal dinner time) the greatly anticipated moment arrives. But just when you think you can sit down and enjoy the meal there is one last Act to this sintilating drama: the meal must be thoroughly analyzed.

This involves the chef reliving the entire experience of creation and sharing any nuance his diners might have missed (or sought to escape).

Again that elusive beetroot jerky gets a mention as the missing ingredient that would’ve elevated this disappointing effort to truly gastronomic heights. For no chef is ever happy with what their efforts. No matter how many compliments or murmurs of delight they get from their dinners, they sink ever deeper into a depression that lasts at least for the rest of the evening and often till they start planning their next diner party.

However…

Having said all this (with tongue in cheek as I dearly love my cooking friends) I can clearly see that, on a different level, this is exactly what I go through when writing a novel. Like the chef I hunt for ingredients (characters and ideas), spent hours preparing (writing) my project and am often in a foul mood while I’m doing it. And when it’s finally done I analyze (edit) from start to finish and am rarely satisfied with the results.

So really I’m just another passion chef preparing a meal I hope people will like. The only difference I can see is that I don't have to starve while I’m doing it.

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