“The meat was cooked to perfection and enrobed in a decadent, fruit-tastic plum sauce. The beef joint was so tender it just fell off the bone. This delectable meal was decadent from start to finish, and totally addictive…”
At the Guardian Masterclass on food writing I attended last week, I learnt why the snippet above reads as a textbook example of how not to write on the topic of food. One food cliche after another, it makes for a cringy read where a lot of words are used to say not much at all.
During the Masterclass food cliches were touched upon more than once, and by the end of the day I had a clear list in my mind of what food writer stock words and phrases to avoid. Not just a mental list, these cliches are written out for all to see on the food website GrubStreet’s aptly named post, Stick a Fork in ‘Em.
While you’ll never catch me describing a food’s ‘mouth-feel’ (sounds like a synonym for fellatio if I ever heard one) or choose the term ‘bill of fare’ in place of ‘menu’ (I didn’t even know that existed), I have a confession to make…
I’m guilty of having used almost every food cliche on said GrubStreet list. Just see the incriminating evidence below, all extracts taken from blog posts of mine.
‘One of my old favorites in the area is the Peruvian eatery, La Rica Vicky’.
‘The lobster was flavorsome beyond belief – completely fresh and cooked to perfection’.
‘Think of all the flavor of fried chicken, with it’s soft tender meat and addictively crispy skin…’
Bollocks. And that’s not even all of them either.
Ed Smith, owner of the hugely enjoyable food journal Rocket & Squash and all-round food writing wonder, gave a brilliant piece of advice in his talk during the Masterclass. Just be good. Be good at food writing, and it should get you somewhere.
Obviously, Ed expanded on this and we’re all well aware that ‘just being good’ does not then lead to regular columns, articles or book deals. But here’s where I pick my bone. Everybody’s ‘good’ is different. Nigella’s style of writing is good. Excellent, in fact. But it’s her style. If I tried to imitate it, I’d lack the overt sexiness her writing exudes, for the sheer fact I’m not Nigella. Ed’s own writing, as another example, is really very funny. Not everyone writes humorously, nor should try to either— it just isn’t everybody’s thing.
There’s really no one-size-fits-all food writing formula. So while generally speaking these food cliches should be banned, I don’t much agree with the school of thought that says we have to avoid them altogether. Nor do I want to feel that I’m a bad writer for having used them already.
Yes, in hindsight some of my previous posts aren’t as well written as I may have initially thought. And even when re-reading more current posts I find errors and spot a few of those dreaded cliches. But I think sometimes they work.
I don’t object to ‘eatery’ at all. If it’s a cafe/restaurant hybrid, why not just use ‘eatery’ and highlight the important bit — that it’s a place you can eat in? Admittedly the majority of cliches on GrubStreet’s list should be avoided, but I can empathise with the writers who have used them (hello, me). Sometimes you just want to avoid writing delicious, restaurant, or food, 100 times in the same article – is that a sin?