LUCY BURDETTE: As you probably realize by now, I've been on a tear reading fiction involving food to get mentally ready for my food critic mystery series. I can't wait to read AFTERTASTE by Mereith Mileti--it's sitting on my nightstand, with that gorgeous yellow cover calling to me. And lucky for us, Meredith is here today to talk about the difference between bakers and cooks. And to give away one of her brand new books to a commenter. Welcome Meredith!
MEREDITH MILETI: One of the many terrific things about being a writer is that you can give
voice to all sorts of crazy opinions and foist them off on your innocent
characters, forcing them to hold the ridiculous opinions instead of you.
If anyone questions you, you can always claim to be one of those writers
whose characters have minds of their own. They sometimes insist on
returning to the cheating boyfriend or hopping on the next plane to Paris,
even when you know he’s bad news and she can’t afford it. You can sigh
wearily and say, “I know, I just never know what she’ll do next!” And
there is always a chance that, if you aren’t carted off to the nearest
mental health facility for transcribing those tiny voices, people just
might think you’re imaginative or creative.
The protagonist in Aftertaste, Mirabella Rinaldi, is a professional chef
and something of a loose cannon. She has all sorts of half-baked ideas.
For example, early on in the story, Mira espouses the theory that bakers
are more rule-bound than cooks. They are the people who sat up front in
cooking class, who wrote things down. They are precise and orderly. Even
though Mira doesn’t come out and say it, what she really means is that
cooks are more creative; they thrive on improvisation. They are the rogue
artists of the culinary world, to the baker’s blue-collar workman.
Are cooks and bakers really so different? The truth is that I’m actually
both a cook and a baker, although I am definitely more of a natural cook
than baker. I often have trouble following directions. I get sidetracked
easily, take the scenic route a little too often, and am an unapologetic
wanderer in farmer’s markets and supermarkets. I confess it, there are
too many rules in baking for me.
The exception is bread. I love making bread. There is that moment when
the gluten reaches a certain level of development and you can actually
feel the dough come alive in your hands. It is exhilarating and thrilling
and can elevate the simple act of mixing flour and water to the spiritual
and sublime. In fact, I’d argue, it is the ultimate creation, giving life
to something that a few minutes ago was a static pile of flour, yeast and
salt. Add water and suddenly it is a thing alive beneath your hands. It
makes me feel maternal and God-like, if only for an instant. So much for
the blue-collar workmen of the culinary world.
Usually, though, what drives me both as a cook and a writer is throwing
things together to see what will happen, be they ingredients or
characters. I love the feeling of being surprised when I bite into
something new or turn the page of a book to find an unexpected twist.
Cooking and writing are both creative processes. In order to keep things
flowing in the kitchen and on the page you have to be organized, but that
doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous. Give it a taste and see what it
needs. Throw in something unexpected.
Which are you? Cook? Baker? Or Both?
Since producing her first batch of gluey brownies from her Easy-Bake oven, Meredith Mileti has loved cooking for her family and friends. She is an adventurous and eclectic diner, and appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a lobster shack in Bar Harbor, a friggitoria in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or an undiscovered little gem in her Pittsburgh neighborhood. Aftertaste is her first novel. Follow her on twitter!