Tag Archive for: Chopped

Forget Contests – Writing Itself as a Competition

Forget Contests – Writing Itself as
a Competition
by Debra H. Goldstein

Joel can’t understand my addiction
to cooking shows like Chopped and Top Chef – especially with my well-documented
aversion to the kitchen. He is even more confused at the hours of TV watching I
do when I acknowledge that I could care less what pan, spice or heat any of the
chefs use. I’m impressed with how these cooks take bizarre ingredients and
repurpose them into something enticing.

I acknowledge their plates aren’t
always perfectly composed or that sometimes the meat is underdone or the
ingredients mixed together into something lumpy and unattractive. That doesn’t
matter. What counts, as I repeatedly explain to Joel, is the imagination and
skills the chefs rely on preparing their dishes.

What I don’t share with Joel is that
these shows keep my attention, but not enough that I can’t multi-task while
watching them. I also don’t admit that if it was just one chef demonstrating
what could be made from a mixture of ingredients, I would change the channel. I
love the competitive aspects of Chopped and Top Chef. To win, not only must the
cook personally stretch using ingredients that even a professional has never
seen before, but they have to produce a project that is better than that of
their competitors. Being told to “Please Pack your knives and go” or “You’ve
been Chopped,” means the final plate lacked innovation, style, or contained a
fatal flaw.

In a way, these shows are like the
process of writing. A writer can enter contests or respond to open

calls, but the reality is that the writing itself is a competition. Writers,
especially in series writing, won’t succeed if the plotlines or characters are
just called in. Readers will not come back if the word choices are poor, the
spelling and punctuation lacking, or there are gaps in the storyline.
Creativity and dedication revision are necessary for a work in progress to take
the championship.

This is not a world for those who
are unwilling to work. Even the best wordsmiths toil at the craft. But that is
the fun of the competitive edge of writing – trying to produce a work that not
only is a personal best, but one that stands just a bit ahead of comparable
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Novel Writing & the Food Network


 By Laura Spinella
been on novel hiatus for a few weeks—okay, maybe closer to a month. Savvy writing
advice suggests novelists start another project immediately after finishing
one.  Unfortunately, this strategy is not
in my author DNA.  I need a break. Novel
writing is hard work, and my muse is a lazy soul.  With this mindset in motion, it’s not long
before a writing sabbatical lulls me into a Haagen-Daz, what’s my purpose in life, mode. It’s a slippery slope, though I
slide willingly—onto my living room sofa. 
From here I drift, like a garbage barge on the ocean, toward the oasis of
reality TV.  
I retreat to the Food Network where distraction is a
staple menu item. This is low-maintenance reality TV.  There are no dysfunctional families to sort
through; no convoluted backstories to grasp, meaning you can pull into Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives anytime.  Here, bleach blond, spiked-haired host Guy
Fieri travels the country, visiting quirky road-kill um, roadside
restaurants. At a glance, one can presume that lax sanitary conditions are meant
to be a metaphor for atmosphere. During these visits, Fieri ingests enough
lard-based house specials to be on prepayment plan for his future triple bypass.  Sadly, one can only stomach so much of Fieri’s
orgasmic reaction to pork parts slathered in Jimmy-Joe’s volcanic hot sauce,
and I move onto Chopped.
I am amused by this post-Julia Child generation effort,
a program that is not so much about cooking as it is about the $10,000 prize.
The money is poised to transform any one of the competitors’ lives. Seriously?
Ten-thousand bucks is all it’s gonna take to turn your life around?  Most contestants want to open a restaurant. Unless
the plan is to open a restaurant in their basement, ten-grand isn’t enough to
keep a diner in doughnuts, never mind using it as venture capital. Regardless,
you have to love the show’s energy. Four wannabe Emerils put their creative and
cooking moxie to the test by using secret basket ingredients such as tree bark,
goat urine, and Japanese jellyfish to prepare their dishes. Sometimes I feel
for the contestants, but mostly I sympathize with the judges who have taste
test the results.

I am restless, needing something with more substance. I
stick with the Food Network and tune into Restaurant Rehab.  This is boot camp hell for wayward
restaurateurs. Have the ’80s called asking for their mauve drapes and mirrored
walls? Do you employ your toothless, recently paroled cousin as your chef?  Is your staff under the impression that they
are indentured servants, too stupid to quit, trapped like rats on a sinking
ship? Well then, enter iron-armed, drill sergeant chef Robert Irvine.  This guy looks like he bench presses Viking
stoves for fun.  In forty-eight hours Robert
is going to fix everything from the décor to the cousin, perhaps sending him
for dental implants before the grand reopening. Frankly, Robert scares me. But
maybe that’s what it takes to rewire thirty years of learned behavior in thirty
minutes. Assuming he understood the premise of the show before he signed on, Chef
Robert appears oddly outraged to find himself thrust into this hopeless
mess. After berating the widowed proprietor for her inability to get a clue or
at least a functioning carpet sweeper, he tears apart the dining room décor. Usually,
this is cavernous square footage that could seat hundreds. It occurs to me that
the real problem is location. The rehab restaurant is almost always situated in
a pea-size town, bypassed by the bypass a decade earlier. Nevertheless, Robert goes
to work ushering in his design team. Now, if you look closely, you’ll recognize
Taniya Nayak, his go-to designer.  She’s
a decorating refugee from HGTV and saddled with the dilemma of stretching a
$10,000 budget to cover the 100K makeover the place truly needs. She also
appears oblivious to her short of end of the stick. Taniya’s chipper attitude never
wavers. Not even when Chef Robert berates her for taking too long to execute an
overhaul that, in real reality, should take six months. Someday Taniya will
decide she’s had enough, taking kerosene and a match to the sprawling space.  In the meantime, Chef Robert heads into the
kitchen to scream at um, mentor the chef.  As we suspect, this is a doomed
encounter.  In no time, he’s made the ex-con
cousin wish he’d violated parole.  But no
worries, it’s all going to be okay; Chef Robert has a plan. He’ll teach the
unskilled chef how to prepare foolproof dishes, complete with sauces, mastering
each one before the grand reopening—which occurs in about an hour. Of course,
this three-act drama plays out to perfection as Chef Robert saves the day. He
waves goodbye to a restaurant brimming with happy diners and staff, insisting a
call from Zagat is imminent. I flip Chef Robert off and sigh longingly at my
pollen covered laptop. Novel writing would be 
snap if only my next book had a slot on the Food Network.


Laura Spinella is the author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. A 2012 RITA finalist, the novel is the recipient of the NJRWA Golden Leaf and Desert Rose RWA Golden Quill awards for Best First Book, as well as a finalist in the Wisconsin RWA Writer’s Touch award for Best Mainstream Novel. Visit her at lauraspinella.net.