31: Advice Column

IN WHICH:  Letters to me are made up and answered.

Dear Matthew,
I couldn’t help but notice you wrote some very interesting recipes the other day and proclaim yourself a bit of a chef.  Personally, I know I will never hold a candle to your brilliance but I wondered if you might give me some tips on writing recipes – yours are so fragrant and wondrous.
– Jealous in Holland

Boy, I get this email several times a week, but it must go to my spam folder or something but I have never seen it.  My advice is that all recipes tend to have a major shortcoming:  Setting.  A great recipe tells a story.  Ingredients are characters, the directions are the plot, but to help create over arching theme you need a setting.  Take for example this recipe for grilled cheese.


1.  Make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Now, that recipe certainly tells you all you need to know about making a grilled cheese sandwich, but it lacks that specific je ne sais quoi to catapult it into major recipe wonderment.

A great recipe sets the scene.  To improve upon this particular set of directions it is important to note that an appropriate complementary dish would be tomato soup.  There’s no description of the golden brown crust forming on the bread so that the reader can’t envision that buttery crackle of of the first bite, nor the hot, melty, savory lava of the cheese.

Most importantly, it neglects to tell you that a properly made grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup is best served on a cold and snowy day after one has come inside for lunch and has dropped wet clothing in a pile by the door, face still red and chapped from the wind sailing by as you crashed your toboggan down the hill.  In a pinch, a day of unforseen rain soaking you to the bone will do, but for proper enjoyment, snow is my precipitation of choice.

Try adding a scene of campfire to your chili dog recipe, or a blistering hot day to your lemonade concoction.  I think you’ll find it rewarding.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s