Q (Nicolle Elizabeth): Hey Michael. How is the new group going?

Michael J. Solender: Hi Nicolle. I’m excited to see that the group has built up quite an impressive membership in just a few short days. I think part of the reason is food resonates with each of us, sometimes in very strong and personal ways.

I’m not at all surprised that Food Writes is connecting with ‘naut-heads. I’m more surprised given the role it plays in our lives we didn’t already have a food related group. I’ve got some freshly baked chocolate chippers out front hoping to entice even more of our writers to c’mon over.

We are a fiction based crowd but we do also eat. Why is food writing interesting, important, awesome?

Food, like language defines culture and people in so many deep and profound ways. More than mere nourishment or sustenance, our relationship with food, how we feed each other and ourselves, says a great deal about us.

Growing up in a Jewish household, food was center stage for me. Every important and even not so important event in my life was food-centric. Babies were born – we ate. People died – we ate. Birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings, Holidays – all occasions for feasting. Food was synonymous for love in my family and I know this is repeated across many different cultures, religions and peoples all over the world.

Many of us have powerful life experiences and relationship touchstones that involve food. I can’t smell cinnamon without thinking about my Granny and the love she put into her apple pies and strudels she made for me as a child. She had this gnarled apple tree in her back yard that wasn’t much to look at but produced the best baking apples on the planet. When that tree was struck by lightning and died, my family literary mourned its passing. We sat Shiva for that apple tree.

Writing about food is a natural extension of the food experience. We want to describe our first romance and include the special meal we had or how describe the sensual experience of sharing foods in ways that are analogous to how we write of lovemaking. Food verbs are wonderfully utilitarian and applicable in so many sexual ways, lending yet another layer of meaning. Who doesn’t appreciate a lover that cooks or can melt you with one look?

Writing about food has a dynamic that immediately connects with people. We all understand hunger, heat, sweetness and briny goodness.

I challenge you to find any great novel of any period in history that doesn’t involve significant food references, you can’t do it. Moby Dick was really just a story about big ole Burger King Whaler.

Any plans for the group? A cookbook?

I’m curious to see how things evolve. I may, to borrow a term from Bobby Flay, toss out some throw downs and put up some food related prompts to see what might develop. For now in our nascent stage it’s all about welcoming new members and providing another fresh platform for some work that has been hiding or looking for a new audience.

A cookbook is a cool idea. Can I have your recipe for Moo Goo Gai Pan?

Please tell us about you here. Your projects, history, favorite Padma Lakshmi quote?

Padma is a bit tense for me. The whole celebrity/food/competitive cooking scene really cuts two ways for me.

On the one hand shows like Top Chef, Chopped, the Next Food Network Star and Iron Chef have brought exotic and fascinating culinary perspective and POV to the common man. We all have benefited from greater access to more and varied produce, local farmers markets and ingredients that even five years ago no one other than the snootiest foodie knew existed. I’ll admit I have a guilty pleasure of watching Food Channel into the wee hours when I should be sleeping.

The other side of the coin is that some of these shows take it too far. Cooking is about the love, people. It isn’t a competitive sport, it is not about whipping up a twelve course meal in twenty minutes and continually topping yourself. Sure experimentation in cooking, just like writing, is a good thing. Push yourself, try new recipes. Just as in writing, learn from failures and things that did not work out.

As far as my favorite food writes, anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with tomatoes. Homegrown tomatoes. I live for them. I write a fair amount of nonfiction and write a weekly column for the local paper here, the Charlotte Observer. My editor indulges me and lets me write one tomato column a year. The heat wave in the south this year was disastrous for the home gardener. Here is my personal tale of tomato woe.

One other quick plug is an essay in a regionally published book coming out in October. Topograph – New Writing from the Carolinas and the Landscape Beyond features some great Carolina writers and is getting some nice advance press. The book is being published by Novello Festival Press. My piece, Unaffiliated, explores my struggle with religion, spirituality and being a secular Jew.

In the kitchen, we are having guests this Sunday and I’m already developing the menu for brunch.

Bon Appetit!

Nicolle Elizabeth checks in with Fictionaut Groups every Friday.

  1. Christian Bell

    Nice interview! The Food Writes group is an excellent idea. Thanks to Michael–an excellent writer–for conceiving it.

    As for me, I prefer to the straight up cooking shows over the competitions. The regular cooking shows give me hope that, yes, I too can make some good food.

  2. LindaS-W

    Super interview! Michael, when I visit next summer we will need to indulge in tomatoes — I do a LOT with them (we have 18 plants this summer).

    LOVE the Food Writes group. For all the reasons you describe. I am a foodie, and the prep of meals is as much an art — and craft — as writing.

    And if I may… the draft I read of your UNAFFILIATED is a super essay. Hope folks read. Peace…

  3. Umbrellalady

    Food competitions just stress me out – it takes all the pleasure out of it for me. I like to take my time, taste and smell the cooking as I go along, even if it is vicariously.

  4. Cathy Olliffe

    Loved this interview, Michael! Really interesting! Of course, any time food is mentioned I’m interested!
    Wow, wish I was one of your brunch guests… bet it was yummy.
    Thanks, Nicolle!

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