The author’s ability to elevate the moment is the difference between the novel you enjoy privately and the novel you passionately espouse to others. It’s about giving depth to a scene or emotion that could have easily passed by as a mere plot point. Authors who elevate the moment take something simple and transmute it into something profound. When emotion is not allowed to sit solely on the surface, happiness becomes fulfillment, sadness becomes heartbreak, and anger erupts into fury. Simply put, depth + emotion = magic.
Personally, when it comes to food in fiction, no one elevates the moment more than fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. Almost every one of his books contains a glorious encounter when a meal—whether elaborate or simple—is heightened into a feast of warmth and bonding so exquisite that I would give nearly anything to be there myself. And while his descriptions of food are succulent, the feelings and atmosphere he evokes are even stronger, as in this quote from The Paradise War, book 1 in his Song of Albion trilogy:
We ate and talked and drank and ate and talked, filling the vast dark sanctuary of the warehouse with our ebullience and fellowship. Our meal was made more jovial, more exuberant, more cheerful and carefree, by the simple lack of plates or utensils. We ate from the platters with our hands, licking our digits like naughty schoolboys. Professor Nettleton showed me which hand to use, the proper way to hold my fingers, and I became, if only for the space of an evening, a sultan and potentate of exotic mien. ([Lion Publishing, 1991] p. 104)
Gifted novelists push their characters to experience life in a way that is anything but mundane. The very best ones compel their readers to partake just as fully.
Isn’t that what we strive for in the kitchen as well? For me, hosting people for a meal means wrapping them in a fellowship of friends and a parade of tastes so wonderful and welcoming that leaving the table seems a more difficult task than the hours of labor that came before. Eventually the magic will fade, but while the laughter rises and the flavors linger in your mouth, you wonder how something so simple could be exactly what you’ve needed from the very start.
As a cook and an author, that’s what every meal, every scene, and every choice before me is all about.