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Research That I’m Not Doing

Monday, February 18, 2008

I have two books sitting on my desk right now . . . well, I have more than two, but there are two that concern me right now. One of them is How to Open Your Own Restaurant and the other is Starting a Small Restaurant: How to Make Your Dream a Reality. I checked them both out of the library a little more than a month ago, and renewed both of them the day they were due. I have as yet to crack either one open (we can keep things for three weeks and renew twice for up to nine weeks total). These are research for Menu for Romance, in which the hero is leaving his steady job as an event caterer for the biggest business in the city to start his own restaurant (originally it was to start a catering business, but after brainstorming with crit partner Erica, I decided a restaurant made more sense). I’d already started reading The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute as research into Chef Major O’Hara’s character, which has given me tons of ideas for little quirks to give him—such as his complete disgust of watching TV chefs stick their finger into something to taste it, or even worse, taste off the stirring spoon and then put the stirring spoon back into the dish. Getting into his head also made me nearly nauseated when trying to watch Ratatouille the other day. All I could think of was how gross it was for a rat (who had just recently been in the sewer, mind) to be running around all over the kitchen floor and jumping into pots and pans—some with food in them going into the oven! Major may have ruined that movie for me forever.

I’ve also picked up on little tidbits like the fact that the towel that chefs tuck into their apron at the waist (side towels) are not used for wiping their wet hands on. They’re used only for handling hot dishes/pans:

    And a word about side towels. The Culinary inported these sturdy items—gray-and-white cotton cloths that students tuck into their apron strings—from Germany because it couldn’t find acceptable ones in the United States, and they were excellent tools. At this stage in a student’s career [the first week], the towels were crisp and clean, all but new. “Side towels are not for wiping your board,” Pardus said. “They are not for wiping your knife, they’re not for dabbing your brow. They’re for grabbing hot things. Things are going to be hot. Anticipate it, expect it.” (from The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, pgs. 18–19)

And I had Major’s sous chef wiping his hands on the towel tucked into his apron! No, no, Steven! Oh, and that’s another thing I learned—the sous chef is the second in command in the kitchen. He’s in charge when the executive chef is away. I had originally used the term for any of the “underling” cooks in the kitchen, instead of calling them by their appropriate, more specific titles, which I’m still trying to learn. (Oh, and by the way, Top Chef 4: Chicago, starts March 12 on Bravo!!!)

Erica’s Friday Five post, about what she learned working at McDonald’s, got me to thinking about my first job, which was also in a restaurant. One of my goals for this week is to spend at least two hours looking through these two start-your-own-restaurant books and see what other interesting tidbits I can come up with.

And since I’ve already mentioned Erica twice, I’m going to do the meme she tagged me for yesterday:
Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
Find page 123. Find the first 5 sentences. Post the next 3 sentences.
So, here it is, from The Making of a Chef:

“Does the cream keep as long once you’ve done that?”
“It keeps better,” Smith said. “More fat, less water. . . .”

What research books do you have sitting around unopened that you really need to get around to? What part of your WIP needs some research that you haven’t done yet? What interesting little tidbits have you learned through research that gave you greater insight into a character—and helped develop quirks that make the character unique and three-dimensional? Do you have an hour or two this week you could commit to research?

One Comment
  1. Tuesday, February 19, 2008 11:59 am

    I am reading a book from the Great Lakes Light Keepers Association called Guardians of the Lights, and I’ve learned tons about daily life at the stations.


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