Before I started writing about food, I was a poet, which meant I wrote a lot of unpublished stuff for free and hung out with a bunch of slackers who considered it a crime to rhyme. One IACP workshop, Unleashing the Poet Within You, held particular appeal.
Gail Bellamy is the managing editor of Restaurant Hospitality magazine and author of "Victual Reality: Food Poems." She and Karen Bonaudi, a Washington poet and potato promoter, held forth on the history and recent trends of pairing poetry with food – from restaurants promoting poetry dinners to the intoxicatingly rhythmic language of menus themselves.
"Food is a common denominator," Bellamy said. "It's a link to our ethnic identities. We eat in ways that express ourselves. It's the same with writing."
Bonaudi, the assistant executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, introduced herself by saying, "I'm not a foodie – I'm the 'dirt-ie.'" She compared a good poem to a good recipe.
"A recipe doesn't happen on the page, in the kitchen or in the mind of a chef," she said. "It happens in the mouths of diners. "
She said both recipes and poems "share history and traditions."
Metaphor is a key literary ingredient – "the white sauce of poetry," as she called it.
A consummate potato-pusher, Bonaudi offered this nugget from Pablo Neruda's "Ode to a French Fry":
What sizzles in boiling oil is the world's pleasures
the delicious simplicity of the soil.
Escoffier, the august 19th century French chef, added a poetic twist to his menu when he discovered English diners didn't have a taste for frog's legs. A consummate thigh-master, Escofffier renamed the dish Nymphs at Dawn.