During her keynote lecture at the USF St. Petersburg Florida Food Conference on Saturday, April 5, Nathalie Dupree, a cookbook author, culinary instructor and storyteller, told aspiring food writers to consider one question before venturing into the field.
“Who controls the food?” she asked.
According to Dupree, food is controlled. She called food “the most powerful force there is.” When people have shelter, they still need food.
“Whoever controls the food in the family, in the nation, in the world … controls the family,” Dupree said.
Applying this to her own life, Dupree talked about observing her mother and father while growing up. She said her father expected dinner to be ready at 5 p.m. when he got home from work every day. However, her mother, who was tending to three children, couldn’t comply. Dupree said her mother always burned a meal as she attempted to meet her husband’s deadline.
For Dupree, food writing comes from a different place. Born in the late 1930s, she explained that having a voice, back then, meant having a man. She never thought of becoming a writer. But she thought she might marry one.
Dupree said she didn’t have confidence in her own voice, stressing the importance of writing about food with an authentic style, with honesty.
“Know who you are, what you know and what you don’t know, and what you want to teach,” she said.
Communication is what food writing is all about, according to Dupree. Part of that communication involves food writers knowing who they are along with having a passion for the people they’re writing for. Food writers should take experiences or thoughts and transfer them to paper.
“All of it’s personal, whether you’re writing a story or a recipe.”
So which comes first — writing, eating or cooking? Although Dupree added that each should be integrated with observation, she said it’s different for everyone. The vision food writers have for their work varies, whether the focus is touch, texture or aroma.
Dupree said she was “never very good at anything.” She said she put herself through school, working 40-hour weeks, and dropped out in the middle of her sophomore year. She later returned for her master’s, when she was in her mid-60s, but didn’t have a degree upon entering the food world.
“All you need to know is who you are and what you have to communicate,” she said.
Toward the end of her lecture, Dupree said she has three shelves stocked with journals that document her eating experiences at home, out to dinner and among friends, a practice she recommended to aspiring food writers.
She also said she reads M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, as well as unabashedly nabs restaurant menus, which prove useful for her note-taking.
After 40 years of collecting menus, Dupree said she’s observed shifting trends in the restaurant industry, and in herself.
“You see change in wherever you’ve been … how food has changed and you have changed through your food.”