Friday, November 30, 2012

Susanna Fraser's Chef-y Top 10 List

SusannaFraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It featured a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. (I'd totally read that.) But her writing has come a long way since those talking horses and today she's joining us to celebrate her latest Regency Romance AN INFAMOUS MARRIAGE. First let's get acquainted with the book then we'll let Susanna take over.

Northumberland, 1815
At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he's back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife's love may be the greatest battle he's faced yet.

One of my handful of can’t-miss TV shows is Chopped. I like it more than any other current cooking competition show, and the only food shows of any kind that rival it for my love are Good Eats and the original Japanese version of Iron Chef.

In fact, I’ve spent so much time watching the show that I’ve come up with my Top Ten Rules for Succeeding on Chopped (which I suspect have more than a little applicability beyond the show).

1. Weird combos can be delicious. With enough skill and creativity, pancake mix, strawberry papaya, blue foot mushrooms, and pre-cooked chicken feet, for example, can be combined into a dish worthy of the finest restaurant.

2. Except when they’re not. But if you just slop the basket ingredients onto the plate without transforming them or considering how their flavors interact, or if you use too much of a single pungent flavor, you will fail.

3. Playing it safe may get you temporary victory, but it won’t make you memorable. Chefs who never venture out of their comfort zones may survive for a round or two or even win if their competitors make mistakes, but they’re not the ones viewers remember, and they generally don’t get invited back to champions tournament rounds.

4. Know your judges. Really, chefs. The show has been on long enough now that you ought to know better than to put raw red onions on the plate if Scott Conant is judging, or to finish your dish with truffle oil, ever.

5. Don’t argue with the judges. If they think you overcooked the beef or under-salted your dish, you’re not going to change their minds by saying you took the steaks to medium-well on purpose or that you’re committed to low-sodium cuisine. And after you are chopped, don’t make your exit grumbling how those stick-in-the-mud judges just didn’t get your vision or how you can’t believe they chopped you when Chef X left out a mystery ingredient or made a boring comfort food plate. You look like a jerk, and your behavior makes me want to add your restaurant to a list of places NOT to go next time I’m in your city.

6. Everyone makes a napoleon in the dessert round. Do you want to be like everyone else? I haven’t actually tallied the number of chefs who’ve made napoleons, but it’s enough of a default that it’s become a family joke in the Fraser household. (Mr. Fraser: “What’s for dinner?” Me: “I’ve got this pizza dough, pepperoni, tomato sauce, onions, and mozzarella. So I think I’m going to make a napoleon.”)

7. Embrace the theme ingredients, no matter how lowbrow and/or weird. They’re the tools you’ve been given to win, so don’t sneer at the pre-packaged stuff many home viewers cook with all the time, or, conversely, get grossed out or intimidated by something odd you’ve never encountered before.

8. Don’t Be That Chef. You know, the one who comes in bragging how he’s just the most naturally brilliant thing ever to set foot in the kitchen. Of course he’s going to win, because no one can touch him for drive, creativity, and sheer giftedness. I always root for him to make a fool of himself and lose in the appetizer round, and I can tell the other chefs and even the judges feel the same way. Also, I’ve noticed That Chef is the most likely candidate for committing the fatal sin of arguing with the judges.

9. It’s best when everyone is awesome. Normally I don’t remember competitors’ names for longer than it takes me to delete an episode from my TiVo. The exception is Madison Cowan and Lance Nitahara, winner and runner-up from the 2010 episode “Crunch Time.” In my opinion their competition is the best Chopped episode ever--and a quick Google search suggests I’m far from alone in that judgment. They’re both intense, gifted chefs, who each in his own way throws his whole heart and soul into his cooking. Watching how their respect for each other and healthy competitiveness drove them to excel made me want to work harder and better in my heart’s endeavors.

10. Be the French chef. This one requires a little explanation, because there’s this stereotype of French chefs in fiction as over-the-top prima donnas. But if my Chopped viewing is any indication, the opposite is true. If there’s a French chef among the competitors, he or she will be the one working steadily, quietly, and with exquisite technique and respect for the ingredients, no matter how much angst and drama is going on at the other stations.

So, what can an author learn from Chopped? I have some ideas—not to mention some embarrassing memories of days when I flirted with being That Author or hadn’t researched an editor or agent quite as well as I thought—but tell me what you think in the comments, or let me know of an unlikely place where you’ve learned life lessons.

I’ll be giving one copy of my new historical romance, An Infamous Marriage, to a commenter on this post in your choice of e-book format, and at the end of the tour I'll be giving one commenter on the tour as a whole a grand prize of a $50 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Books. There’s only one more stop in the tour, but do stop by my blog for more info.  If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, please include your email in the format yourname AT yourhost DOT com.

I look forward to replying to your comments, but it’ll be late in the evening in most North American time zones before I get a chance. I have a full-time 8-5 day job and don’t get much time online till the evening.


Marnee Bailey said...

Susanna! This book sounds so good. I love the idea of marriage as another war that Jack has to fight.

I think that, when it comes to cooking or to writing, that we all shouldn't be afraid to experiment. You never know when you're going to hit that winning combination.

quantum said...

Learning to cook has repercussions in so many ways!

Many scientists use a book called 'Numerical Recipes' for computing numerical solutions to problems. Like any good cook book it lists loads of tasty recipes (sometimes called algorithms).

As a student I made extensive use of a book called 'Cooking in a bed sitter'. It taught me basic survival skills. I'm here so it sort of worked.

Some craft books even try to advise on writing best sellers.

The missing link in all of these threads is creativity. You can do a basic 'survival job' from a book or TV demo, but to be great you have to add your own very special ingredients.

Susanna, I noticed that 'An infamous Marriage' is available as an audio book at audible UK. It seems quite unusual to launch straight into audio when starting a writing career. The book must be really good, and Northumberland is one of my favourite counties. Can you mention any special ingredients that make your book uniquely delicious?

I'll definitely try a taster from Amazon and then decide whether to tuck in. LOL

Great to meet you!

Susan said...

I love Chopped, too! And I think it has made me a better "chef" in that I am more willing to get creative and adventurous while making meals.
suz_glo (at) yahoo (dot) com

TerriOsburn said...

I love the show Chopped! And this list is spot on. I hate That Chef. They're always such arrogant jerks. So irksome when they win. LOL!

Though I love shows like this one and Top Chef, I can't cook for anything. There are a few very simple things I can make but that's it. Which is terrible for my child who loves more exotic foods. The poor thing.

Sorry, Marn, but when it comes to me in the kitchen, experimenting has never worked out.

Now, in writing, I can see it. The basket of mystery ingredients can be like some off-the-wall writing prompt. And sometimes those turn into the most amazing books. Now that I think about it, the Avon Fanlit contest of ought-six was like a Chopped challenge for writers. LOL!

Thanks for joining us today, Susanna. I'm so looking forward to getting this book.

irisheyes said...

Welcome, Susanna! An Infamous Marriage was awesome!

Never watched Chopped or Top Chef, probably because cooking is not my favorite thing. In fact this whole fascination with cooking shows is pretty amazing to me.

So, I suppose my tip would be to watch those who know what they're doing and learn from them, but in the end make it your own. The one thing that I have realized maybe more from baking than cooking is that 2 people can follow the exact same recipe and the results usually taste different. Not sure why that is but it has happened to me more times than not. Sometimes it is a good thing sometimes it's not. :)

Now as for your latest An Infamous Marriage, that's a sure fire hit! I pre-ordered it as soon as I knew you had a new book being released. I really liked it! You do a really fabulous job with character development and you give enough setting info for me to feel like I'm right there with them without feeling like I'm reading a history book.

I really enjoy your books! The last two you wrote,The Sergeant's Lady and A Marriage of Inconvenience, were winners for me as well. So, of course, I gotta ask what's up next?

*Since I already have a copy you can take me out of the drawing*

TerriOsburn said...

I loved her first books too, Irish. Those characters just come off the page and walk through your mind. So well done. And not everyone is a Duke nor does everything happen in a ballroom. At least not in the first one. Which I LOVED.

TerriOsburn said...

And I don't understand my love of cooking shows either. I don't even know what half the ingredients are, rarely try new foods, and don't know the terms. But I still can't get enough. It's weird.

irisheyes said...

You have to get this book too, Ter. It's awesome. I keep wanting to tell you particulars and what I liked about it, but I think it may be considered spoiler stuff. I can tell you one of the things I liked the most about it through a quote from a reviewer at

There isn't an easy, "Oh, he is so hot, I'll just fall into his arms" trope. No, they have to work through this. And watching as they do made this a very enjoyable read.

I guess I'm getting tired of the heroine being furious with the hero for a very good reason and then the way they settle it is by falling into bed together. Or, better yet, she forgives him when she accidentally catches a glimpse of his hot body when he takes his shirt off. *rolls eyes* Really! It makes me want to throw the book against the wall. There also seems to be a surplus of mental lusting and no communication. This book has none of that. They seem like real people dealing with real problems and solving them the hard way - by communicating and facing up to some truths about themselves that they'd rather not.

TerriOsburn said...

That did it, Irish. I'm ordering NOW.

MsHellion said...

I love this blog! Ha! These are all true and great things to keep in mind as a writer who wants to publish--mostly don't be NEGATIVE because it always reflects poorly.

I don't watch Chopped (I don't have cable tv), but the times I've glimpsed this show at my friend's house (who loves the show), I get too involved and pissed off at the chef who thinks he's all that and a box of ding dongs, and I just hope and pray he's knocked down a peg or two--but inevitably he either wins or he doesn't learn when he loses, "They just didn't understand my vision!" Okay, whatever. I prefer drama where things work out properly at the end. *LOL* It's why I like rom-com movies. Everyone behaves right at the end.

MsHellion said...

I guess I'm getting tired of the heroine being furious with the hero for a very good reason and then the way they settle it is by falling into bed together. Or, better yet, she forgives him when she accidentally catches a glimpse of his hot body when he takes his shirt off. *rolls eyes* Really! It makes me want to throw the book against the wall. There also seems to be a surplus of mental lusting and no communication. This book has none of that. They seem like real people dealing with real problems and solving them the hard way - by communicating and facing up to some truths about themselves that they'd rather not.

I hate when that happens too. Awesome! Definitely need to check out this book!

Maureen said...

Sounds like a fabulous read! I've read both of your earlier ones so I'll be sure to snag this new one.

Chopped. Hee, hee. A show that the husband and I love to watch! And it's a fav of my Mom's, too. You really nailed the list of what to learn from the show. Though I think the desert most often abused is the bread pudding.

My fav finalists were the young tattood know it all kid and the older lady who he kept dissing. While she just went on cooking and even wanted to help him when he cut himself. I don't remember their names, but she was from Eastern Europe and she won! But honestly, the two of them should have been contracted to do a show together. He ended up seeing that she knew what she was doing!

Even the judges, watching them go against each other, thought the dynamic between them was great.

And yes, don't serve raw onions to Conant. Or put cheese with the fish.

P. Kirby said...

I'm a-guessing that Chopped requires cable TV and I don't pay for television. Also, my version of cooking goes like this. Open pantry. Open box and pull out popcorn. Open microwave. Place popcorn in center of tray. Close microwave. Hit popcorn setting. Return when microwave beeps ready. Tah-dah!

The "don't argue with judges" thing seems wise. It reminds me of authors who spend too much time monitoring their reviews and whinging about the negatives. Or worse, yet, the fools that actually confront the reviewer.

If your going to put your work (or food) or there, somebody is going to offer an opinion. Getting into protracted battles over stuff that is totally objective is just asinine.

Maureen said...

Pat, it is nuts. How do you argue that one of the judges found the dish too salty?

"NO, it isn't!"

It's his tongue, asshole.

I make popcorn that way, too! Though my microwave sometimes burns it. Then it is outside for the birds to fiddle with...

Marnee Bailey said...

"NO, it isn't!"

It's his tongue, asshole.

hahahaha!! From a gal who salts her salt, this cracked me up.

TerriOsburn said...

This is what I go through nearly every day trying to convince people that if the stuff I don't like tasted good then I'd like it! LOL!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Sounds like a fantastic read! I don't watch chopped but used to watch Top Chef and these are right on!

Welcome to the ship Susanna!

Cathy P said...

We don't have cable, so I don't watch Chopped or shows like it. I like to watch Rachel Ray cook in her kitchen though, and have tried some of the dishes she has made on her show. They turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. Lol! Also, at times some of our channels have cooking shows on them, and I try a dish they fix. I am definitely not a whiz in the kitchen though.

kscathy AT yahoo DOT com

Penni said...

This is an amazing book! You must read it! I don't watch much tv I am usually too nose deep in a book lol

fantasy_angel381 (at)yahoo (dot) com

TerriOsburn said...

Thank you to our new visitors for stopping by. Good luck in the drawings!

Susanna Fraser said...

@Marnee - I agree that the courage to experiment is crucial.

@quantum - Carina presents all their titles to Audible for consideration. This is my third book, but the first one they picked up. As for unique ingredients, I tried to step out of my comfort zone on this book by writing a hero who commits adultery in the early part of his marriage to the heroine, and I tried to put my own spin on the Battle of Waterloo as part of the setting.

@Susan - One thing I've learned from Chopped is that when something goes wrong in the kitchen, rather than abandon ship and order pizza immediately, I go stare at my pantry shelves and try to come up with a Plan B!

irisheyes, I'm glad you like the book, and Terri, I hope you enjoy it, too!

@MsHellion - I agree that That Chef wins far too often. The lesson I take from that is to be gracious, tactful, and respectful to others so that if I ever DO make it big, people will rejoice in my good fortune instead of hating me for it!

Maureen, Pat, and Marnee - You've nailed what I think is my biggest takeaway--you're never going to please everybody, you never help your cause by arguing back against the reviewer (or editor, blogger, etc.), and sometimes if you shut up long enough to listen, you might realize they have a point you can learn from for the future!

@Cathy - I have a couple Rachael Ray cookbooks--I think my favorite one is her very first one, which has a lot of quick classic pasta sauces I use.

@Penni - So glad you enjoyed the book!

bn100 said...

Nice list. You can learn lessons from watching reality shows and knowing how not to act.


Tin said...

I love watching cooking shows! My favorites would be Nigella and Donna Hay --

An unlikely place where I learned an important lesson? My daughter's nursery class -- everywhere is a wonderland if you are open to it. ^_^

- khriscc (at) yahoo (dot) com

TerriOsburn said...

Thank you, Susanna, for being with us and good luck to everyone on the contests. We appreciate you all stopping by to visit.