Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chopped-Inspired Bibliomancy Writing Exercise

I'm not a foodie. Food "porn" pics bore me. People who think and talk (or post on social media) about food & recipes annoy me. I don't enjoy watching cooking shows.

Except for Chopped. For me it falls into the same category as Project Runway. While I'm more interested in fashion than I am in food, I can't really say I'm especially into fashion either. There was a short-lived show called Craft Corner Deathmatch that I absolutely loved. What I enjoy and find intriguing about shows that focus on creative process, whatever the medium, is how the contestants (chefs, designers, artists, whatever) approach creative challenges using bizarre and unconventional materials.

Despite my disinterest in the culinary arts, I'm wildly inspired by what the chefs do with the "mystery basket" ingredients (often very challenging/unusual ingredients, especially in combination with one another). They're not just expected to use the ingredients, but to transform them. Meaning if one of the basket items is saltine crackers, you better do something more than smear a pâté on the cracker or crumble it up and call it a crouton. The chefs don't have to use all of an ingredient, just some of it. For example, if they get a whole chicken, they can just use the wings and legs. If they get an already baked cake, they can use just the icing. There's a stocked pantry and refrigerator the chefs are encouraged to use in addition to the four basket ingredients to bring the dish together.

Chefs must use all four ingredients to create a cohesive dish. Excluding an ingredient is a serious infraction. Not transforming the ingredient is another. Each dish is judged on presentation, taste and creativity. Sometimes the judges will select a more ambitious dish over a tasty, but run-of-the-mill offering. If the chef gets blood on the food, the judges won't touch it.

Each judge is known for his/her preferences and dislikes. There's a judge who hates raw red onions and has a shit fit every time he's served a meal that includes them. There's another judge who freaks when too many peppers are used in a dish. That can be tricky because there's usually another judge on the same panel who absolutely loves spicy flavor. Like all art, there's personal subjectivity involved in the assessment.

The chefs who compete come from a wide-range of backgrounds from classically-trained French to food truck owners. They can cook in whatever style they prefer, use whatever tools and appliances, serve from whatever plates/bowls offered and incorporate as much or as little pantry/refrigerator items as they wish. It's all good as long as they successfully include all four ingredients.

During NaPoWriMo I followed a similar process for several of my poems. I used the Bibliomancy Oracle, but old-fashioned grab-books-off-the-shelf bibliomancy would work just as well.

  • 4 mystery basket ingredients = 4 randomly selected passages
  • pantry/refrigerator = whatever is already in your brain
  • tools & appliances = whatever you have in your bag of tricks
  • plating = paper/screen/audio/video

Now the key is to TRANSFORM the passages (using as much or as little from each passage as you like). This means no quoting or straight-up plagiarizing lines or phrases. Transforming can mean a number of things. That might mean transforming a word or idea or emotion into something else (related or free-associated). It might mean adding on top of or deconstructing. If you don't wish to use any of the words from the passage, you can use part of the grammatical structure or style. There really aren't any limitations as long as you use something in some way from the passages and change it.

The passages will likely be very different and possibly seem incompatible with one another. It's your job to create something using all four that is cohesive and appealing (however you choose to define that).

Chopped has time limits for each round. I don't worry about time. But if you're one of those psychos who likes to write against the clock, knock yourself out.


  1. This is great, Reb!
    Thanks for the "recipe."

  2. Omigod, I'm one of those annoying people posting recipes! :)