Deb Dana Thinks about Food. A Lot.

Given last week’s post, I’m guessing most of you have figured out that I love food. If I’m not cooking it, I’m eating it, and if I’m not eating it, I’m thinking about it, and if I’m not thinking about it…no, scratch that, I’m pretty much always thinking about food.

I love to dream up what I’m going to make for dinner tonight or have for breakfast tomorrow, and there’s nothing I love more than standing in my kitchen, covered in flour, with a whisk in one hand and a bowl in the other. One of my favorite ways to procrastinate (and believe me, I have many) is to surf through food blogs like Smitten Kitchen and Orangette.

So when I started brainstorming ideas for a novel, I knew I wanted food to play a major role in the story. But I also wanted the story to feel fresh. As an unpublished author, I knew my manuscript would get lost in the slush pile if my story felt generic or stale. More than that, I suspected I would live and breath this story for years, and if the story didn’t feel fresh to me, I’d probably go crazy by the hundredth revision.

With that in mind, I sat down in front of my computer and started writing, and what came out was…terrible. Like, total crap. The story I’d begun was bland and contrived. Sure, the plot involved food, but I’d never had that “Eureka!” moment, the spark I needed to light the writing fire. A voice in the back of my head kept telling me, “This isn’t it. This isn’t the story. Keep thinking — you’ll find it.”

And I did. I was living in London at the time, and one morning I read a story in one of the British papers about a local woman known as “MsMarmitelover” who hosted an underground supper club called The Underground Restaurant. She basically turned her living room into an unlicensed restaurant, and people would come from all over and pay to eat her food. Initially, my interest was driven more as a potential customer than as a writer — which, given that I always have food on the brain, isn’t exactly surprising.

Here’s a clip of her running her supper club. She’s a hoot, right? Love her. (Don’t love Marmite, though. Sorry.)

Anyway, later that night, as I drifted off to sleep, MsMarmitelover’s name and story swirled through my head, and I started thinking more about underground supper clubs in general. How could someone pull off an unlicensed restaurant like that? Wouldn’t it be stressful? And, given that the operation isn’t approved or inspected by the Health Department, isn’t it illegal? What would happen if one of these amateur chefs got caught?

Just before I nodded off to sleep, I bolted straight up in bed — BINGO. I had my story. I scurried out of bed and into the living room in our flat, nearly tripping over myself in the dark, and felt around for my writing notebook. I flicked on a lamp, flipped to a black page, and, in barely legible handwriting, scrawled “girl who starts underground supper club” into my notebook.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Er…if by history you mean tons of research, cut chapters, new scenes, new characters, and many, many revisions. But that spark — that “Eureka!” moment — got me started, and it kept the fire burning every step of the way. Well, that and a whole lot of butter and sugar. ‘Cause hey — a girl’s gotta eat.




17 Replies to “Deb Dana Thinks about Food. A Lot.”

    1. I love Food52!! I have so many recipes printed out from that site. Love it. And I love Molly Wizenberg’s (Orangette’s) writing. Did you read her book?? A few chapters in there made me cry.

      Glad you’re excited about my book. I can’t wait for you to read it!

      1. I haven’t read her book yet, I really should! I think she may be writing (or already written) one on how they came to open their restaurant and the challenges they faced as new business owners. I thought that sounded interesting. So many of my foodie friends have dreamed about one day opening some kind of restaurant, yet we know how difficult it is.

  1. Oh Dana, I love that I’m not the only one with a notebook full of the words “girl who…” and then some mysterious scrawl that only I can make out. One time I found one I had written late at night: ‘girl who has no hair’. Wha?

    And I love that clip. Did you ever get to go to the underground restaurant?

    1. I didn’t! Which seems like a huge injustice, since I ended up writing an entire novel about an underground supper club. But I read the article shortly before we moved back to the States, so I never had the chance. Even though we go back to the UK a lot (my husband is British), we end up spending the bulk of our time 2hrs outside the city, where my MIL lives, so I haven’t had a chance to check out MsMarmitelover’s London operation in person. But I definitely want to make a visit happen on one of my future trips…whenever that may be…

      Oh, and yeah, my notebook: anyone else reading it would be like, “‘Woman with unfortunate feet’? Whaaaat?” Glad I’m not the only one whose notes sometimes don’t make sense even to her…

  2. Well that is pretty cool! We do these “dinners at the farm” often and it reminds me a little of that (except we eat outside). What a great inspiration! and way to get us interested in your book!!

      1. Oh yes! the dinners are super cool! Our favorite is at the Massaro Farm which is right in our community. We eat food that has been grown at the farm. They serve wine from the local winery down the street. Cheese is brought in from a local cheese place (Caseus). It is delicious. Here is the link:

        Then we have dinners from all the Connecticut Farms. Here is the link:

        Good food and good times!

  3. Love this story. Those “aha” moments are great. When I was in college there was a little Italian place that was basically four tables in someone’s living room and you could bring your own wine. The food was amazing.

  4. I was looking forward to this before, but now I really can’t wait. I’m a total foodie myself, and the idea of underground supper clubs has always fascinated me. What a great inspiration. I’m so glad you hung on for the true inspiration!

  5. Food unites us all (and some people more than others – hello, sister in butter and sugar love) and books about food and stuff that comes out of food have a specail place in my heart. Not so much my waistline, though…

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