What I Learned from Watching Gourmet Makes

What I Learned from Watching Gourmet Makes

I recently found a series on Youtube called Gourmet Makes. The idea is that a professional pastry chef tries to recreate common snacks and candies while improving the taste to make them more gourmet. The show’s host, Claire, focuses on a couple different things during each project. First, she tries to replicate the appearance of the product (usually by guessing how the company might make them). Next she tries to replicate and/or improve the taste. In a few cases, she puts them to other tests (such as whether her mentos would explode properly in a bottle of soda).

I like this show for a lot of reasons. One is certainly the editor’s sense of humor. Every time Claire hits a roadblock, they do a fade to grey and start playing sad music, often including flashbacks from previous episodes. But what I like most about the show is that Claire never gives up, no matter how many times she has to start over.

I’m starting to learn that when you delve deep into a craft, just about every life experience imparts some value you can pass on to your work. Recent examples include moving to a new house, watching the anime Yuri on Ice. And now, I can add Gourmet Makes to the list as well!

Knowledge Doesn’t Prevent Roadblocks

Whenever I watch cooking shows on Youtube, I’m astounded by the chef’s working knowledge of food. For example, when Claire starts trying to make something like Starbursts or Skittles, she starts the project already knowing what will happen to sugar and certain other ingredients if they reach certain temperatures or sit after cooking. But even with her extensive knowledge – gained both prior to and during the show – she still sometimes struggles to produce results.

One thing Claire hates to do is start over. Her crew constantly tease her about the idea of a day three curse, since she often has to throw out her progress and start over on the third day. But sometimes that’s a good thing, because starting over allows her to try a new approach that works better than the original.

Sometimes Claire holds on to failed iterations of her projects way too long. The jellybean episode is a fine example of this. Even though almost none of the steps turned out the way she wanted, Claire persisted until she was basically out of time to film. Except that she was grossly unhappy with the results.

I’ve never seen a failed Gourmet Makes, so I was fairly confident everything would work out in the end. No spoilers, but Claire called in the help of a colleague to get the work done. Still, said coworker had to be firm with her and sometimes tell her to abandon a failed batch rather than wasting time trying to save it.

There is wisdom in this advice.

Know When to Walk Away

In Kenny Rogers’s famous song The Gambler, a wise old man imparts some wisdom to a young protégé about how to play poker. At the core of his advice is that one must know when to play their hand and when to abandon it. The same is true for many things, but especially when you’re writing a novel.

The primary tenant of writers everywhere is never give up. If you give up, the story won’t get written. But that doesn’t mean you should hold on to your first concept of the story, or to every scene that feels like it isn’t working. Constantly bashing yourself against the wall of a tangled narrative is the fastest way to make you want to give up, rather than keeping you on track.

Sometimes our first attempt to tell the story is too messy. Not every angle of approach works for any given scene. Sometimes the plot evolves beyond your original plans and a particular twist or event just won’t work anymore.

Writing is hard.

This is one of the main reasons it helps to get a fresh perspective between drafts. It’s also why taking a break is a good idea. Walking away from the wall is the best way to find a path over, under or around it, rather than trying to break through.

It sucks, but sometimes the answer is to delete what you’ve written and start over. Come at the scene from a new direction. Let the plot change. Erase a character, or add one. Try a new narrator. Add a new obstacle or even a subplot.

Sometimes you can work with what you already have but, often, it’s easier if you get rid of the tangle and start again.

It Isn’t a Waste of Time to Start Over

When writing, it can be terribly difficult to determine when you should walk away from something that isn’t working. I fell down a Youtube hole while I was writing this post. It would have been easy to abandon the idea and label it silly. But I came back with a fresh cup of tea and new determination. And here we are.

In general, it’s a good idea to try to muscle through or stick out at least once or twice. But if you’ve tried everything you can think of and something still isn’t working, the problem probably isn’t you.

It hurts to get rid of words, especially if you ultimately like what you’ve written. It sucks harder to get rid of whole scenes or change entire plots. But I can honestly say, I have never once regretted abandoning a track and adopting a new one. The story always works out better in the end. (Even when two characters who were never supposed to be more than friends decide they loved each other.)

I keep my deleted words, of course, in case I ever have use for them elsewhere. Creatives never really have to abandon something completely if they don’t want to. But sometimes we try to fit pieces into the wrong puzzles. Sometimes finding where a thread belongs is the hardest part.

So don’t be afraid to walk away from something that isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to clean the counter and start over. Don’t look at these false starts as failures or wasted time. Any type of forward momentum is beneficial to a project. But sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to keep moving forwards.

And be sure to check out Gourmet Makes! Because both it – and Claire – are awesome!

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