Why We Rejected You // Why We Sent your Dish Back

By Ben Hotaling

Ehm… hello, reader. Before we start, I want you to know; I’m not here as a coin-sorting mass of fine-fitted divots, nor am I an omnipotent literary recipe book. No, I’m nothing more than an honest smile and an open hand. Welcome. Please, sit where you like, throw your shoes aside, set your feet up. Would you like something to eat? How about some tea? We have Chai, English, Oolong, Green~

Alright, let’s talk about it. Why did we reject you? To put it shortly, I wouldn’t say we did. To put it not so shortly, we are flush with differing reasons to decline a submission. Perhaps, like mustard on toast, we felt the relationship wasn’t a good fit. Perhaps, again like mustard on toast, we felt confused by your artistic flare. Perhaps, somehow still like mustard on toast, we couldn’t quite relish in the way the ingredients came together. Please, don’t fret: recipes grow, and as they do, so too does the flavor. As you cook, we’ll sit near in excited chatter, rubbing our growling bellies. Sometimes, you may overcook the steak. Sometimes, you may under-season it. Hey, it happens.

To collapse the worth of your culinary potential into one meal would be like taking a pantry, stocked tall with greens, veggies, fruits, and spices, then blending it. As the blender screeches and gurgles, spewing chunks, so too do I, rushing out the backdoor for a fresh breath of air. We did not reject you, friend. We rejected the recipe. For one reason or another, it just didn’t suit our pallet. Not everything will, nor does everything have to. My grandmother gets olives on her pizza. My cousin, pineapple.

If you’d like, I could talk about some of the flavors and ingredients we’ve tended to enjoy… Yea? Awesome.

Tart flavors. We love something sharp, or something sour. It can be a hearty squeeze of lemon, a traumatic event, a splash of vinegar, or a brash line. We find that tarts demand our attention, and keep us salivating for more, and more, and more, especially when their flavor is present in the first bite. But, as with everything in cooking, tarts can be overused. Us editors have well-weathered taste buds, so please don’t be shy, but know, we do have our limits. In “The Pigeon King” by Ace Clamber, the first sentence reads: “I tricked my dad into being friends with me.” The line is sudden, unapologetic, and demands your attention while watering your taste buds. It has you begging for more. A prime example of Tart flavor.

Something hearty, like greens or meats. The core of the dish. Without a good base, an intriguing topic, a well-cooked steak or soup, all the other flavors surrounding a meal become almost irrelevant. Some dishes like to hide their core behind fancy flavors, which can work, as long as some of the fundamental ingredients still come through. In “The Pigeon King,” Ace writes:

“We talk all the time, he just doesn’t know he’s talking to his own kid. Tricked is a dangerous word to use as a trans guy—something we’re often accused of intentionally doing to others. But in this case, for me and my dad, it feels right. It had been nearly a decade since I’d started my transition and he’d faded out of my life. I found him late one night on Instagram when sleep wouldn’t come. I’m not sure what prompted it but I suddenly felt possessed by the idea of seeing what he looked like all these years later.”

In the first couple of paragraphs, Ace introduces the reader to their situation—that being a trans man who lost touch with their father—shrouded by some mystique. It sets the base for the dish and acts as the core flavor.

A bit of spice. The peppers, the heat, the artistic flare, the syntax. We love some spice, and, in some dishes, we like a lot of it. That being said, spice is one of the easiest things to mess up. It requires a very specific array of ingredients to come off just right. And when it does, it’s delicious. When it doesn’t, though, it can wither the taste of everything else. A great example of this is the poem “To Those That Say Climate Change Is Not Real,” by Sneha Subramanian Kanta, which is so spicy it cannot be formatted here… If you do want to see it, it’s linked below for your tasting pleasure.

Something seasonal, fresh, current, provoking. We love it when a dish sparks our “current issue” taste buds, especially with a unique flavor profile. Give us the victim’s view, give us the hate you feel, give us your truth, give us something to truly chew on and digest. And, to heighten its taste, make it something subtle! Without mystique, the flavor is easily ruined. As Editors, we love the odd ingredient disguised by the rest, and give no greater applause than for a reason to let your dish sit on our tongue. “The Pigeon King” does this very well, speaking to the difficulties of trans life without overburdening the plate.

Lastly, something homegrown. Picked from the garden out back. Give us something that only you can. Let us taste the earthliness of it. Let us taste the pain, the love, the honesty. Something that’s grown in the background. Something you’d check between the business of life, through the storms and droughts. We find that the strongest flavors come from ingredients you grew, purposefully, or not. You can find homegrown ingredients in many dishes. “The Pigeon King,” again, is one of them. What Ace writes about is important to them. It’s the story only they can tell.

Ace Clamber, The Pigeon King in the minnesota review 1 November 2022; 2022 (99): 33–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-9992999

Sneha Subramanian Kanta, To Those That Say Climate Change Is Not Real in the minnesota review 1 November 2022; 2022 (99): 12. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-9992859


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