Six years ago, Diana Ault embarked on a mouth-watering adventure that would merge her two chief passions: cooking and fiction. The pop culture enthusiast founded a blog called Fiction-Food Café (@fictionfood) as a resource to catalogue and share her recipes inspired by books, films, games and podcasts with the world. At the time, Ault was a new mom with excess creative energy that she wanted to channel into an ongoing and meaningful project.
“I've cooked and made food concoctions since I was a little kid, so I've always been drawn to the creative aspect of food, as well as the flavor exploration, and the simple fact that food can be shared,” Ault explained. “Food sometimes stood out to me in fiction when I was younger, but at some point I was seeing it in almost all of the fiction I was consuming, from books to movies to video games, etc. It was almost like a scavenger hunt. I was inspired by the fun of it and also the value of the food in those stories. I was intrigued by the reasons creators put food or meal scenes in their fiction (that's an interesting discussion to have), and it added depth and another aspect of enjoyment for me.”
In Fiction-Food Café's About section, Ault writes, “Food can play many roles in fiction, like symbolism, setting, plot device, character development, world building, reader/viewer connection, story enrichment, merchandising and so on. Food and mealtime are significant in fiction because they are significant in real life though they are often taken for granted in the latter.”
Ault hit the ground running, developing recipes like Creamy Flan inspired by Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch; Scream Cheese inspired by Hotel Transylvania; Vi's Birthday Meal from the dystopian novel Possession; New Beijing Dragon Dog from the novel Time Snatchers; Hari's Special from One Boy, No Water; Sausage and Avocado Pizza from the fantasy novel The Raven Boys; Doughnut Cops from Wreck-It Ralph and Steamed Buns from Spirited Away all within the first month.
The following year fellow pop culture food blogger Carrie at Witchy Kitchen reached out to Ault to invite her to co-host a podcast focusing on the intersection of fiction and cooking. The first episode of the Fiction Kitchen podcast aired in November of 2014 diving into the subject of food and cuisine in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. Carrie and Ault have produced a total of 71 podcasts covering everything from Downton Abbey to Sherlock Holmes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Fargo, Steven Universe to The Grinch.
Two years later, Ault's community of fiction-focused food bloggers grew with the formation of Fandom Foodies, a collective of food bloggers that choose a monthly theme and create recipes that complements the monthly theme. “I loved discovering other people who also made food inspired by fiction because it showed that there was a community of us with similar creativity and interests,” Ault explained. “… It's fun seeing what works of fiction inspire other food creators, and the interpretations they come up with. We can look at the same work of fiction and have different foods or inspirations stand out to us, or even focus on the same food, but come up with totally different ingredients and methods. I think that's pretty darn cool.”
Over the years, she's been invited to contribute recipes to zines and cookbooks, including Easy Eats: A Bee and PuppyCat Cookbook, Hyrule: Taste of the Wild digital zine and The Dragon Prince recipe zine.
Despite developing recipes for her blog Fiction-Food Café, her shared podcast Fiction Kitchen and the group Fandom Foodies, Ault has no fear of running out of inspiration. If anything, she worries she'll run out of energy and ingredients long before she exhausts her supply of ideas. The process of developing a new recipe isn't always the same, but Ault likes to begin with a work of fiction that she admires. Ault says her recipes are “like a love letter or a thank you to the creators.” Then the brainstorming begins. Some recipes come more easily than others. When a recipe proves particularly challenging, Ault will often walk away for a while before returning to the challenge. Ault treats some recipes as “kitchen experiments” that require multiple revisions and a significant investment of materials including time and ingredients.
Ault recalls that her Dragon Berry Jelly Tarts inspired by the Netflix animated series The Dragon Prince proved particularly challenging. Specifically, Ault struggled to get the recipe for the homemade jelly filling exactly the way she wanted it. She calls the process of developing her Vegetarian Kusa Mihshi recipe inspired by Nightbooks “a bit tedious.” But ultimately she was pleased with the outcome for both recipes, and she enjoys the feeling of accomplishment that comes with producing a challenging recipe. That said, Ault insists that it's important to know when to take a step back or even admit defeat.
Despite the occasional challenges and frustration, looking back over six years of recipes and relationships forged with fellow food bloggers, it's clear that Ault has found her community.
“It was very beneficial for me as a (then) still relatively new mom with big changes happening in my life, as a way to channel my creative energy and have an ongoing project that reflected my personality and what inspired me,” she said. “Sometimes life happens and you might feel off-kilter inside; it's good to have a project that is ‘you' to help keep you grounded.”
Diana Ault's Favorite Pop Culture Recipes
The Grinch Smoothie: One of my recent creations that I'm really pleased with is the two-tone, vibrant green dill smoothie inspired by The Grinch. Even the photo shoot was fun to put together!
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Double Crunch Ice Cream: I remember being very happy with the look of the Double Crunch Ice Cream I made years ago for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
Edible Fly-by-Night Flower: An edible Fly-by-Night flower from the film Mary and the Witch's Flower and the book The Little Broomstick was one that came to mind easily, and was very satisfying to put together and see the finished product.
Star Butterfly's Magic Wand from Star vs. the Forces of Evil: I was also really pleased with my edible Star vs. the Forces of Evil wand; some people thought it was a real prop!
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Meaty Rice Balls: I'm very happy with how tasty and sturdy my meaty rice balls from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out after a couple of experiments with different ingredients. Perfect for the hero on the go!
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Tikka Mahala Curry: I loved the flavor of the Tikka Mahala Curry I made for the first Ni no Kuni game, which was one of my earlier recipes. I kept eating it while I was making it; it tasted so good! The food in that game was a big motivation for starting the blog.