Tone of voice with all the trimmings

What do turkeys tell us about tone? And how can pigs in blankets help warm up your words? Your Christmas meal says more about writing than you may imagine.

Jamie, Delia and Nigella. Three top chefs with three very distinct tones of voice. But how do they tackle the most important meal of the year? As ‘brand personalities’, they each bring their own house style to their writing, as much as their food.

Here’s how Jamie does it:

In my books, the perfect bird is 6.5kg– 8kg in weight because that’s a good size to handle… If you’re buying from a small producer, like the lovely turkey I used from my mate Paul Kelly, you’ll often find these birds come with their own cooking instructions…

“This year I’m using a flavoured butter to give a bit of extra love to my turkey…”

Jamie’s laddish charm shines through in a tone that sounds off-the-cuff and casual. But don’t be fooled – these are carefully crafted words that back up brand Jamie.

Delia, as you might imagine, has a very different take:

Cooking a turkey for the first time at Christmas, when in-laws and other guests are probably milling around, can be quite a traumatic experience. I think the secret of success is to give the turkey a good blast of heat to begin with, and once you’ve got it going… you can then turn the oven down and let the turkey cook through more gently.”

And relax… You’re in safe hands with Delia. She knows you’ll probably have in-laws and other guests milling around. That hosting a big occasion can be traumatic. And she thinks the secret of success is to give your turkey a good blast. Notice how the use of modifiers shows empathy and, paradoxically, increases confidence.

For Nigella, it’s a different story: 

“For me the only turkey is a brined one… You have only to try this method to be utterly convinced…

“At this time of year, it’s fine just to leave it in a cold place. I sit mine by an open window in the kitchen. It means everyone freezes, but who am I going to put first – my turkey or my family?

“Out in the garden if you’re lucky enough to have one would also be fine, though the pan must be securely covered… I cover it twice with foil and then put my son’s skateboard on top to prevent foxy foraging.” 

The tone of voice is chatty, peppered with humour and oozing charm. Nigella shares little insights into her family life that, for some, create a sense of intimacy. While for others it’s more sickening than a double eggnog with a brandy custard chaser. As for ‘foxy foraging’, only Nigella could get away with this.

What does this say about tone of voice?

Firstly, language is incredibly flexible. The same message can be tackled in a huge variety of ways to evoke your brand personality.

Secondly, little details such as the choice of adjective, a friendly aside or a personal anecdote can make a huge difference.

Finally, consistency is crucial. These top chefs’ recipes may change, but their voices remain reassuringly familiar.

So, when you dig out your Christmas recipe this year, tone of voice may be the last thing you’re thinking about – but it’s the first thing you’re reading. And, if your sprouts are too squidgy or your turkey’s bone dry, do what every great chef does – blame it on the recipe.