I never set out to be a food writer. Until 1980, my main goal in life was staying skinny. When a particular friend first came to visit me in Philadelphia that year, all he saw in my refrigerator was a can of cat food and a few bottles of beer. He swears there was Coke, too, but I never trusted myself to have the stuff in the house — that was for sustenance at my job on the copy desk at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Home is where the calories weren’t.
As my friend evolved into my consort, he first convinced me that a little food wouldn’t fatten me and then reminded me that cooking it is one of the most pleasurable things a human can do standing up.
By the time I decided I really hated my new job, on the national desk at the New York Times, I knew exactly what to do. I took out a $5,000 loan, gave notice and headed off to the New York Restaurant School to become a chef. My destination turned out to be the Evelyn Wood School of Cooking — we learned French cuisine one day, Italian the next and Chinese on the third — but it was the perfect place for a college dropout with a short attention span who wanted instant knowledge along with credibility in the food world.
After fast but brutal stints at the stove at Sarabeth’s Kitchen and as a caterer in my own kitchen, I had another epiphany: Writing was a lot easier on the feet than cheffing. I sold my first magazine story to Travel & Leisure and never looked back.
For 15 years I freelanced for magazines ranging from Esquire to Farm Woman News, from Vogue to Military Lifestyle. I wrote regular columns for the New York Times Magazine and Health and also contributed to Saveur and Metropolitan Home, Food Arts and SmartMoney, Allure and House Beautiful, among the many. I had one book published and two stymied and edited a couple more. My life was my blissful work.
And then the New York Times came calling again. I was lured back in late 1998 to be deputy editor of the Dining In/Dining Out section, but it didn’t take me long to realize that rewriting was nowhere near as much fun as writing. Until mid-October 2002, I reported stories on subjects as diverse as Andre Soltner and Wayne Thiebaud, America’s best-selling food magazine (not Gourmet), cooks’ and restaurateurs’ recovery from 9/11, eating in Chicago, Christmas in Montreal, fruit carts in Manhattan and the post-euro dining scene in Paris.
For 11 months I had the best job at the paper, until the Dining editor went west and the section went south. I quit and spent five years writing on contract for the Los Angeles Times food section but am now footloose and pension-free again, agonizing over a book and freelancing for both dead-tree and cyber-magazines.
Through it all I have been lucky enough to travel on my stomach. Even with absurdly restricted vacation time in the Times years, my consort and I have still gotten around the world, on assignment or on our own dime. We’ve eaten everywhere from Hong Kong to Cuba, from Pantelleria to North Wales, from Oz to Kolkata. Always there are more tips than we can share. And so here is Gastropoda.
(I update Bites, Trails and The Cat WCTLWAFW whenever I can, Stories when I have one worth reading and Readings and Goods when I come across something exceptional enough to rouse me from my innate lassitude.)