Finding Your Food Job “Bliss”

blissA goal is a dream with a deadline. There are so many choices and this too often results in paralysis.

My website designer, Randy Caruso, asked me to describe myself in just three words. I decided I am a writer, teacher and mentor. These are the three things I most enjoy.

If I may, I’d like to give you an example for my own life. For two years, I taught a course in Gastronomy but I was passed over when I applied for a full-time position on the faculty. The evaluations from the students were spectacular and I loved teaching the class.

There was just one problem. Continue reading

An Egg A Day

Crack An Egg

Crack An Egg

I’m not entirely sure whether well-intentioned doctors fully understand the mind-freezing impact of prescribing, “No more eggs, no more butter or fries or booze…” What is left? Rien! Nada! Nothing! But wait, tell me…

I’ve just discovered something important. Under the heading, “Cracking the Myth,” the Egg Board’s web site tells us:

“Many Americans have shied away from eggs – despite their taste, value, convenience and nutrition – for fear of dietary cholesterol. However, more than 40 years of research have shown that healthy adults can eat eggs without significantly impacting their risk of heart disease.”

And now, according to new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition data, eggs are lower in cholesterol than previously recorded. It recently reviewed the nutrient composition of standard large eggs, and results show the average amount of cholesterol in one large egg is a mere 185 mg, a 14 percent decrease from eggs of the distant past.

I’ve also long held the view that butter is good for you. It makes your hair curl and your teeth shine. Contrary to what many modern health experts believe, “Butter is actually good for you,” says Dr. William Campbell Douglass II, editor of The Douglass Report,  a newsletter dedicated to debunking common medical myths. Because butter is actually full of nutrients that are good for the heart — including vitamin A, a vital antioxidant, and lecithin, which helps the body metabolize cholesterol and fats.

Julia Child

Julia Child

Wise woman, Julia Child, acknowledging a gasp from her live audience explained, “If you are worried about using all this butter, you can substitute heavy cream.”

While readily recognizing that everyone can find someone to agree with — whatever anyone already thinks — I still can’t help thinking that butter which comes from milk from contented

Contented Cows courtesy of Dmitry Kalinovsky

Contented Cows courtesy of Dmitry Kalinovsky

cows who live in the country must surely be better for the soul than margarine, which is manufactured in the city from chemicals including terribly ‘bad-for-you’ trans fat.

Will all this un-magical thinking lead to a ban of mother’s milk, loaded as it is with ”bad” things including cholesterol, saturated fat and sugar?

As for fries: it might be a good idea not to SUPERSIZE.

And addressing the subject of booze, I remember a little story about Mark Twain.

Mark_Twain, 1907

Mark Twain, 1907

Upon returning to the United Stated, a customs officer asked Twain if he had anything to declare.

“No.” said Twain, nonchalantly. “Just clothing.”

“Open your suitcase,” suspiciously demanded the customs official.

When the case was opened, the official discovered a bottle of bourbon and turned to Twain, asking sternly, “What is this, Sir.”

“Ah…,” said Twain — “That is my nightcap.”

Writer’s Voice: Can You Hear Me Now?

Genius is at work for anyone, who can explain the term ‘writer’s voice’ in fewer than 750 words. I’ll try.

I’ll begin by saying it takes a lot of courage to write in your own voice. Writing in your own voice means writing as though you are having a conversation with your best friend.

We all speak in many different voices. We pitch high when speaking to a gurgling baby. We speak differently when we coo to a beloved dog as compared to the one we use to talk to the cat — or when acknowledging the presence of a spider.

We speak to the boss — or the caller from the IRS — in a different tone from the way we address the person behind the counter from whom we are asking for half a pound of Swiss, please.

So the voice we employ for writing an article, or a book, or a blog posting must be the true one you really mean. Otherwise it’s like lying; it’s hard to remember how to keep your story straight. You establish credibility with your readers by being true to yourself.

Julia Child

I remember a writing student, who desperately wanted to be a successful cookbook author. She thought she could do this by counting the specific number of words Julia Child used in the head notes to her recipes — and replicating them. (Note: I wouldn’t customarily use the word “replicate” so I should have said “using” the same number of words.)

It was impossible to convince the student that it was Julia’s ideas, the accuracy of her recipes, her formidable physical and television presence that made her a national folk hero (not her actual voice!) with a voice.

Where do you find this thing called ‘voice?’ First, stop looking! You’ve already got it. Now all you need is the courage to believe your own unique way of expressing yourself is interesting.

Here’s a fine example of the distinctive voice that belongs to Diane Ackerman, the author of A Natural History of the Senses:

“Nothing looks more contented than a resting alligator. The mouth falls naturally into a crumpled smile, the eyes half close in a sleepy sort of way. The puckered back looks as harmless as the paper-mache maps of the Alps that children make in elementary school. The thick toes hog the mud like tree roots. Alligators, because their massive jaws curve upward, appear to be laughing even when they’re in repose. They seem caught in a great big private chuckle…”

Isn’t that simply brilliant writing? Every word is composed with infinite care. Diane Ackerman paints a picture in her own words. The description is factual yet evocative and stylish.

Compare this with the voice of Andy Rooney, complaining on 60 Minutes about advertising:

“The word ‘new’ appears in about half of all printed and broadcast advertising. Usually, the product is not only new; it’s ‘new and improved.’ If it’s going to be new and improved again next year, you might want to wait.”

Or, Alan Richman, of GQ, and multiple James Beard Foundation Award Winner, describing his job as a restaurant critic as “perceived as similar to ‘test driving a Mercedes or helping chorus girls in Las Vegas to get dressed…”

Jerry Della Famina

And, Jerry della Femina writing about my favorite subject: The Heyday of the Three-Martini Lunch:

“We called them silver bullets — they were six-ounce martinis made up of six ounces of gin, a drop of vermouth and a thin strip of lemon peel floating on the top, surrounded by a handful of silvery slivers of ice.

‘Straight up’ was the way most people drank in the 1960’s; ordering ‘on the rocks’ was seen as sign of weakness, as was the substitution of vodka.”

Absolutely marvelous! I can experience the sensation of the first sip!

Now you try. Paint a picture of an event; write a book review; describe the smell of an onion or the pain of a toothache in your very own, beautiful voice.

Next Wednesday: the topic is how to write a book review.

What Food Editors Want

Courtesy of

David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria asked several food editors what kind of writing they were looking for. With his permission, I’ll quote the answers he received.

John Willoughby of the New York Times (and formerly of Gourmet magazine) said, “What we’re all looking for is unusual new ideas. You can only find those by having a lot of food experiences, from cooking at home to traveling to Asia, and by reading —though not necessarily in the food field. I found my first food idea, about the diet of the Pima Indians, in an AIDS journal. So read everything.”

Pamela Kaufman of Food & Wine responded, “If you don’t have a lot of clips or food experience, start small. Write restaurant reviews for your local paper, write for a web site or start your own. Also, be an attentive reader — and eater.”

Margot True of Saveur suggested,”It’s very acceptable to send a spec piece, which is another avenue to take if a writer doesn’t have clips. If you’re interested in our front-of-the-book section, “Saveur Fare,” it’s easier if you write the piece and send it in. It gives our editors an idea of how well you understand that section.”

Victoria von Biel of Bon Appetit said, “We have a distinct split between editorial and recipe development. I don’t necessarily look for formal culinary training. But while you don’t need to be a trained chef, you do need to have a passion for this. Read the magazines, read the cookbooks and immerse yourself in the subject matter. It will show in your writing. I’m also a big believer in continuing education. Take cooking classes — and writing classes.”

As you see, these editors are looking for writers, who know what they are talking about.

You can’t fake it. But, in my opinion, this doesn’t mean you have a spend a fortune getting a degree in journalism and then occupy the next three years immersed in a professional culinary school.

R.W. Johnny Apple

The late R.W. “Johnny” Apple was a New York Times foreign correspondent who loved eating and drinking and became a prolific food writer. Like many successful writers he traveled extensively and had plenty to say.

You don’t have to follow any one else’s example, you can stay at home and, like Andy Rooney, simply comment on the passing scene. His ability to do this is unrivaled because he has nailed the profile of the CBS 60 Minutes viewer.

On a personal note, there are times when even the best of us total miss the mark in knowing our audience. Even moi! For several years, I was the keynote speaker at the annual IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Conferences. My talks were given at the end of lunch when the members were, (not to put too fine a point on it), — fairly sloshed, having suffered the lengthy and totally boring business session during which vast quantities of wine had been consumed. I delighted in poking fun at the food establishment in general and Martha the Magnificent in particular. It was a wonderfully receptive, though undeniably, tipsy audience.

One year I decided instead to talk about world hunger… Julia Child was seated at the head table. When I had finished, she said, “Irena dear, That was the boringest speech I’ve ever heard.” She was right of course. Wrong topic. Wrong time. Wrong audience.

More about honing your own unique voice and the right audience for your words next Wednesday.

Correction to Post Above:

I was remiss in not pointing out the article to which I refer was published in Writer’s Digest in 2004. This was an excellent review, and I believe the information to be as current and useful today as it was then. I should also add that Cara De Silva emailed to say “Margo True has been at Sunset Magazine for a long time now.”

‘Twas the Year In Food That ‘Twas…

Courtesy of Escobar Highland Farm

Courtesy of Escobar Highland Farm

A Ahhh: the A – Z of The Year in Food in Review!

B The buzzwords this year were “bacon, bacon, bacon,” butchers, back-to-basics cooking, Balloon Boy Batali, Barefoot C. D. Bouley, D. Boulud and db Bistro Moderne. The Beer summit with O_bama sent bloggers a-blogging. Blight (as in tomato) and the Big Bee Buzz Off also made news. Bottled water fell in trickle down economy.

C New cheese course in restaurants resulted in food jobs for cave men. Terrance Brennan, Chef-Proprietor of Picholine Restaurant and Artisanal Bistro and Wine Bar was nominated as Le Grand Fromage. Cup cake sales surpassed Pop Tarts. Copia, Napa’s bankrupt center for wine, food and the arts, was in the soup after amassing $78 million in debt.

D Doughnut claims proved to be full of holes.

E Epstein (Jason) wrote Eating: A Memoir.

F What began as “sugar-free” morphed into “salt-free,” “calorie-free” and “cholesterol free.” ‘FREE for All’ became the brand new and improved marketing concept. Let Freedom Ring! “Farm to table” was considered a brand new concept though, admittedly, this is the way people have eaten since the beginning of time. (The cost of a home-grown tomato was estimated to be in the range of $100. Gardening also took up heaps of free time.)

G Gordon Ramsay swore innocence in alleged sex affair. Government legalized marijuana. Rumors suggested that the appointed leader of a new agency would be known as Mr. Pot Head. ‘Green’ was declared the only way to go for those who wanted to get in the pink.

H Hospitals began replacing the rules of hospitality; some treated themselves like ‘out patients.’ They opted for a diet of denial. Dem(ocrat)s preferred smoothies. Healthy cocktails became all the rage.

I I will launch my web version of the Great Food Almanac in the new year.

J In the movie, Julie (Powell) blogged but Julia (Child) mastered our hearts.

K Kellogg dropped immune-boosting claims for sugary cereal — sweet gesture. Kraft’s courtship of Cadbury was rejected. Chocolate lovers turned dark and bitter.

L Happy No ‘L’ to All!

M Michelle (Obama) planted a vegetable garden. Martha (Stewart) tried to dig out from a 3rd quarter $11.7 million debt. Mobile foods kept on trucking.

N NASA located ice on the moon; still searching for scotch on the rocks.

O Organic lost its charisma; “sustainable” was the newfound concept. Obits for Sheila Lukins (of the Silver Palate) and Café des Artistes were written. Gourmet (magazine) bit the dust. Tavern on the Green is now on life support, but soon will be resurrected.

P Po’ Boys were getting poorer. Petite sweets were big and getting bigger.

Q Q’s were forecast for health care reformers by grim death panels. Q’s were eliminated by self-serve check outs in supermarkets. Barbeques remained popular with Dads, who prowled their backyards with a beer and a spear.

R NRA (National Restaurant Association) pegged future profits to rising Tide. Many restaurants washed up, leaving line cooks out to dry. French Laundry Executive chef Thomas Keller ironed out his issues and revealed a softer side.

S This year we appointed two supreme judges: Sonia S(otomayor) and Sam S(ifton). One is a fed, the other is a foodie. Both were well grilled before taking their hot seats — one on the bench, the other on the banquette. Both thanked their lucky stars.

T T-baggers made a big splash. Tweeters’ ‘Rec.A.P’s got even shorter.

U U still here?

V tV Food Network cooked up only contests and conflicts that generate a stampede of students into culinary schools.

W Increased cooking school enrollment led to more cooks, less home cooking. WOW!

X XXX and XXXX designates grades of confectioners’ sugar that is dusted on Xmas cookies.

Y Yellow fins were sinking. Yellow tails are rising.

Z SEASONings EATings to all and to all a white knight! Zzzzzzz.. Tweet Tweet… The  Nd



When Julia Child Frowns

Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia

Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia

I met Julie Powell, briefly, when we were invited to judge a chili cooking contest in Kingston, NY. There were three judges and only two contestants so we had plenty of time to hang out and talk.

Julie’s husband Eric was with her. So was their dog. I liked them all immediately. Far from being self-absorbed or narcissistic, I found Julie to be friendly, funny and generous, offering to find us all some water to drink on the hot afternoon and happily sharing anecdotes. She talked about her plan to apprentice at Fleisher’s, a little butcher shop in the neighborhood. I hadn’t yet read her book, Julie & Julia or her blog, the Julie/Julia Project though later I enjoyed both.

I can understand how disappointed she was, not only that she never met Julia, but how sad she was that Julia was not supportive of her idea of cooking her way through all the BOOK (Mastering the Art of French Cooking). Until I saw the movie, Julie & Julia, I had forgotten about something that happened with Julia.

There was a party in a private room in a grand restaurant in Chicago. There were 12 guests including Julia. It was a spectacularly gorgeous, dark wood panelled space with soft lighting, golden candles, cascades of brilliantly colored flowers, crisp white linen table cloths, glistening crystal, the silver, heavy in the hand. There was a buzz of harmonious conversation among old friends. The wine was poured. A toast toasted. Glasses clinked.

An anticipation of good food shared with good company. Wide smiles.

Waiters enter. Heavy laden. “Bon Appetit!” warbled Julia.

Cutting his meat, a tuxedoed guest from a little way down the table speaks above the murmurings. “Julia. What do you think of your new biography?” he asked, as he raised his fork to his mouth.

Julia turned to stone.

She thumped her glass to the table so hard, the red wine jumped and spilled onto the tablecloth.

“I don’t want to hear one more word about… that!”

This is the only time I ever saw Julia, not angry, FURIOUS!

There is a thunderous silence.

We sip our wine nervously.  Acutely embarrassed. We look around trying to think of something to say. And pass the butter.

There’s another moment of astonishment.

Hesitantly conversation resumed.

I never asked Julia, “Why?” I don’t know if anyone else did either.

I can only guess that she felt her privacy had been unforgivably violated. It was one thing for she and Paul to send that photograph of themselves in the bathtub. Naked? And quite another for a stranger to enter the bathroom, uninvited.

A boundary had been crossed.

Had Julie asked Julia’s permission to do what she did, I’m certain Julia would have said a resounding “NO!”

There’s no way Julie could possibly have anticipated Julia’s response. But that doesn’t diminish that Julie had a great idea. Julie should be applauded for her valiant efforts and finding her own voice.