Aug 282012

Food memoirs are shaping up as “quests” these days, quite tidy and well organized. If you can master the form, there’s room for your story.

But first, as always, you’ll have competition from chefs, who are still writing traditional memoir. Typically, these books bore me (except for Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential). But then I read Blood, Bones & Butter, an adrenaline-fueled memoir of Gabriel Hamilton’s relentless ambition to make good food and find love. It won the Beard award for Best Writing & Literature earlier this year.

Like Bourdain, Hamilton has the writing chops to craft an exceptional story. Lest you think these two were both just chefs when penning their memoirs, The New Yorker published Bourdain’s first story, and he had Continue reading »

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Aug 132012

Julia Child (Photo courtesy Knopf Publishing)

Julia Child would have been 100 this week, and festivities and tributes are everywhere (see list below).

I am one of the few in our industry who never met Child, despite an opportunity. I saw her hulking presence at the IACP conference, but I was too scared to introduce myself. I also did not cook my way through her books as a young woman, as French cuisine was not in my consciousness in my 20s and 30s.

But I have read Julia Child’s writing, full of gusto and conviction, and doing so always thrills me. Over her career, she wrote or co-wrote 18 books with sales totaling Continue reading »

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Jul 312012

One of the few at the conference comfortable with a mic, apparently. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Pollack Photography))

I’m just back from St. Louis, MO, where I taught an all-day food writing workshop for about 70 people.

(The sold-out Food Media Forum came about after Stephanie Pollack of The Cupcake Project invited me to teach. Then it morphed into a 2-day conference. My workshop was the most elaborate I’ve done yet, with coffee to order, wine at lunch and a guy who pedaled in on an ice cream cart during the break.)

I like to start the day with writing prompts, while people are fresh (as opposed to after wine at lunch). I ran around the tables asking for volunteers to read. Some people were so nervous that they shook. Some stammered. Some hesitated. Some even tweeted about being nervous:

Robyn Wright of Robyn’s Online World was the first to read her writing out loud, and the crowd Continue reading »

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Jun 282012

When I was in journalism school in the 1970s, we looked to Esquire magazine, not the New Yorker, as the pinnacle of long-form narrative non-fiction. Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and other Successful White Male Writers were our gods.

The ’60s and ’70s were a time of Ms. magazine, supposed bra burnings, and Gloria Steinem. It was also when Nora Ephron became the first female columnist in Esquire. Ephron, a feminist, burst upon the national scene writing essays like “A Few Words About Breasts” in this magazine for men. She visited a feminine hygiene plant, explaining how testers Continue reading »

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Jun 122012

Lisa Fain in her Manhattan kitchen. (Photo by Jan Cobb.)

People hardly ever recognize Lisa Fain by name. But once she tells them her blog and book name, Homesick Texan, she’s blown her cover, suddenly a superstar.

Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who lives in New York City, hence the motivation for starting her blog. She is also the author of The Homesick Texan Cookbook, published last fall, and her writing has appeared in Saveur, Edible Austin and on Her blog was named one of the top 50 food blogs in the world by the Times of London and the Best Regional Food Blog by Saveur.

During a recent conversation, she said she starts writing every day at 5 a.m. I wanted to know more:

Q. Tell me how your writing career led to the blog.

A. I graduated with a degree in English in 1991, and there were no jobs for anybody. I interned at the Houston Press and worked at Houston Metropolitan magazine as an editorial assistant. Then I worked for a textbook publisher for a while.

I always wanted to live in New York, and I moved here to write Continue reading »

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May 152012

By now you’ve seen the announcements for the Oscars of food writing, the James Beard Awards for books, broadcast and journalism.

But have you read the pieces that won over the judges? I thought not.

I tracked down a handful of feature stories and explain why this is food writing at its finest. Here’s what it takes to win an award of this caliber, with links to writers so you can investigate who won as well:

1. Cooking, Recipes, or Instruction: Anna Thomas, Eating Well, for “The Soup for Life”

Here’s a sensuous look at how Thomas concocted recipes for green soups for her most recent cookbook, Love Soup. Her writing is full of action verbs (“a bitter wind was swatting down the last damp leaves”), evocative writing (“onions, slowly sizzling in the skillet, turned the color of Continue reading »

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Mar 272012

Looking for a little inspiration? TED conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) cost $7500 per year to attend, but dozens of its speakers appear online on videos. Many are short enough that you can watch a few at a time.

Here are three picks for food writers based on storytelling, inspiration, and passion:

1. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton: “The clues to a great story.” Yes, the presentation is about animation (Stanton works for Pixar and includes some film clips), but his advice is spot-on for any writer. Plus, he opens with Continue reading »

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