What does a fashion writer know about food anyway?
If you believe the stereotype, one industry is all about eating while the other is all about, well, not.
I was thinking about this last week when I was on a train, speeding down to Baltimore to speak to the staff at The (Maryland) Daily Record about blogging, journalism and social networking.
Years ago, I’d heard Oprah Winfrey say at one of her “Live Your Best Life” seminars that Baltimore, where she’d worked early in her career, has a special place in her heart. “Baltimore grew me up,” she said as the crowd erupted in claps and cheers. I remember writing it down. But I didn’t really need to — I’ll always remember it because that’s how I feel, too. (Sorry Saint Anthony, but Oprah was a rock star in my book long before you even entered my consciousness.)
At the time, I was a cub reporter at the Baltimore Sun, working in a city I’d romanticized since I’d read Anne Tyler‘s “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” as an adolescent. My career lay before me — I knew I wanted to be a features reporter, preferably writing about entertainment and film. But I’d also begun doing reviews of restaurants in Baltimore’s suburban Anne Arundel County. And, while the meals (often involving Maryland crab cakes) in towns with uplifting names like “Parole” were often hit or miss, the food-writing bug was beginning to take.
“J. T. Ashley’s Grille is not a bad place to grab a meal — if you don’t mind average food and slow service,” I penned in October, 1998. “Fireside Inn
is a cozy place to stop by for a beer in an atmosphere where a
4-month-old perches on a table near the bar amid beer bottles and
ashtrays and an elderly man warms his stockinged feet by the huge,
red-brick fireplace in the middle of the restaurant,” I wrote in November 1997. “But if you’re looking for good food, go someplace else.”
Sometimes, I even fancied myself a Carrie Bradshaw with an acid Cartier pen — and an appetite. From February, 1999: “Dining at Ciao
on West Street is sort of like meeting an intelligent, handsome and
unbelievably wealthy man, then finding out that he steps on ants, lies
compulsively or has some other horrendous flaw.” Do not ask me where I was going with that.
In the end, the call to cover fashion won out and eating and cooking became purely recreational. But, whether it was learning to bake my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts or getting into David Chang‘s Momofuku Ko before most desperate food-lovers in New York City got to, the gastronomical adventures continued.
I was thinking about my early, sometimes horrifyingly badly written restaurant reviews in the Baltimore Sun, however, as I sat down to a bloody New York strip at Oz Chophouse in suburban Fulton, Maryland, Thursday night. Some 10 years ago, as I’d eaten my way through both the finest and the faultiest restaurants of the suburbs of Baltimore, I’d started thinking that it would be pretty dreamy to eat, cook and explore food culture while writing about it. Now, after years of politely pushing salad around a plate at fashionable lunches, I was finally doing it.
Looking back — and forward — I think Oprah would approve.