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One of the first things the editor asked me to do when I was hired here in 2006 was host an online chat. Five years later, as I leave Washington City Paper, I realize that I never conducted a single chat. Not one. It’s one of the great failures of my tenure at the paper.
But I thought I’d use my departure as an excuse to answer a few of the questions that have been asked of me over the years. I usually tried to dodge them in person.
Who are my favorite food writers?
The first food writer I really loved was Jeffrey Steingarten. I like to flatter myself and think that my writing borrows from Steingarten’s unique mix of investigative reporting, narrative storytelling, and sly humor. But the truth is no one touches Steingarten. No one. (In part because he had so much room to write in Vogue and an obviously significant budget, but 98 percent of the writers still couldn’t touch him even with space and money at their disposal.) Who else? I’m fond of Ruth Reichl‘s memoirs, with their unflinching honesty and sensual descriptions of food and cooking. I also can’t seem to stop reading Francis Lam‘s work at Salon whenever I click over to the site’s food section. Among local food and drink writers, I love reading Jason Wilson‘s work on spirits for The Washington Post, and I have to give a shout-out to my friend and barbecue mentor, Jim Shahin, whose Smoke Signals column is always a delight to read.
Where do I like to go to eat on my days off?
No where. I like to stay home and cook with my wife, Carrie. She makes a mean ravioli, and I’m developing a good feel for preparing Texas-style brisket and ribs in my cheap, leaky barrel smoker.
What’s my favorite restaurant?
This question is almost impossible to answer, because it always depends on what I’m in the mood to eat. This isn’t 1960s-era Washington when your favorite restaurant was either a steakhouse or some French temple of gastronomy. Some days I pine for Frank Ruta‘s roast chicken at Palena. Other days, I want El Pollo Rico‘s rotisserie chicken. Then there are times when I can’t stop thinking about the steaming beef soup at Pho 75 or the rib-eye at Ray’s the Steaks or the tacos at Taqueria La Placita or the ribs at Mr. P’s or the butter chicken at Masala Art or the tandoori lamb chops at Rasika or the tasting menu at Obelisk or the ma-po tofu at Joe’s Noodle House or just about anything at PS 7’s. Does that answer the question?
Why am I not fat?
Because I sit at a computer all day and feed the blog instead? I joke, but I’m also serious. The process of writing and editing the Y&H blog sometimes leaves little time for long, lingering lunches loaded down with calories. For the past two years, while tending the Y&H blog, I have probably skipped more meals than at anytime in my life.
What’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten in the D.C. area?
I’ve eaten all kinds of offal dishes, from duck tongues to duck feet, but the only food that I ever hesitated putting in my mouth were the grasshopper tacos at Oyamel. I’ve never liked grasshoppers, dating back to childhood when I had one crawl up my pants. I thought I had an itch on my leg — an itch that wouldn’t stop. When I finally investigated the “itch” in the bathroom, a grasshopper hopped out of my pants. It sounds like the punchline to a joke now — is that a grasshopper in your pants or are you just happy to see me? — but it wasn’t very goddamn funny when I was a teenager. I thought an alien had popped out of my leg.
When did you realize you wanted to be a food writer?
It wasn’t so much that I woke up one day and realized that food writing was my calling. It was more like a gradually awakening. I had been a hard news reporter, a film critic, a music editor, and a managing editor. Then in 2004, I took a six-month certificate course at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the culinary knowledge other than try to improve my cooking skills. A few months after that course, the Washington City Paper job opened up. I thought it might be a good fit for me. Little did I realize it would turn into my life’s passion. I still have tons of stories to write on food and the people who produce it. I hope you’ll keep reading them.
The Last Course: Instead of the usual Weekly Beer Run, I wanted to tell you a little about the immediate future of the Eats section at the Washington City Paper, including the Young & Hungry blog. The weekly column will be written by a group of freelancers and staffers at the paper until editor Michael Schaffer names a new food columnist/editor. He has a number of very good candidates on his list. I wish I could tell you more about them. For now, the blog will be edited by assistant managing editor Michael E. Grass, the co-founder of DCist, who has a healthy interest in the local food scene, not to mention some random connections to the District’s culinary past. Grass’ grandfather grew up in the house whose façade is now Kinkead’s. Another branch of his family ran a tavern on Capitol Hill—more than a century ago! He also owns a cool old iron can from the Christian Heurich Brewing Co., the last production brewery to call D.C. home. You’re clearly in good hands. But here’s the thing: You can also help with the transition on the Eats desk by sending tips to Grass at firstname.lastname@example.org.