Q: How did you start writing?
A: I began by writing small pieces for Heavy Table, an upstart online food publication in Minneapolis, where I lived after college. Writing features and reviews for Heavy Table for two years was the practice I needed to start to feel like I could be a food writer. From there, I went on to try my hand at getting an MFA in creative nonfiction, though I realized that literary writing wasn’t quite what I wanted to do — I wanted to publish essays and articles in a wide variety of outlets. My big break came when I was asked to pitch Bitch Media for a food-themed issue of its magazine in 2013; the essay I wrote, “Craving the Other,” delved into the issue of cultural appropriation in food. Over time, I began to write more and more for Bitch Media and other publications.
Q: How did you become a professional food critic?
A: Though I did a little bit of criticism when I started out, it was years before I started doing it regularly. Most of the writing I did up until recently was anything but that: essays about immigrant food, reviews of books and television shows, and interviews with chefs and artists. Some of that work included outright criticism of food media as a whole, done through my work with Racist Sandwich, the podcast I co-founded in 2016.
I didn’t actually plan on becoming a restaurant critic, though I was aware of how powerful they were. Critics not only spot trends in the food world — they have a huge role in elevating particular cuisines and practitioners in the public consciousness. So when the San Francisco Chronicle announced its search for its next food critic, I got excited about the possibilities there! On a lark, I threw my name in and, well…
Q: What should I do to become a food writer?
A: Write a long essay about food. Congratulations, you’re a food writer! It really isn’t all that complicated. When it comes to getting published, start small. There are plenty of awesome publications out there that publish emerging writers and are willing to provide thoughtful editing. The hard part is getting paid to do it, and the road to doing it professionally isn’t all that different from what it takes to do anything professionally. Keep practicing; read widely; and really think about what kind of writing appeals to you the most. Figure out what publication you yearn to get into, then focus all of your efforts into gaining the skills and connections you need to get there.
Q: What skills do I need?
A: The most important one, to me, is the ability to craft a great pitch. Summing up your story in the most compelling way possible isn’t just good for catching an editor’s eye: It’s a way for you to better understand why you’re writing it in the first place. If you can translate your excitement for the story into the pitch, you’re golden.