Amy Eddings is the local host of “All Things Considered,” which airs from 4 PM until 8 PM weekdays. She started hosting in 2004, after long-time host JoAnn Allen left for the West Coast. Before ATC, Amy was a reporter. Her favorite topics were--and still are--garbage and recycling, which she still reports on whenever she can get out of the studio.
Amy Eddings' Food for Thought: Cuisine Columnist Melissa Clark
Friday, April 01, 2011
A great thing about Last Chance Foods is that it not only gives me an opportunity to indulge in and talk about one of life's great pleasures (eating), it allows me to meet people like Melissa Clark. I've admired her food writing in the New York Times for a while.
I wasn't surprised when she told me she always knew she wanted to write. That just seemed a given. But she got my attention when she told me before our interview about coconut oil that she knew early on she wanted to write about food.
"I want people cooking. I want them using whole, real foods, not ersatz stuff," she said.
Clark said she wrote her first restaurant criticism at the age of 12. It was something she did to amuse her family.
"My parents were big foodies," she said. "Whenever we went out to restaurants, they'd deconstruct the meal. I wrote up reviews for them."
She did one on the former Brooklyn seafood destination, Lundy's.
"That was not a good meal—everything went wrong," she recalled. "It was almost like a story."
Clark told it in part through the fish themselves: She had them talking back to the patrons ("It cracked my uncle up," she said). It was this idea of telling stories through food that kept haunting Clark, especially after she had dismissed becoming a chef.
"I found it physically taxing," she said of her stint in cooking school. "I wanted something more sedentary."
She didn’t want to be a restaurant critic. Been there, done that. So now what?
It was the early 90s, and Clark had enrolled at Columbia University for a graduate degree in writing. Her MFA is in Creative NonFiction Writing.
Wait. Creative NonFiction?
"Yeah, I know," she said. "I love the line between fiction and nonfiction, truth and non-truth, playing with perspective. All my friends were writing coming-of-age novels that were all true. I was telling my stories through food. I used to joke, 'In Vivian's book, she calls herself Isabelle, and in my book, I call myself Melissa.'"
Around the same time, the Internet took off.
"I was lucky that that happened," Clark said. "Websites needed content providers, and I styled myself as a food writer. With that early online stuff, no one cared what you wrote."
She wrote profiles of 20 chefs for the now-defunct Cuisine Net, and is amazed now at the kind of access she had to her subjects.
"I'd say, 'I need to spend a few days trailing you,'" she said.
A few days?
She added, with a laugh, "This was before celebrity chefs!"
Clark said she learned a lot about cooking by watching her subjects at their craft. She also worked at the test kitchen of a cooking magazine that never got off the ground, and learned how to write recipes there.
The mise en place of her career was in place.
She continued her mini-cooking tutorials when she started co-authoring cookbooks 11 years ago, and she learned from some of the best: Claudia Fleming, Daniel Boulud, David Boulet.
"I keep learning," she said. "No one roasts a chicken the same way. They all cut their onions differently. I'm constantly learning how to change my own style."
Besides her "A Good Appetite" column in the Times (she’s been freelancing at the Times since 1998), Clark is getting ready for the October release of her latest cookbook, Kitchen Diary: Cook This Now.
"It's what I cooked in the moment over a calendar year, and why I did it," Clark said. "It's about what's in season, what I have, and the story behind the day and what led me to that dish."
And after that?
"I'm interested in the cultural history of butter," she said. "It's one of those ingredients that’s different across the world. There's also a lot of spiritual and religious aspects to butter."
Besides, Clark said, "Butter is one of my favorite things."
Eat what you love, and love writing about what you eat. Sounds like a recipe for success.