Category Archives: Words

Careers and Chronic Illness: How Do You Find One That Honors the Other?

This was my general state of being in one job in Cincinnati.

This was my general state of being in one job in Cincinnati.

I caught the end of The Devil Wears Prada the other night and something hit me.

Yes, I admit I’ve seen it more than once. And again I completely sympathized with Anne Hathaway’s character, whose job becomes her life even though she initially scoffed at the world she would soon give up everything to excel in.

For the first time, though, I got why I feel that way.

Only in the past year or so have I accepted that maybe I’m a bit of a workaholic, overachiever. People have started using the “type-A” label on me. The emotionally laid-back, tree-hugging, mantra-chanting side of me would never agree to that. But the work horse in me… yeah. Not that I’ve excelled to the furthest reaches of one career, mind you. But I’ve noticed a theme that I usually give 120% for as long as I can until I a) lose interest or b) my energy completely wanes and I’m left depleted, either with a momentary hiccup in health or a wallop that takes more than a year to bounce back from.

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On Food Writing and Interviews with Chefs Masaharu Morimoto, Amanda Cohen and Will Horowitz

copyright Brent Herrig

Chatting with Chef Morimoto at his new Tribeca Canvas, copyright Brent Herrig

I’ve been having a crisis of faith, recently.

Not about this week, with Passover and Easter coming – though there is some angst there that is in tomorrow’s post (lucky you!)

But about the value in what I do.

I write, mostly about food. I interview people and build recipes and am a part of the pop culture world that partly gives me the willies. I was never the one to know what restaurant was hot and worth going to. I’m still not, really, other than that I now know about 50 chefs who are creating amazing food. I don’t like going out to eat to be seen. And did you know that chef groupies are a thing now? Quelle horreur!

I want the work I do to have value. I want to be a part of something because it contributes, because it helps give our world shape, and because it connects people on a visceral level. And while food does that in intimate and beautiful ways, it’s also become such an eye-rolling point of focus in New York that I want to yawn and pour a whiskey and watch Frasier or something.

That is, until I actually sit down and work.

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Why are Women the Gluten-Free Gladiators?

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 2.18.49 PM

Why are Women the Gluten-Free Gladiators?

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times while researching or calling in products, or scanning a list of ingredients at my grocer’s.

I interview high-profile chefs weekly for my Serious Eats column, and there I have to conscientiously focus on bringing more women into the mix; there are plenty of incredible female chefs out there, but the majority of the chefs owning and running high-end kitchens in New York are still men.

Yet when I scan my mental list of bloggers, writers, editors, developers, PR representatives and producers in the gluten-free field, the steep majority of them are women: editors Silvana Nardone and Alice Woodward at Easy Eats and Living Without; writers/bloggers/developers Amy Green, Nicole Hunn, Shauna James Ahern, and Karina Allrich; producers Pamela’s Products, Jules Gluten-Free, Better Batter… I could show you my address book and guarantee that at least 85% of those in the gluten-free world are women.

Alex Thomopoulos has an incredible blog and a web show on Hungry - Gluten-Free With Alex T - that I'm addicted to

Alex Thomopoulos has a beautiful blog and an insanely amusing web show on Hungry – Gluten-Free With Alex T – that I’m addicted to.

As someone who hasn’t eaten gluten-containing products in almost 20 years (minus an incredibly unhealthy and disastrous period in college), I’m mesmerized by how grandly the food world has changed, and the gluten-free food world has developed from a few ingredients and progressive health food stores to the insane trend – yes, trend – that it is now. This community basically made me a food writer, as other ambitions melted away when people around me wanted to know more about how to eat on an adapted diet.

I, personally, am probably not the best advocate for this way of eating.

When someone mentions to me that they’re cutting out out gluten and expects me to be excited and supportive, my response is always, “why?” I have a very specific illness that makes gluten dangerous to my health when eaten with any sort of regularity. It doesn’t stop with gluten, and two-thirds of my life I’ve spent having the same conversation with waiters, relatives and new friends about what I can’t and why I can’t eat certain things. Those with Celiac Disease have it even worse than I, and in support of them (and for many other reasons) I think those who can digest gluten should digest gluten. Yes, eating less simple carbohydrates and more healthy vegetables and proteins in general is better for everyone, and even more so for those with health conditions. But if I could enjoy the crackle of a crusty piece of bread or a slice of pizza, you can be damned sure I would.

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I’m In the Kitchen with Alex Stupak

Empellon Push Project

My editor at Serious Eats warned me that Alex Stupak, the chef/owner of Empellon in NYC, could be a bit brusque in interviews. Instead, I found him to be incredibly articulate, respectful and humble. Since then I’ve interviewed Alex and his awesome wife/partner chef Lauren Resler on various other projects, and am continually delighted by how thoughtful, considerate people they are.

Oh, and their food is pretty incredible too. I’ve been to both of their restaurants several times and am consistently satiated by the time I leave.

I recently covered Alex’s second Push Project dinner, where be brings another chef into his kitchen for a 9-course joint tasting menu. For this incarnation he brought in Jordan Kahn from Red Medicine in L.A.

Alex let me hang in the kitchen. This is what I got to see happen:

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I Chat With Chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe

Chef Carmen at Union Square Cafe

Chef Carmen at Union Square Cafe, photo Brent Herrig Photography

Chef Carmen Quagliata is practically the quintessential Italian grandma. I experienced this first-hand when I showed up for a small private dinner and he’d made me an alternate menu sensitive to my allergies, one that was course-for-course on par with the other guests’ dishes. It wasn’t expected and hardly requested; he responded to my effusive thanks with a humble, “I just didn’t want you to feel left out.”

So begins my interview with Chef Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe. I had gone there a few weeks before for a press dinner at the new chef’s table, where Chef Carmen does family-style dishes including whole fish and entire porchettas. To my surprise he had made me an entire five-course meal on par with the diners around me, from three kinds of gluten-free bread to nosh on in the beginning through to a goat-cheese cheesecake for dessert.

“I just didn’t want you to feel left out”, he said during our interview for Serious Eats. I almost cried.

Italian chefs quickly hit my heartstrings, and Chef Carmen had them dancing. Please check out the full interview on Serious Eats, drop him some love in the comments, and head to a stellar meal at Union Square Cafe very soon.

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