But food is linked to religion, history and culture. It defines ethnic groups, brings families together, and plays a role in the rituals around everything from holidays to executions. Jesus had his Last Supper, condemned men have theirs. For a novelist, this was rich stuff.
So I wrote stories about how fresh fish is sourced and shipped to the Midwest. About a slow-food chef who used only organic ingredients found within a 250-mile radius and a southern Minnesota farm that raised ducks humanely. A restaurateur whose caustic ad campaign caused picket lines to form. And a local line cook with bipolar disorder who burned through a dozen fine dining jobs before opening a Gothic-themed breakfast spot downtown.
But my signature was to interview people over dinner. It proved my theory that food is a platform upon which we build relationships and share confidences. Sitting knee-to-knee at a candlelit table, people would tell things they'd never revealed. Not shocking behind-bedroom-doors sorts of things, but facets of their stories no one had ever before heard. A famous conductor told me how his faith in God had shaped his music. A National Book Award winner admitted that she'd been surprised and frightened by her last pregnancy, at age 47.
I wrote traditional reviews, too, but I tended to avoid the places so hot only people who knew someone could get in. Restaurants opened to great fanfare, but I waited. Sometimes up to six months. And when I did visit I went casually, often without a reservation, sussing out the attitude of the wait staff toward unknown customers, pretending all the time it was my own money that was on the line. How would I feel if I'd hired a baby sitter, put on high heels for the first time in a month, and blown $200 on this meal?
Then Wolfgang Puck announced he was opening a restaurant at the newly expanded Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. So I flew out to California to interview him. It was the first week of January; back home, the temperature was below zero. But I was sitting in the courtyard at Spago in Beverly Hills. Over three utterly hedonistic hours, I was served a "taste" of everything Puck and his chefs could dream up: tiny pumpernickel blini with smoked salmon and caviar; French prawns in a fiery red-and-yellow curry; fatted duck breast studded with bacon, black truffle and dates.
Unlike Ms. Bauer, I'm all about the food. The act of dining out. Dissecting flavor. Tasting, and talking about what I taste. I work in the specialty food industry. It's what we do. And I could totally get down with this gig.
But alas, I don't think my attempts at restaurant crits are that great. I need more practice or something. It's harder than it looks. If only my reviews could be as funny as Drew's. But anyway, I digress. In grad school, some friends of mine in the journalism program (I was in the PR program - don't judge) took a class that focused on writing restaurant reviews. I wanted to change programs right then. But knowing that was impractical, I decided to tag along with them, writing my own reviews. I've even tried to write one for this blog.
I've thought about doing some kind of web-based outlet for my reviews - but then again, how could I differentiate myself from all the other online restaurant review sites out there? I have to give this more thought.
And now with the new apartment, my days of fine dining will surely be limited to very special occasions and dates - assuming I will have dates in 2006.