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Why write about food and family recipes for a living?
As a journalist, I wrote about fashion, business and travel before an extended trip abroad changed my beat. My friend and I lived in San Francisco back in the 1980’s, when following a conversation that ended, “..if not now…when?” we gave up our apartments, gave notice to our jobs, purchased Eurail passes and made plans to explore fashion and art in Europe and Greece with minimal luggage, a great camera, curiosity and adventurous spirits.
The dollar was strong and travel was cheap. Using Paris as our hub during five months spent traveling by train, bus and boat, we always returned to our favorite Left Bank hotel where following our first full day in Paris, I had written in the first Skillet Diary I still treasure, that we had spent more for our lunch ($30) than for our very nice room ($25) with a view of the inner courtyard.
Thumbing through that journal today offers a clear explanation about my inevitable decision to write about food for a living, having crossed a culinary line of appreciation from which there was no coming back. I had recorded detailed notes about ingredients and dishes I was eating for the first time. I jotted observations about farmer’s markets and recipe tips from fishermen about unfamiliar seafood. Seeking out a restaurant that no longer existed, we spent 5 nights in a rented room behind a grocery store on the remote Greek Island Ios. I recorded the best sausages in Copenhagen, the best split pea soup Munich, pastry in Saltzberg, an overnight trip to Lyon to dine at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant…Still, the highlight in Paris included dozens of dinners at Chez Haynes with owner Leroy Haynes joining us to give itinerary advice and share a bit of history about the soul food restaurant he ran at 3 Rue Clauzel.
Dining with Mr. Haynes, and ordering from a menu that offered gumbo and greens and cornbread and rolls like my grandmother used to make, reminded me that food can be much more than something to eat.
I didn’t begin to officially become a food writer until about a decade after that extended trip where I discovered that sharing recipes meant sharing history and culture.
During my first year as a food editor, I met Julia Child at a food writer’s conference attended by approximately 100 journalists, all new to the field of food writing. Seated around a banquet table with ten other aspiring food writers sharing lunch, Mrs. Child directed a question to me.
“Why do you want to write about food?”
I answered quickly. “I want to help people feel proud about saving family recipes,” I said.
“Good, you’re not a food snob,” she replied, adding with a smile, “I hear the passion in your voice.”
“I just know that cultural recipes are important and there seems to be a lot of history getting lost,” I continued so quickly I must have sounded like a complete nut. I remember hearing a few nervous giggles before Mrs. Child broke the silence.
“Then that’s what you have to do, no matter what,” she said, looking at me sternly. “That’s your assignment. You are going to write about your culture and the importance of family recipes.”
Writing about food, I highlight family dishes, memories, chefs, books, and any food or recipe related topic from an African American perspective. I also consider “Skinny Soul Food” versions of recipes. Many times I will link to a recipe and photograph…and that’s where you come in.
Since we’re in this together, I’m looking forward to getting to know you and hearing from you with family recipes to share, tips about great places to eat, requests for recipes you may have lost and anything else that pertains to our cultural heritage and future.
Because, after all, food is much more than just something to eat.
Donna Battle Pierce