On Being in Best Food Writing 2010, Freelancing and the Virtues of Bulgur: An Interview with TFT’s Marisa Robertson-Textor
The Faster Times is delighted to announce that Marisa Robertson-Textor’s essay on the untimely demise of Gourmet magazine, which we first published on November 24, 2009, has been featured in the Best Food Writing 2010 anthology, edited by Holly Hughes. This is the first such honor for TFT and for Robertson-Textor, who was the research chief at Gourmet when it folded last autumn and is now a full-time writer specializing in food, travel, and culture.
First of all, congratulations on having your essay selected for the anthology.
Thank you. It’s an honor to be in Best Food Writing. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d have a piece in there, I wouldn’t have believed you. Then again, if you’d asked me on October 4, 2009 what the chances were that Condé Nast would shut down Gourmet tomorrow, I would have said something about snowballs and hell.
But that’s what happened.
It did, and it’s still hard to believe. That’s what prompted me to write the essay in the weeks after the magazine closed—I needed to write my way through the shock. Whatever the economic calculus behind the decision, destroying a 69-year-old cultural institution felt and feels fundamentally senseless. And yet there you are.
So you wrote about what Gourmet meant to you, as told over the course of several Thanksgiving dinners.
What emerged was a love letter, but it was also a Bildungsroman of sorts, the story of my culinary coming of age. I started writing the piece purely for myself, because I needed to articulate that sense of loss, but after I was done, it suddenly hit me that there were nearly a million people out there who had subscribed to Gourmet and loved it as much as I did, and that some of them might relate to the story. So I started shopping it around. The media had been glutted with Gourmet coverage by that point, but happily, TFT was still interested. The day it ran, I was sitting in a dinky little Internet café in Tbilisi, Georgia. My brother emailed me to say that the essay was being widely re-tweeted, and I broke down and cried. Bizarrely enough, when I received my author copy of Best Food Writing last week, it was exactly a year to the day since Gourmet had closed its doors.
Will you continue to hold your annual Gobble Gobble Night dinner?
Absolutely. This year I’m planning a “greatest hits” menu of my favorite dishes from Thanksgivings past: beet-pickled deviled eggs, creamed leeks, parsnip purée with sautéed Brussels sprouts leaves, and that killer chocolate s’more pie.
What else are you working on now?
Writing, pitching, recipe testing, trying to overcome my tendency to procrastinate—the usual stuff. You can find more information on all of that via my new website, mitschlag.com, which will be up and running shortly. But you should ask what I’m cooking!
Okay, what are you cooking?
I always gravitate toward culinary projects with built-in limitations that demand a certain amount of ingenuity. Right now I’m gearing up to move apartments, so my latest project is to eat everything in my pantry. It’s a bit like ridding the house of all leavened food in the countdown to Passover. I’d love to be left with only, say, a bottle of Armagnac to sprinkle across the threshold of my new home on December 1. I suspect I’ll end up with more than that—it’s hard to polish off spices like nutmeg or cardamom—but you wouldn’t believe what I’m clearing out of my cupboards.
Vanilla-flavored olive oil, pistachios, a year’s supply of green tea, seven different kinds of anchovies and capers, lemon curd, maple syrup. Not to mention the naked lobe of foie gras I mention in my Gourmet essay, which has been in my freezer for almost two years now. The idea is that I can’t buy anything new unless I need it to consume what’s already on hand. In other words, I can buy milk and eggs to make green tea ice cream, because that would be a good way of using up some of that green tea, and I could throw a few Luxardo cherries on top and serve it over brownies that I baked with the last of my cocoa. But I can’t just go out and buy ice cream or a brownie or a new jar of maraschinos because I’m in the mood. No cheating—I have to eat what I have. It’s the culinary equivalent of opening your closet and thinking you don’t have a thing to wear, or skimming your bookshelf and thinking there’s nothing to read. Of course there is and of course you do. You’re just not looking hard enough.
What have you discovered so far?
That I really love bulgur—it’s so delicate, so adept at absorbing the flavor of whatever you pair it with. I’ve been in my current apartment for six years, and if I weren’t moving, it might have taken another six for me to actually get around to eating all that bulgur. I don’t remember buying it, so God only knows how long it’s been there. At the beginning of Freedom, Jonathan Franzen has this great line: “Was bulgur really necessary?” A month ago, I would’ve said no, but now I’d say yes.
Back to Best Food Writing. What’s your favorite article in the anthology?
I’m making my way through it slowly, but I’ve already fallen hard for a few entries. John Thorne’s Rather Special and Strangely Popular: A Milk Toast Exemplary, which he self-published, captures the appeal of largely forgotten piece of Americana. Charlotte Freeman’s My Inner Child, from culinate.com, has a fearlessness that Julia Child herself would appreciate. Jane Black’s ode to kimchi in the Washington Post is downright hilarious. I’m in debt to Oliver Strand and Salma Abdelnour, both of Food & Wine, for demystifying two timeless questions: when to season meat and which ostensibly “low-brow” wines we should be drinking with pride. And like any good New Yorker, I was enchanted by (former TFT columnist) Rachel Wharton’s homage to Russ & Daughters in Edible Manhattan.
Alarmists are fond of saying that the closing of Gourmet was tantamount to the demise of print media and of a certain caliber of food writing. Discuss.
Well, one glance at the Best Food Writing anthology and it’s clear that food writing is not only thriving, but that it’s coming to you from an ever broader range of sources. TFT has covered that question beautifully here. However, I do think that the demise of Gourmet has made it significantly more difficult for a certain kind of food and travel writing to find its natural home. The temple is gone. As for the future of print media, your guess is as good as mine. Like most writers—and readers—I can only hope that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.
Any last thoughts?
If you have any suggestions for that bottle of vanilla olive oil, please let me know.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook