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The more I read about food and what it means, the less inclined I am to try to write about it, in large part because so many others have done it so well already. In the last few days I've been struck by the fact that some of the most thoughtful writing seems to come from people who profess to know very little about food. Tuesday's New York Times profile of Charlie Trotter reminded me of a ten-year-old article by Martha Bayne—as does more or less everything I see about Trotter, since reading this is the closest I've come to dining at his restaurant. Halfway through, feeling apprehensive about her decision to drop a good chunk of change on a fancy meal, Martha writes, "Did I mention that I am really not a food person?" That's certainly no longer true—she later became the Reader's food editor for a time, and has since written plenty about food—but the piece is compelling in part because it's the experience of just-a-regular-person without a lot of extra money deciding to splurge on a meal. The other reason is that over the course of close to 3,500 words, she reflects on celebrity chefs, cooking, attention to detail, and whether food should be fun—among other things—and it's fascinating.
I was pondering the piece and waxing nostalgic about a time when that type of long-form journalism was more common (never mind that ten years ago I wasn't yet working in journalism) when I came across a piece that Whet Moser (also formerly of the Reader) wrote yesterday for Chicago magazine. He's never been to Alinea or Moto, and while he's better-versed on almost any given topic than seems entirely fair, he tweeted the link with this comment: "i couldn't be less qualified to write about high cuisine, but i don't let that stop me." I won't try to describe his piece, because he's writing (in part) about food writing, and at some point it all becomes too meta. Besides, I don't know exactly how to convey that he goes from talking about molecular gastronomy to the science of fast food to Moby Dick to the history of Chicago, and somehow it all works beautifully. It's around a thousand words shorter than Martha's piece, but if you click on the links (B. R. Myers's The Moral Crusade Against Foodies and Michael Gebert's response piece are particularly interesting), you could end up reading for hours.
And it's not recent, but it remains one of the best articles I've ever read, food-related or otherwise: Cliff Doerksen's tribute to mince pie. Again, it's hard to explain why a historical article about pie is so amazing, but it is. It won him a James Beard Award last year, and his follow-up piece about his history with food ("the closest I've gotten to sous vide is boil-in-bag peas") and the experience of attending the ceremony as someone who didn't usually write about food is almost equally great.