The First of a Two-Part Conversation with the Author of the new book Skirt Steak
When I re-booted this blog back in January, one of the things I had it in my mind to do was to meet up with fellow scribes and talk about what we do and how we see things in the chef world. For my long-delayed first rap session, I selected Charlotte Druckman, who I’d never met, but had read and admired, and had always heard nice things about. In addition to writing for the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, and myriad other publications Charlotte also collaborated on Anita Lo’s cookbook Cooking Without Borders.
The reason I picked Charlotte to kick off this new, occasional feature: her first nonfiction book, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen–for which she interviewed more than 70 of the best female toques in the business–officially debuts this week. This is a topic I’ve long had an interest in, having discussed it with a number of chefs myself, and having noticed the almost total absence of women competitors in the Bocuse d’Or competition when I covered it a few years back.
Charlotte and I had a long conversation, the highlights of which I’m sharing in two posts. Herewith, Part 1:
TOQUELAND: Why food writing?
DRUCKMAN: Why did I choose it as my linchpin? I say this in the introduction of my book: For me food is the sugar that helps the medicine go down. You can talk, especially now, about politics, agriculture, economics. You can talk about, if you want, gender. And you can talk about any of that stuff using food because it’s become the fixation point for the country, high and low.
You can finally talk about things like hunger and the fact that it’s a problem because, thank God, Jamie Oliver is doing a prime time show on it. But for such a long time, you couldn’t do that. So I think if you love food, you already had that interest anyway. You’re interested in the people making it. But now I just think it’s cracked wide open. So I think writers should think about it possibly in a different way than food writers, right?
TOQUELAND: It’s funny, I saw Josh Ozersky recently and he asked me if I liked being called a food writer. And I kind of don’t. I always say I consider myself a “chef writer,” not a food writer, because that’s what I know more than anything else—-the people and the life. I don’t know why, but it’s become almost like a literary ghetto a little bit in that non-food writers sometimes don’t give it equal respect.
DRUCKMAN: Those ghostwriter stories in the spring solidified it for me by positing the whole question of ghost recipe testing versus ghost writing. Because I am full-on a writer. I like to test recipes when I do my Wall Street Journal stuff, but I am by no means professionally trained to be a recipe tester.
And, if you think about when you’re writing a cookbook, it’s left brain/right brain. The person who’s working on it–if it is a book that is really personality-shaped, the kind of work that you have to do to give it a point of view and organize it and then capture that voice is very different than what’s going into writing a recipe and making sure that the recipe’s okay. They’re two entirely different things.
So again, when you say “food writer,” what do you mean? Are you writing recipes? Are you coming up with recipes? Or are you sitting down and writing about maybe the culture of food, or the person behind the food?
So yeah, I think it’s easier to say, “I’m a journalist who writes about food” .. . [but] now I just say “food writer” because people seem to get confused or bored if you go into it too much.
TOQUELAND: Do people assume you’re a critic when you tell them you’re a food writer?…