With the upcoming departure of Jason Sheehan from the Seattle Weekly, there comes one of the few openings in the area for a full time, dedicated food writer. Specifically, a restaurant writer. This excites me. Despite the fact that I made it no secret that his writing was not my favorite, it is not his departure in itself that makes me happy–in fact, it sounds like the circumstances surrounding it are sad, and I am not one to take joy in that.
Rather, I am excited because I love to read about food. I love the long form review as an opportunity to learn more about a restaurant, why its food is significant, how its owner made his way into the industry. I want to know not just if the food is good or not (a very subjective matter) but why I might enjoy or not enjoy it. Will the setting make me swoon, over candles and tinkled ivory? Or will I laugh at the bathrooms that appear to have been (or decidedly have been) converted from stripper changing rooms. A great review doesn’t just pass a judgment, but it gives you the tools to make that decision. Most of all, it should be a pleasure to read. Compelling writing always wins.
Someone, the powers that be at the Weekly or its corporate overlords at the Village Voice get to make the decision. Even so, I am excited to think of the people that I would like to peruse in print form myself, and thought I would share my favorite candidates with you. You’ll notice that both candidates are already local to Seattle. This will be the Weekly’s third new food writer in under five years, we’ve already been through the re-hashing of the classics and the outsider’s point of view stories. I want to read about Seattle from a Seattleite, that understands the local mentality and the freakish affinity this city has for hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joints. While I have no power in the decision making, and even the likelihood that a wayward editor or publisher would stop by this blog while looking for suggestions is ludicrous, I hope that my quick profiles of these two great writers will help you to keep looking and uncover some of the great food writing being done in minor publications in these parts.
An accomplished journalist at papers from the Seattle Times to the New York Times, Kugiya writes sports, music, and yes, even food. Currently he’s piping up from a platform called CrossCut, run by some former principals in the original (independent) Seattle Weekly. He has a knack, like Jonathon Kauffman, who held the Weekly position before Sheehan, for digging up a totally random restaurant of a cuisine you have never thought about before, as he does in this Bosnian fast food review. Since the Weekly showed with the hire of Sheehan that they’re game for a little controversy, I’m sure the minor Twitter uproar over his Din Tai Fung review won’t bother them. People felt that it was inappropriate and culturally insensitive in its generalizations about Chinese restaurants. Personally, I think he does his best writing when he’s telling a story, such as this piece on love, immigration, and doner kebabs. Good writing leaves you emotionally connected to the restaurant and armed with the details to make a your own decision about its quality.
Ms. Garbes does just that in one of her few long form reviews, this one of Bistro Turkuaz, from her days at the Stranger. She has written all over town, for glossies and websites (including currently at City Arts), and even has multiple previous stints in various capacities at the Weekly. A glance at her articles there shows her range, from discussing dim sum to wild foraged foods, from CSA boxes of vegetables to sausage making. She’s clearly got the chops and the love of all of Seattle’s angles to take the job, but it is a specific series she did when writing for Publicola that makes me want to see her take charge of the food section and even get it the occasional placement on the front page. I thought her use of food and restaurants to tell a story in the series on growing and disappearing immigrant groups was phenomenal. This is food writing that becomes about more than just who makes the best deep dish pizza.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Who do you want to see in the writer’s chair? What’s your favorite piece of local food writing? What national writers would you like to see working here?