Elina Shatkin's Exit Interview: Top 10 Questions for Food Writers

The writer, at work.
The writer, at work.

After 16 glorious, fatty months, I'm filing my last story for L.A. Weekly. Instead of a windy "fare thee well" post, I decided to conduct my own exit interview, answering the top 10 questions I am asked.

This has been an amazing job, and I was lucky to have it. I was even more lucky to work for and with so many talented people. In my travels, I talked to hard-working dishwashers, adventurous chefs, crazy line cooks, radio raconteurs, ambitious bloggers, bartenders with funny mustaches and demented restaurateurs. I had the privilege and pleasure of learning from all of them.

1. What's it like being a food writer?

I prefer to think of myself as a sports writer who just happens to write about food. I like the kind of writing that has voice, opinion and a feeling of immediacy. I want to sound like someone who loves eating and loves sharing what I've found -- whether it's a remarkable koobideh or an obscure, ancient fruit.

2. How do you feel about all those food bloggers?

I don't make a lot of distinctions between "journalists" and "bloggers," and I don't generally care how others label me. I do make a distinction between good writing and bad writing. There are plenty of examples of both on both sides of the professional/amateur divide. I read Saveur and Lucky Peach, but I also read Chowhound, Grub Street, My Last Bite, Street Gourmet L.A., Thirsty in L.A. and tons of other local blogs.

3. That sounds like the coolest job ever.

It is a cool job. It's also one of those jobs that sounds much cooler than it is. It's not as though I'm eating one fantastic meal after another, then sitting around thinking deep thoughts.

Food writing is rigorous. It's demanding. You spend a lot of time alone. I understand I'm not breaking my back in a coal mine or picking lettuce in the blazing sun. I am getting paid to eat and write about it. I love what I do, but it is way less glamorous than it seems.

4. OK, what's your job really like?

A well-known novelist once asked me this question (at a fancy Scotch tasting). The deadline pressure is intense. I had to write three posts a day or 15 posts a week. There was no time to let ideas marinate. If you want to do it well, it's crushing. My editors wanted me to write more reviews. I did too, but I didn't have the time because I was trying to meet my 15-posts-per-week quota. I felt like I was constantly running in front of a wheat thresher trying not to get my heels bloodied.

5. What's it like working with Jonathan Gold? Is he the coolest person ever?

He is as erudite and amusing in person as he is in print. He's awesome. Both of us were usually driving in our own cars or sitting in front of our own computers, so I didn't get to eat with him as often as I would have wished. I think all of us who work with or around Jonathan are hoping a little of that Gold dust brushes off on us.

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