Pat Saperstein is senior editor at Variety and the grand dame food blogging in Los Angeles. Her blog, EatingLA, is playful and pithy, offering up restaurant reviews, Top Chef updates and local food news. Squid Ink caught up with Saperstein to ask about Peter Bart's foodie side, her take on comped meals and her sister's food celebrity neighbor.
Squid Ink: When and why did you start writing about food?
Pat Saperstein: About six years ago I decided to branch out beyond writing about the film business and start writing about food, a longtime interest of mine thanks to my travels in Europe and Southeast Asia. I took a Mediabistro food writing class and then started my blog. One reason I started was to help remember the regional meals my friends and I were eating at Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and share them with others.
SI: Who is your favorite food writer?
PS: I'll need more than one: let's start with M.F.K. Fisher, Calvin Trillin and Jane and Michael Stern.
SI: What's your favorite little-known food blog?
PS: I love Austin Bush's blog, which used to be called Real Thai, for its amazing photography of Thai street food.
SI: How have food blogs changed since you started EatingLA, and when exactly did
you start your blog?
PS: I started in August 2004, and at the time there were really no other L.A. food blogs. Obviously since then there has been a huge change, with the arrival of hundreds of personal blogs and quite a few corporate ones. Before Chowhound and the blogs, there was no way to get up to the minute information about restaurants. Now there is a lot of noise, as they say in the blogosphere, and it's up to the reader to find the voices they like. Plus the proliferation of bloggers has really increased the whole chef-as-celebrity thing, but that's not really my focus as a blogger.
SI: What role does the food blogger play in a city with such a vibrant culinary scene?
PS: Food bloggers have helped readers discover far more restaurants than most people are usually familiar with in their own neighborhoods. Jonathan Gold in the L.A. Weekly and Linda Burum in the L.A. Times are great, but they write about only one restaurant a week; food blogs cover dozens more, as well as openings and closings, all from a variety of different viewpoints.
SI: What is the focus of EatingLA? How and where do you define East and West Los Angeles?
PS: I eat all over town, but the primary stomach of EatingLA is the Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park area. I'm tired of getting caught up in debates about whether that's the Eastside or not — so I propose we call it the near-Eastside, like Chicago's Near North, or maybe Greater Silver Lake. A clever reader also once suggested Los EchoLake, Intelligenciatopia, That Neighborhood Where Yuca's Is and Isla de Los Tatuajes.
SI: What is the hardest part about food blogging?
PS: Feeling the pressure to always try new and different restaurants, and not being able to become a regular anywhere because of that.
SI: I've heard your sister lives next door to Alice Medrich, the cookbook author and pastry chef. Does she bring over cookies for the holidays? Any reports of smells from her
PS: That's true, she does! She made an amazing array of cookies for my sister's birthday. When my sister house-sits for her, she leaves a huge hunk of chocolate sitting out on the butcher block and you can carve off a piece every time you water the plants.
SI: Where do you get most of your ideas for posts?
PS: Driving around and looking at different neighborhoods, talking to friends about what's new and what they like, talking to restaurant owners, reading lots of stuff — all the mainstream press, lots of blogs and Twitter.
SI: On Eating LA, you disclose if a meal was comped or if you were invited.
What is your code of ethics for food blogging?
PS: As a minimum, I think bloggers should always disclose comped meals. But I don't feel they should have to conform to any one code of ethics — it's up to each blogger to develop his or her own code and to develop a relationship of trust with his or her readers.
SI: Peter Bart [the longtime editor and current Vice President and Editorial Director at Variety] is supposedly a big foodie. What does he think about your blog? Do you guys talk about food?
PS: We talk about restaurants. When we reminisce about the old Luau in Beverly Hills, he always reminds me how the bar was full of call girls.
SI: What is it like to eat with tables full of bloggers–do they talk about anything but blogging? Do they actually eat, or are they too busy blogging, texting, and taking pictures?
PS: The race for everyone to pull out their cameras and take pictures of the same thing is kind of funny, especially as the food is getting colder. Often they spend the whole meal talking about other meals they've had, which is a little odd.
SI: What food can you not live without?
PS: French bread with good butter — also spicy Thai drunken noodles.
SI: What is your most memorable eating or drinking experience?
PS: The two trips we took to Tijuana and Baja with Bill “StreetgourmetLA” Esparza were pretty wild. In just two days on each trip, we sampled nearly everything that lives in the sea, from sea cucumber and sea urchin to oysters, chocolate clams, shrimp, bluefin tuna, abalone, sea snail, mussels…not to mention chicken neck tacos and tamarind margaritas made with aphrodisiac damiana liqueur.