Originally published on the LA Weekly food blog, Squid Ink.
|Adam Roberts, “The Amateur Gourmet”|
Adam Roberts is one of those food blogger-turned-published authors whose success makes the rest of us drool. He created his blog, “The Amateur Gourmet,” in 2004 while studying law at Emory University. “I’d come home from a long day of law school, my brain would be fried, and the only thing I could tolerate on TV was Food Network,” Roberts explains in a post. Determined to learn about food and cooking, he began blogging to document his education. In 2007, Roberts published The Amateur Gourmet: How To Shop, Chop & Table-Hop Like A Pro (Almost). The Food Network took note and hired Roberts to host online shows. Salon.com, The Huffington Post, The Epicurious EpiLog and Food & Wine solicited articles. And another cookbook is due in the fall.
What else is on the horizon? Adjusting to life in Los Angeles after a recent move from New York. In an email-interview we asked Roberts about L.A. dining experiences, plans for eating here, and the craft of food writing.
|melons at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market|
Squid Ink: Welcome to L.A., Adam! When did you move here; where do you live?
Adam Roberts: Thanks Daina! I moved to L.A. on September 1st to join my boyfriend, who moved here in July to start a screenwriting job at 20th Century Fox. We live in Franklin Village, which may or may not be an actual place (when I tell L.A. people that I live in “Franklin Village” they give me a funny look); I usually clear it up by saying I live right near the Upright Citizens Brigade.
SI: Where are you from?
AR: I grew up in Oceanside, New York (on Long Island) and then, when I was 11, my parents moved us to Boca Raton, Florida, where we we were the youngest people there by 70 years. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.)
SI: What are you looking forward to about living in L.A.?
AR: In random order: Mexican food, wonderful produce all year long, Thai food, seeing Tim Curry at my local supermarket (it happened once!), burgers and donuts (there are lots of those here), meeting a whole new slew of west coast food writers and bloggers, superior sushi, drinking coffee outdoors in winter (see: Intelligentsia, Silverlake) and going on driving adventures.
SI: What resources are you using to navigate L.A.’s food scene?
AR: LA Weekly. Specifically, Jonathan Gold’s column. Seven years ago I lived in L.A. for a summer (I worked for a law firm downtown) and, while here, I discovered Jonathan Gold’s book “Counter Intelligence.” It became my Bible; now that I’m here, I’m a bit overwhelmed by how much catching up I have to do. There are so many lists that I have bookmarked, I don’t know where to begin. Luckily, I also have my friend Zach Brooks (of Midtown Lunch) as a terrific resource; and a few new friends, like Kat Odell from Eater LA and Matt from Matatouille.
SI: How is dining and eating in L.A. unique from New York? For example, you mentioned in a post that food shopping is different — here, you can load up your grocery cart without worrying about carrying it home on the subway. Can you share other examples?
AR: New York food people treat restaurants and chefs like baseball cards: they collect them. “Have you been to Ko? Have you been to The Dutch? What do you think of the new Jean-Georges place on the Upper East Side?” L.A. seems more low-key about its restaurants; people here still love good food, it’s just not as competitive. Plus, what I really appreciate, you can eat amazing food here for not a lot of money: Spice Table, Loteria, Gjelina-To-Go, Forage, Jitlada, Pa-Ord and Short Cake are just a few examples of places I’ll go back to again and again because they don’t break the bank.
|papaya salad at Pa-Ord|
SI: What has been your best L.A. food or dining experience so far?
AR: For New Year’s Eve, we joined our friends Mark and Diana (who also just moved here) for dinner at Osteria Mozza. We were all set to do the pasta tasting menu, in fact I’d exercised extra hard that day to prepare for it (side note: L.A. has forced me to join a gym because everyone here is so damn attractive; in New York we cover our bodies in puffy coats) but our waiter gently steered us away from it so we could experience all of Mozza’s other delights, in particular Nancy Silverton’s mozzarella bar creations. Needless to say, we ate like kings and had plenty of pasta without having to have six courses of it. By the end of the night, as our fellow patrons were ringing the bells the staff gave every table, I knew we’d picked the right spot.
SI: How do you choose which topics to write about?
AR: I’ve developed a system, after eight years of food blogging, that works really well for me: I carry a camera everywhere. I take pictures of everything new that I eat. (If it’s something I’ve written about before, I don’t take pictures.) By Thursday, if I haven’t eaten enough new food, I force myself to either cook up something bloggable or to journey somewhere I can write about. The point is, by Sunday night, my camera (both my SLR and the one on my phone) should be so loaded with pictures that, come Monday morning, I’ll have plenty of material to write about for both my newsletter and my blog. The pictures trigger the writing.
SI: Let’s talk about writing. How did you learn to write, and how would you describe your style?
AR: It’s funny, I’ve discovered that I have two writing styles: the breezy, stream-of-consciousness, rough-around-the-edges style of writing that I do on my blog and then the more formal, thoughtful, polished writing that I do for other outlets (I have an article in January’s Food & Wine, for example, and a cookbook coming out from Artisan books that’s very fancy). This is purely a matter of practicality: if I want to do 4 to 5 picture-laden blog posts a week, I can’t polish them the way that I polish a piece of writing that I have weeks to fine tune. So I treat the blog writing like an e-mail to a friend; and I treat the fancy writing as a chance to really hone my craft. As far as style, though (which is what you really asked about), I’d say it’s freewheeling, offbeat and (hopefully) a little funny. I was a creative writing major in college and wrote a regular column for the paper there, so I think that’s where it all started.
SI: How about your MFA in dramatic writing from NYU’S Tisch School of the Arts? How does that help with blogging?
AR: It all comes down to storytelling. It’s not enough just to describe the food that you ate at dinner; if you do, unless you’re a poet, that’ll probably be very boring. Good food writing, like all good writing, is best when there’s a context, whether that’s the story of the chef who created the restaurant or the story of your journey getting to the restaurant (which is why, I think, my post about El Bulli was so popular).
|El Bulli post from “The Amateur Gourmet”|
SI: Who are your favorite food writers?
AR: Calvin Trillin really inspired me to become a food writer. The way that he balances humor, hard-working information and heart is always masterful. Having recently read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, “Blood, Bones and Butter,” I have to push her to the top of the list as well; not only is she one of my favorite chefs (I love Prune in New York) but now she’s one of my favorite food writers.
SI: Anyone can be a published writer these days — it’s so easy to make a blog or self-publish a book. Does that enrich the food discussion or detract from it? How much expertise or experience does one need to write authoritatively?
AR: Here’s the thing about that, as one of my writing school teachers (Charlie Rubin) once told me: “Cream and bastards rise to the top.” Meaning, there can be a million food blogs out there, but how many of them are you actually reading? I think you’re aware of the good ones, or at least the ones that get themselves noticed. And in that sense, if we’re talking about quality writing that finds an audience, I think it’s all for the better. I feel enriched reading good food blogs the way that I do when I read a good food-related article in the newspaper; sometimes even more enriched. As far as having to have expertise or experience to write about food authoritatively, I think I’m living proof that, as long as you’re honest and thoughtful in your writing, even the most uninformed food writer might have something to say. Though after eight years, I’ll boost myself up to slightly under-informed food writer. That seems fairer.