Joe is the Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post, author of Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, and blogs at JoeYonan.com. The Q&A ran so long that not everything made the Borderstan post…so here’s the rest of the story (as NPR would say)!
Owens: You’re chronicling your efforts to lose weight on your blog — while being a food writer of all things — what has the response been like? Are chef and restaurant friends supportive or devilish?
Yonan: Yep, I’m doing this “Me Minus 23” thing on the blog. The idea was to get back to — or at least closer to — my goal weight by the time I was doing TV publicity about my new cookbook, so I could concentrate on my message and not worry about whether too many chins were showing. The response has been great; I think everybody identifies with the struggle to drop some weight, and since my job puts me in the path of so much great food, the challenge is even greater than it is for so-called civilians. If I can do it, anyone can.
Chefs, if they’re aware of my issues, are supportive, but the portion control problem gets tougher for me when they send out little bites here and there. You know, I carefully decide how I’m going to negotiate a restaurant menu and stick to my plan, generally, and then they decide that… I’m going to have more. But ultimately, it’s up to me to decide what I eat and what I don’t, and since I don’t believe in deprivation as a weight-loss strategy, it’s, well, interesting.
More great stuff after the jump…
Owens: Have you always loved food? Did food play a large role in your family, upbringing, life?
Yonan: Yeah, always. My mom, who’s from the Midwest, always cooked fresh, from-scratch food when I was growing up, so I never got used to chips, soda or packaged foods. And I started trying to cook as soon as I could: begging her to let me use the stand mixer to whip the cream and mash the potatoes. It was my stepfather who taught me my first out-and-out dish, chicken-fried steak.
But probably the biggest impact on my food outlook as a kid was the fact that starting at age 8, I shopped for the family groceries. My dad was in the Air Force, and when they divorced, she lost base privileges, including the ability to shop at the discount commissary, but as his dependents we children didn’t. I was into food, and into math, and wanted to do it, so my mom would drop me off with a list and cash, and I used a little clicker gizmo to keep track of what I was spending.
The deal was: If I got everything on the list and came under budget, I could buy something for myself, which taught me to watch prices. At the same time, my mother had opinions, and I had to eat the food, so I learned that sometimes the cheaper product wasn’t the best.
Owens: What inspired you to start writing about food?
Yonan: I was working as a copy editor at the Boston Globe when I didn’t get a promotion that I was after, and it surprised me when I was relieved rather than upset. I realized that I had been unhappy at work, so I decided to take a hard look at what my favorite writing projects had been, and it quickly became apparent that food was what stimulated me the most. My favorite interviews, most memorable conversations, all had revolved around food.
So I kept my night job editing news copy and writing headlines, and I undertook a yearlong program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, with the goal of turning my newspaper career toward food. I started writing about food in any spare time I could come up with, and I spent the next couple of years trying to get to the Globe’s Food section full-time.
Owens: What’s the weirdest or most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten? Was it good?
Yonan: Hmmm. Well, weird is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? I suppose fugu, the Japanese puffer fish, would be up there, since it’s, you know, potentially fatal if it’s not prepped correctly. The ironic thing: As dangerous as it is, it’s kind of bland. Not really that interesting on its own— until you think about dying.
Owens: Your book, Serve Yourself Nightly Adventures in Cooking For One, recently came out. What was it like writing and cooking for a cookbook? How has the book been received here in D.C?
Yonan: I had a blast working on the cookbook. It represents my mission: to proselytize to other cooks that just because they’re single doesn’t mean they have to settle for takeout, or suffer through monotonous leftovers day after day. The book is the product of a lifetime of cooking in part, and then more recently a couple of years of focusing intently on not just the challenges that single cooks face, but on the potential joys, too. I want to make sure that people realize how much fun it can be, how freeing, to be able to follow your own cravings in the kitchen without needing to take into account anyone else’s palate. There’s no judgement.
I’ve been so lucky to have gotten a great reaction so far in D.C. — good publicity from the blogosphere (ahem), lots of people coming to signings and demos, asking smart questions, helping me spread the word.