Posts tagged food writing

Frank Bruni’s Born Round

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When I first started taking food-writing classes, my instructors explained that in order to write well, we students had to read. We needed to consume as much food writing as possible, including a range of books from the likes of M.F.K. Fisher and Anthony Bourdain, as well as the weekly New York Times Dining Section. “Anything written by Frank Bruni,” the Times’s restaurant critic, was required reading. Lucky for me, I was already a fan, eagerly turning the pages of the paper each Wednesday to see what Bruni had to say about the city’s newest restaurants.

But after five years of witty and intelligent reviews, Bruni is stepping down from his post. With the end of his tenure in this position, he has written Born Round, a memoir of his secret and not-so-secret struggles with overeating and weight control. There has already been a ton of press covering the release of this book, so I’ll give you just a quick summary: Basically, after being born in a large Italian American family with what he describes as an oversized appetite, Bruni wrestled with his weight throughout his childhood and adulthood. A confusing relationship with food dominated much of his life, as he experimented with fad diets, binge eating, and vomiting, never finding a proper balance with food until a few pivotal events jolted him into realizing how self-destructive his situation had become.

What was most interesting to me—apart from his loving relationship with his family (especially his mother) and its influence on his eating habits—was how Bruni succeeded professionally while enduring such personal torment. A scholarship to the University of North Carolina led to internships at Newsweek and later, various positions at the Times, where he eventually shadowed George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign. All the while, Bruni was obsessed with food, eating huge portions during the middle of the night and through the day, tracking his waist size through his pants that grew ever more snug with time. He led an essentially celibate life for years, lacking the confidence in his appearance to reveal himself to other men. While achieving such professional success, Bruni was still emotionally miserable, as well as unhealthy and overweight.

When Bruni finally devotes himself to turning his body—and personal happiness—around, it reads as an inspiring transformation. Exercise becomes the key, as the success he once found through childhood swimming reasserts itself with his new physical trainer. A position at the Times’s Rome bureau further helps Bruni learn about portion control, and teaches him how to actually enjoy food. By the time Bruni accepts the job of the Times’s restaurant critic near the end of the book, he has all the tools he needs to maintain control over food and his life. 

Born Round is proof that you never know how hard a person is struggling, no matter how successful they seem on the outside. It’s a brave as well as funny book, full of personal revelations and insecurities, as Bruni shows that the possibility for growth and change is always present. Whether you’re a fan of Bruni’s column or not, I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in food and our relationship with it. And while I am happy that Bruni has conquered his personal demons, I will miss him every Wednesday; the Times Dining Section just won’t be the same without him. 

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A Look at Jamie Magazine

As many of you know, I consider myself a huge fan of Jamie Oliver. I’ve written about his recipestelevision shows, and cookbooks multiple times. I have enjoyed his recent focus on seasonal cooking, and I admire the positive work he has done with school lunches in England and his chain of restaurants called Fifteen. I’ve even become an official fan of his on Facebook. If that doesn’t prove my devotion to this man, I don’t know what else I can do.

My husband Jim is fully aware of my Jamie Oliver love and is not intimidated by it at all. In fact, while walking through the Heathrow airport on his way home from our trip to Prague, he noticed my favorite chef’s face on the inaugural cover of Jamie Magazine. He picked it up, brought it home, and promptly bought me a subscription for Christmas. Now every two months I get an up-to-date dose of Jamie Oliver, delivered straight to my door from the U.K. Unfortunately the magazine isn’t available on newsstands in the U.S.

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As I eagerly flipped through the pages of the launch issue, I encountered many of my favorite Jamie Oliver trademarks. The photography is just as beautiful as in his cookbooks, and the magazine is printed on a gorgeous uncoated paper stock. Oliver’s words are predictably light and goofy, and the design is clean and quirky. As expected, Jamie Magazine is a visual delight.

The content is varied and should interest all types of food lovers. Travel pieces, such as a lovingly photographed piece on Stockholm, alternate with more recipe-based articles. Also included are shorter columns on wine, cookbooks, and harmless celebrity Q&As. (Brad Pitt and Ricky Gervais have appeared so far.) I have always loved Oliver’s recipes, so I tend to pay the most attention to these sections of the magazine. In the first issue, I appreciated the simple tutorial on omelets. The second issue, which I received last week, includes many budget-friendly recipes, as seen in features about one-pot Greek dinners and cheaper cuts of pork. The only problem for me is that the ingredients are listed in grams—I might finally need to buy a scale so that I can make these recipes at home. I also enjoy the special pull-out poster illustrating meal ideas for next two months. 

However, amidst my love for the magazine’s design and recipes, I do have one complaint about the content: the blatant, overwhelming amount of product placement. I guess it wasn’t enough to package the first issue of Jamie Magazine with a smaller catalogue for the Jme Collection, Oliver’s line of house wares. That article about aioli and beautiful wood serving pieces? It also functions as a plug for the chef’s line of all-natural boards and platters. The recipe for orrechiette with lamb ragu? Paired with an article about the designers for the Jme Collection, it’s yet another vehicle for endorsing the product line. And on and on it goes, every few pages containing a short article that also encourages the reader to invest in Oliver’s herbs, sauces, and house wares. I’m happy to say that the product placement in the second issue has been toned down a bit, but there’s no escaping some of the promotional propaganda. I doubt that a feature article on chef Adam Perry Lang, who is about to open a chain of barbecue restaurants with Oliver, would have been included otherwise.

Perhaps I should take a look at other celebrity-driven magazines, such as O, The Oprah Magazine, and Every Day with Rachel Ray, just to see how they compare in terms of self-promotion.  I understand that Jamie Magazine is driven by Jamie Oliver and is meant to capitalize on his name and personality, as well as to sell his brand. But as I turn the pages and see all of his products it tries to sell, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I will stick with my favorite chef and watch the magazine evolve over the next few months. I hope to see more great recipes and articles, and less product placement. Because that’s what true fans want from Jamie Oliver.

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Reading the Dining Section

My Wednesday evenings are always the same: I walk down into the subway station and check to see if my Brooklyn-bound F-train is making its slow, creaky way though the tunnel. (It usually isn’t.) I find a spot among the crowds of cranky commuters, open my purse, and pull out the New York Times dining section while I wait. Eventually my train arrives, and the 40-minute ride home gives me ample reading and relaxation time with the weekly food section, the only me time I’ve likely had all day.

I’ve followed this pattern for several years. And although the Times also posted its food content online on Tuesday nights, it was easy to wait another day so that I could physically flip through the recipes and articles during my commute. Honestly, I looked forward to it all week. 

But then the Times decided to mix things up a bit. It recently announced that the paper would start posting its dining section articles on its website throughout the week, essentially rendering the physical newsprint section obsolete. Most of its articles would be released before Wednesday, some almost a week before the section was printed. 

When I first heard the news, I was surprised at how conflicted I felt about it. Don’t get me wrong, in the greater scheme of life it’s not a big deal. But this shift in the Times’s schedule made me realize how much I valued my once-a-week ritual with the paper. It also made me think about how I received information in general. News moves fast these days; like many others, I check the New York Times website as soon as I get to work in the morning and throughout the day, and I’m usually aware of the day’s headlines as soon as they happen. I have an RSS feed that imports new content from my favorite food blogs, and of course, I’m a food blogger myself. I should welcome this development with open arms, congratulating the Times for recognizing the archaic nature of printed news matter.

But I can’t do it. Maybe I’m being too sentimental, but I value my time with weekly food section more than the up-to-the-minute nature of the Internet. It’s similar to how I anticipate and then savor a wonderful meal. Overall, much of the dining section content is not time-sensitive, unless there’s a holiday coming up or a seasonal recipe I’d like to try. Even in these cases it’s usually safe to let a few days go by. I’m sure I’ll use the online archive when I have some time to kill, but on Wednesday evenings you’ll still find me waiting on the F-train platform, paging through the New York Times dining section. How about you?

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