When you’re the type of person who visits over 600 restaurants a year (yes, a couple meals out a day is not uncommon), keeps spreadsheets of favorite restaurants, bars, cafes, chocolate, coffee, cocktails, spirits, wine, beer, highlights in every neighborhood of your home city and every place you travel to, some might call it obsession.
When you skim through food guides and best-of restaurant and bar lists, and rarely find any places you haven’t been to, you’ve got an addiction. When you add all that with a lifelong passion for writing, eating, connecting with peoples of all kinds and exploring the world, you must share that love, and that is what I do. This article I wrote for Zagat explains my philosophy of eating everything and changing/training one’s own taste buds, which I believe should be a requirement for a career as a food writer.
WHERE I WORK, WRITE, JUDGE & HOW I GOT THERE
I’ve been a San Francisco resident for 15 years, growing up in the NYC (New Jersey specifically) and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, though I was born in Oklahoma City and in Kansas City, MO, until I was 6. I am the VP Content/Senior Managing Editor at Table8, head of a small team, creating a curated list of restaurants in cities around the world with our own ratings and awards program that will roll out over 2016. Just prior, I was the San Francisco/Northern California Editor for Zagat and before that, the San Francisco Bay Guardian food critic for nearly 5 years, first with my weekly food/drink column since 2008, Appetite, then becoming the head food critic with a weekly column in the paper.
I have freelanced for countless publications from Whisky Magazine UK, to The Times London, 7×7 Magazine to Eater, filled in as SF editor for Eater and Grubstreet, and have one of the top 10 most-read national columns out of hundreds of featured writers/sites at Liquor.com. I was privileged to write the introduction for the book Pur in Spirits, a gorgeous cocktail recipe book with recipes from all female bartenders, striking retro-influenced photos of each of us and printed and bound in high quality paper.
You’ll find my articles regularly at Food Republic, Zagat, Distiller Magazine (where I was assistant editor and write about top bars, interview local distillers and bar managers in a different city each issue), WHERE Magazine & Guestbook and Liquor.com feature articles. I have written/write for 7×7 Magazine, Blackboard Eats, London Times, Whiskey Wash, Tasting Panel, Drink Me Magazine, Spoonwiz, PureWow, 944 Magazine, “best of” lists for NBC’s The Feast, Daily Gourmet, Citysearch.
— Judging, TV & Panels
In addition to moderating panels for the likes of Commonwealth Club, where I interviewed NY Times wine writer Eric Asimov to a live audience (listen here) and moderated a panel of distillers (listen here), I’ve interviewed NY Times cocktail and spirits writer, Robert Simonson, at Google (watch here).
I’ve been a judge in countless cocktail, spirits, dining and cooking competitions from Mexico City to Hawaii. On a larger scale, I’ve been a judge for some of the biggest awards in the food and drink world, as well as The GGRA’s Saucy Awards, Tales of the Cocktail‘s international Spirited Awards, Good Food Awards, part of the annual voting panel for the World’s Best Bars, and blind judging spirits for multiple years for ADI’s annual Judging of American Craft Spirits. I’ve been briefly on TV in a San Francisco episode of the Cooking Channel’s Best in Chow with host Chris Nannarone chatting me up in Alamo Square (review here).
In addition to leading private tastings of spirits categories (like a general overview on all styles of whiskies), I consult in food, drink, travel and social media on regional and international trends, app and site content, feedback on menus and theme concepts, event planning and panel moderation, including working with American Distilling Institute (ADI) in their annual conference in varying cities with over 1000 attendees.
— Past Career
Over the years, I worked at the California Culinary Academy (CCA) with emerging chefs and hospitality managers, unexpectedly (and blissfully) changing careers to full time food and drink after years in HR management working at companies like Genentech and the Guardian, I am beyond grateful to be living my passion for writing, food, drink, travel.
In 2007, I humbly launched The Perfect Spot after demand from friends of friends for where to go, what to eat and drink at home and around the globe. I have an insatiable hunger to dig deep and go broad, finding the best in every neighborhood and category. I don’t believe in having food prejudices or dislikes (my Zagat essay on that subject here) so my philosophy is not only try anything once, but try it multiple times (and from the right hands) until I convert – and I’ve converted to many a food I once hated. I also went from non-spirits drinker (other than the occasional cocktail) to full-on spirits geek.
THE CONVERGING OF LOVES
Though music is one of my greatest loves, if you know me, you’ll find me wildly passionate about books, film, theater, culture, history, religion and travel, subjects I can talk about for hours on end.
Writing – I’ve been illustrating and writing my own books and poetry since I was a girl, reading day and night (which I still do), taking numerous writing classes and part of SF and Berkeley writing groups.
Food – Part Sicilian, part German, with a little English and Swedish thrown in for good measure, I’ve naturally grown up with an appetite. My Sicilian-English Mama daily cooked me, my father and my three siblings meals from scratch. Moving to New Jersey, just outside NYC, at age 14 from Southern California (where I lived age 6 to 13), I grew up bi-coastal (with a bit of Oklahoma and Kansas City, MO, to add a dose of cowgirl/down home to my city-loving heart). New York City set aflame my love for cities that began as a girl constantly reading books of faraway places, while California constantly inspired me with its immense beauty, nature and range. Both are so ethnically diverse, I (happily) grew up a citizen of the world.
Family – I have an incredible, extensive family: that Sicilian side especially means extended aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, mostly based in Oklahoma. You’ll hear me mention The Renaissance Man: my husband and best friend, whom I’ve known for 20 years. He’s truly a renaissance man: a theater acting major, musician (plays three instruments), writer, photographer, woodworker, maker of his own high-end clothing and leather goods. He shares my passion for travel, food, drink, the arts, peoples of the world, so together we’re an inseparable team. He taught me basic photography, created this website, keeps me constantly laughing with his sharp wit, depth and profound character.
INSATIABLE LOVE for TRAVEL
My love for food evolved when first traveling overseas. In 1998-99 I spent three life-changing months in Vietnam and Thailand working in orphanages and inner city slums, plus three months in San Francisco working with homeless in the Tenderloin. I then traveled alone through 10 countries in Europe and Morocco for three months. When I returned to Southern California after a year away, I would never eat (or live) the same way again. Hunting for “the real”, I avoided chain restaurants like the plague, seeking local and authentic – not an easy feat in Orange County!
Moving to San Francisco soon thereafter rapidly accelerated my knowledge of food, with endless discoveries in this truly unique, pioneering food/drink city. I travel with as acute a hunger as I live my day-to-day life (check out my Wandering Traveler section). I’ve…
– roamed the hills and distilleries of the Scottish Highlands and Speyside, Scotland
– explored Tokyo’s legendary Tsukiji Fish Market with a famed sushi chef
– stayed in the most famed Cognac chateaus of Cognac, France, hanging out and dining nightly in the houses with master blenders, distillers and brand ambassadors
– eaten my way through mountain towns, dining on impeccable lake fish and cheeses in multiple trips around Switzerland
– multiple two week BBQ road trips through the deep South (Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia) and across Texas (Houston, Austin, Hill Country, Dallas), researching ‘que sauces and styles
– drove through the mountains of Oaxaca visiting remote mezcal distilleries and seeing ancient, clay pot distillation
– made pisco (stomped grapes by foot!) in Peru and ate at some of Lima’s greatest restaurants
– evolved my love for classic cocktails (thanks to master barman, Chris McMillian) and the nuances of Creole and Cajun cuisine through annual, week-long visits to my beloved New Orleans
– chowed down in pho bars and on bahn mi in one month all over the country of Vietnam
– fell in love with the people, cuisine and countryside of Ireland, tasting Irish whiskey straight from barrels
– dug into the magical cocktail & spirits bars and the Michelin-starred cuisine of otherworldly Japan
– got hooked on Low Country and Gullah cuisine eating through Charleston and along the S. Carolina coast
– fell in love with REAL schnaps in Austria and Germany
– explored all the wine regions of Bordeaux, France, from Medoc to Saint-Emilion
– traversed Chianti and Tuscan hill towns where some of the most beloved Italian wines are made, and have eaten my way through the Emilia-Romagna, Friuli, Tuscany, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Lake Como/Lombardy, Cinque Terre, Italian Alps and Bassono Del Grappa, visiting some of these areas multiple times (if it wasn’t clear, Italia is my favorite country)
– ate couscous and lamb with my hands in Morocco
– savored Austrian wines and cuisine in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria
– watched tequila production amid agave fields in Jalisco and the dining glories of Mexico City, Mexico
– visited gin distilleries in London, and countless restaurants, markets and food events over two month-long trips
– dove into the international glories — and the perfect dim sum — of Hong Kong
– roamed the most incredible seafood markets of my life — and cidre (cider), wine, spirits & beer producers — in northwest Spain (Galicia)
– braved haggis and pubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland
– pushed my spice/heat tolerance to regions beyond over two months in Thailand
– sampled beers and sausages (and in Berlin, stellar Turkish food & cocktails) in Munich, Mainz and Berlin, Germany
– dove into beach towns and local foods in Oahu, Hawaii the Big Island, Maui & Kauai
– ate the lushest fruits on the Venezuelan coast
– paired sangria with paella in Barcelona and the south of Spain
– sipped champagne with buttery snails or made picnics of baguettes, cheese and wine in Paris
– fell in love with Tyrolian food on the Italian/Austrian border
– scoured genever bars in Amsterdam & hung out with Bols Genever’s international bartender finalists for a week during the Bols Around the World competition
– hunkered down in Belgian beer bars and over moules and frites in Bruges, Belgium
– became a coffee snob and gelato-obsessed all over Italy
… and the list goes on. I consider NY, SF and New Orleans the ‘holy trinity’ of US cities. Besides the Bay Area, NY and LA areas are a huge part of me as I’ve spent a great portion of my life in both. I’m deeply connected in spirit to New Orleans – the music, soul, people and food. But I love the South in general from its soulful food to its music, particularly Charleston, Savannah and Kentucky. England and Italy are my roots and where I always long to return. Never do I feel quite as at bonded with people as I do in Asia.
Though I have worked often 6-7 days a week in this career and often made a minimal salary as writer/editor, I have not been given a budget to eat out by a media employer or for any freelance assignment, though I now (for the first time since changing to this career 8 years ago), have a research/travel budget as VP at Table8. I often spend far more eating out than I make in a month, typically eating and drinking out over 10 times a week. While I attend many industry events and press meals, and am sent spirits, wine and food samples, I will not write favorably about a place or product because I received a “comp” tasting nor will I write about a place I have not been to or a dish or drink I’ve tasted myself.
I’m fiercely devoted to honesty, though I tend to not write about a place if it thoroughly disappointed, rather focusing on minor missteps if there are still enough positive elements. There are too many great places to focus energy on and I am not in the business of bashing small businesses and those who sacrifice so much to open them — and keep them open. But I will tell readers when something was “off”. I truly love this industry and the amazing, hardworking people I’ve met worldwide. The goal is constructive honesty and sharing the best of my constant findings with my readers.