When you’re the type of person who visits over 600 restaurants a year (my overall count now is over 10,000 restaurants and cocktails bars visited the world over), keeps spreadsheets of favorite restaurants, bars, cafes, chocolate, coffee, cocktails, spirits, wine, beer standouts 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. Add all that with a lifelong passion for writing, eating, connecting with all manner of peoples and exploring the world, you must share that love, and that is what I do.
This article I wrote at 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/editor. Prior to 2005, I went from a non-spirits drinker (other than the occasional cocktail) to full-on spirits geek and expert who judges in some of the biggest spirits and cocktail awards in the world.
How I Became a Food/Drink/Travel Writer & Editor
I’ve been a San Francisco resident for 15 years, growing up in the NYC (New Jersey) and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, though I was born in Oklahoma City, living in Kansas City, MO, until I was 6.
For two years, I was the VP Content/National Editor at Table8, the head over a team of writers and content curators, managing and editing editorial on dining in 15 cities, creating curated, handpicked restaurants in our app in each city, and creating our unique user-critic restaurant ratings and awards programs.
My prior full time positions in the industry were as the San Francisco/Northern California Editor for Zagat and before that, the SF Bay Guardian food critic for 5 years, first with a weekly food/drink column since 2008, Appetite, then as their head food critic with a weekly column in the newspaper. My first official food industry job prior to become a professional writer and editor was job placement for students at the Le Cordon Bleu California Culinary Academy.
I have written for over 50 online and print publications, like Food Republic, Zagat, Thrillist, Gin Magazine UK, Whisky Magazine UK, The London Times, Paste Magazine – Travel, 7×7 Magazine, Eater (I also filled in as SF editor for Eater and Grubstreet), WHERE Magazine & Guestbook, Blackboard Eats, Whiskey Wash, Tasting Panel, Drink Me Magazine, Spoonwiz, PureWow, 944 Magazine, “best of” lists for NBC’s The Feast, Daily Gourmet, Citysearch, and have one of the most-read columns out of hundreds of featured writers/sites at Liquor.com Drinkwire.
I helped write and edit the spirits/distilling book Distilled Stories, and wrote the introduction to the book Pur in Spirits, an artistic cocktail recipe book from all female bartenders with striking retro-style photos from Kelly Puleio.
— Judging, TV & Panels
I’ve moderated panels likes of Commonwealth Club, where in front of live audiences and via podcast, I interviewed NY Times wine writer Eric Asimov (listen here) or a panel of distillers (listen here). On site at Google, I’ve interviewed NY Times cocktail and spirits writer, Robert Simonson (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).
— Consulting & Classes/Tastings
I provide in person tastings and casual classes for the layperson on spirits, cocktails and food (class examples here), typically as part of company perks or parties.
I consult with restaurants and bars on menus, making menu recommendations (outside brand or distributor loyalty with a well-rounded drink list in mind), sharing current regional, national and international trends, creating app and site content, feedback on menus, themes and concepts, and training staff on how to best talk about drink offerings or dishes on a menu to increase sales.
I have moderated panels and helped in event planning for major drink industry events like American Distilling Institute (ADI) in their annual conference in changing cities with over 1500 attendees.
My consulting and class options are found here.
— 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 at companies like Genentech and the Bay Guardian.
In 2007, I humbly launched The Perfect Spot in response constant requests from friends and strangers for where to go, what to eat and drink around the world. I have an insatiable hunger to dig deep and go broad, finding the best in every neighborhood and category.
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, philosophy, religion and travel, subjects I can discuss endlessly.
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. I was interviewed at State of Digital Publishing on my work process and writing disciplines.
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 for me, my father and my three siblings and we always ate family meals together.
I grew up up bi-coastal with a bit of Oklahoma and Kansas City thrown in for a dose of soulful “down home” in my city-loving heart. After growing up near Disneyland and sunny beaches in Southern California from age 6 to 13, we moved across the country to New Jersey, just outside New York City, when I was 14. NYC set aflame my love for cities that began with me reading books of faraway places as girl. With its wildly diverse beauty, range and peoples, California constantly inspired me with its incomparable scope. Both areas are so ethnically diverse, I (happily) grew up a citizen of the world.
Family – I have an incredible, extensive family: the Sicilian side means a huge family of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, mostly based in Oklahoma, with siblings and family scattered from Denver to Detroit. The Renaissance Man, as our friends call him, is my husband and best friend, whom I’ve known for two decades. He’s 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 sharpened by his sharp wit, depth and profound character.
INSATIABLE HUNGER for TRAVEL
My love for food evolved when first traveling overseas. In 1999, 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 to the spirit of New Orleans – the music, soul, people and food. But I love the South in general from its soulful food to its music. 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, with Japan being my favorite place on earth second only to Italy. Scotland haunts and stays with me.
Though I have often worked 6-7 days a week in this career for the minimal salary known to writers/editors (ever grateful for consulting and classes to pay the bills), I have not been given a budget to eat out by any media employer or for any freelance article assignment, other than having a company card for travel when I was national editor.
With over 10 restaurants and bars visited every week, I often spend more eating out than I make writing about it, especially with my philosophy to only write about where I have visited and tasted myself what I would recommend to you, the reader.
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. I consider all but share standouts with caveats, when necessary.
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 share with my readers 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 elements were “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.