Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Insatiable Journalist Part 1: I Write Food

I like food. And I like words.

At my home growing up, we had an archive of Bon Appetit magazines dating back to the '80s. Sometimes, when I was cooking for a birthday or a special event, I would delve into them in the hopes of uncovering a vintage delicacy. Hours later I would end up with too many options spread out around me, tracing out a trail from whatever I started off looking for into increasingly less relevant but equally tempting options.

When I left for college, I signed up for my own subscription to Bon Appetit - even though I spent my first two years eating dinning hall food on the meal plan - just to read and drool over. Now that I'm finally cooking for myself, I've begun acquiring my own enviable stack of Bon Appetits and cookbooks that rest alongside classics like The Odyssey on my bookshelf.

I have a collection of Craig LaBan restaurant reviews that I read cover-to-cover, like a novel.

What I'm trying to say is, I don't just eat food - I read food, I talk food and, as an aspiring journalist, I write food.

Restaurant reviews, mostly. But this semester I've been given a wonderful opportunity (courtesy of ENGL 170) to research and write about whatever I want in popular culture. And what I want is to report some sort of breaking news in the comprehensive and under-appreciated Philadelphia restaurant scene.

The idea was simple at first: find a restaurant opening right at the end of the semester-long project and follow it from now until then, documenting the inevitable ups and downs of the process. This idea presented two major obstacles: knowledge and access. I need to know about an intended restaurant opening several months in advance, and I need the opportunity to find out more than just what's in the press clips.

Overcoming the first of these obstacles is currently underway courtesy of various professional contacts and a healthy dose of not taking no for an answer. In fact, the process of opening a new restaurant may yet be the story I write if the right characters reveal themselves. But along the way I've become emotionally invested in a story that has nothing to do with opening.

If you're interested in these sorts of things (and if you're reading this, you probably are) you've heard that Philadelphia culinary landmark, Le Bec Fin, was supposed to close this year. After 40 years of waking up at 4 am to bring freshness to the restaurant that started a Renaissance, Chef and Owner Georges Perrier was giving up the fight to stay relevant in a food scene that is becoming more about hip celebrity chefs and concept dishes and less about the old-school glamor of dining out that he so famously brought to Philly. But earlier this month, Chef Perrier announced that Le Bec Fin will no longer be closing. Instead, the restaurant will be celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new lease on life. As a self-proclaimed foodie I'm curious: can an old dog learn new tricks? Is this a much-needed wake up call--that newer is not always better and there is still a place for classically good food? Or is this just the final stand of a man who refuses to accept that pride comes before a fall?

I don't yet know how this will turn out, or even which story I'll be writing. I've spoken with the public relations people for Georges Perrier but also the people representing Jose Garces and numerous other restaurants and restaurateurs in the city. I'm excited to get started--to become an investigative journalist entrenched in even just a single aspect of the the Philly food scene. And I'm excited to share the entire experience right here.


  1. Nice writing! I can definitely hear your voice in it. I had heard that Le Bec Fin was closing and was kinda sad that I never had the chance to go. But from what you wrote, it seems like I still won't have a chance to experience the original.

  2. I'm excited to see what you find out about Le Bec Fin's reincarnation! I went to check out the restaurant this summer (b/c it'd been recommended by my boss's boss, and b/c I'd heard it was closing), and I was extremely disappointed with my meal (well, everything except dessert)! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it'll rejuvenate itself!! :)



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