Although the fact has been alluded to in the past, I find it necessary, especially in helping you folks to understand the context of this post, to remind you that I am a dedicated intern at City Paper. My time, so far, working at C.P. has afforded me the opportunity to meet some fairly interesting individuals, of whom include the paper’s very own associate editor, web editor, and food columnist, Drew Lazor.
Having spent some time in the office now, watching this guy snack on everything from Pocky Sticks to a gigantic, clump of licorice coal (which I must state was largely the product of Listing Editor, Holly Otterbein’s persuasion) and perusing his writings on the food blog (which are accompanied by Felicia D’Ambrosio’s writings), I’ve found that Drew Lazor, perhaps to some people’s disappointment, is a regular guy who happens to write really well about food. Never overly critical, and rarely announced as a picky eater who’s too good to chow on a greasy sub ever now and then, Drew is the furthest thing from an elitist food snob who has his nose too high in the air to even see what’s on his plate, which makes me wonder: How’d he get his start?
Through some simple persuasion in the form of cookies, I got Drew to answer my questions about food blogs, what it’s like to be a food columnist and what his advice is for the foodie in training.
OQ: So, how did you become interested in food writing, in particular?
DL: I know everyone says this, but really, I just kind of fell into it. I was doing an editorial internship at City Paper during my senior year of college, and was randomly assigned a food and restaurant news column called Feeding Frenzy as my weekly responsibility. That was about four years ago now and I’ve been writing it ever since, covering local restaurant openings, closings and so forth.
I’ve always loved food and drink and eating out, but never really considered pursuing it in a professional sense prior to this; most of my experience before becoming the food editor at CP had been in music, news and sports writing. But once I started writing Feeding Frenzy, I quickly realized how fertile of a beat food writing was, especially in a place like Philly where there’s a really vibrant and engrossing culinary “scene.” After cutting my teeth with the column, I began branching out into all sorts of different food-related features, from cooking stuff and profiles to interviews and the occasional short restaurant review. It’s crazy the amount of stuff I’ve learned in such a short amount of time. Though I didn’t do all of this right away when I started full-time at CP, I now oversee the food and restaurant sections of the paper in addition to overseeing our food blog, Meal Ticket.
OQ: What do you think is the hardest part of maintaining a food blog? The easiest?
DL: That there is so much stuff to cover in terms of Philly’s food culture is both the easiest and toughest part of maintaining Meal Ticket. Every day I find myself up to my ears in great ideas for content, and it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to properly hit on it all. But then again, that is way better than having nothing to go on whatsoever! That would suck.
OQ: What’s the best part of being a food journalist (above being just a plain old journalist)?
DL: There are just so many food-related stories out there large and small that it’s a real treat to be able to sift through them all, talk to people to discover what makes them tick. I really love to wander around the city looking for new restaurants and chatting with people. It’s the best way to get story ideas.
Also, I know this sounds trite, but sometimes people are nice enough to give me free food. I love free food. Thank you, free food-offering people!
OQ: What advice would you give to a food blogger who is just starting out?
DL: Aside from all the big stuff – striking up friendly relationships with fellow bloggers, making sure to update religiously, etc. – my first piece of advice would be don’t be scared to talk to people for your stories/posts. If you are writing about a great dish you tried at a restaurant and you want to get more info on it – ask the chef! It may put you outside your comfort zone but it’ll be worth it. It really adds an entirely different element to your writing.
My second piece of advice would be not to act like you know everything, and to think about what you write before you write it. Some food blogs I’ve come across – I’m thinking mostly of restaurant review blogs here – are so overtly negative and nasty that it seems almost as if they’re trying to make their bones by being critical. These days, I just don’t think it works like that. You have to remember how much influence you may have over a readers’ opinion of a restaurant – this goes for everyone from professional food journalists to food bloggers to Yelpers. It’s important to be honest, but it’s also very, very important to be fair, in my opinion.
OQ: What’s been the best article you’ve written on the blog? Or the most fun, I guess I should ask?
OQ: If you could eat one food item for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
DL: Oh man, what a tough question. Am I coming at this from a sustenance perspective, like a food that will help me not die even if it’s all I eat? Or just pure deliciousness? If it’s the former, I think I’ll go with pork chops. Not too fatty or anything, can be prepared in many different ways and a terrific source of protein. Can I get a side dish? Definitely rice if so. Or pancit, which is a noodly Filipino dish kinda like lo mein. Maybe I should sub out pork chops for pancit, actually. Am I overextending the question here?
From a purely junky perspective though, I would probably go with any Haribo product, especially Sour S’ghetti. Or bacon. Or Sour S’ghetti wrapped in bacon.
OQ: Your last supper? Would you dine on caviar and red wine with Jesus or did you have something else in mind?
DL: A bottle of Bulleit and enough fried chicken to fill the crater of a large volcano.