Holly Hughes: The TNB Self-InterviewBy TNB Nonfiction
November 28, 2013
You have been the editor of the annual best Food Writing anthology since its first edition, in 2000. What exactly do you do to “edit” this book?
Well, editing is sort of a misnomer. What I really do is more like glorified dumpster-diving – I cherry-pick essays and articles that have already been published somewhere else, either in print or on line, in the course of the past year. I don’t edit those pieces at all – I don’t need to. They’re already just about perfect, or else I wouldn’t have picked them. Probably a better name for what I do would be “curator.”
What has changed in the field since you edited the first edition in 2000?
There’s no question that food writing has become exponentially more fashionable than it was 15 years ago. Maybe too fashionable. Twenty-five years ago, freshly-minted college graduates dreamed of being film-makers; now they want to be food writers or chefs. (Or organic farmers or craft brewers or chocolate makers…) The internet is cluttered with food blogs, of widely varying quality. When was the last time you ate dinner in a trendy restaurant and DIDN’T see fellow diners snapping photos of their meal? Memoirs and travel books are studded with recipes, too. And crusading journalists are as likely to focus on reforming our food supply as on critiquing our political system. All of this is wonderful and probably very healthy, but it makes my job infinitely harder.
What is the hottest trend of 2013?
Kale was very big this year, and pickles. Prepare for pickled kale. Kale kimchi?
No, but seriously…
The culture of the celebrity chef does seem to be waning. Hot new restaurants are springing up all over the country, not just in the anointed gourmet capitals, and there’s a great fresh breeze of collaboration, with farmers and food artisans finally given their share of the spotlight. I think it’s populist and wonderfully liberating. Of course, that could just be because so many would-be food writers can’t get into the French Laundry or Noma.
Have you eaten at the French Laundry or Noma?
Not me. I walked past Noma last summer, trying to peer inside, but I couldn’t get a reservation to save my life. By the time I get a reservation, it won’t be the “best restaurant in the world” anymore and no one will care. To be honest, I’ve recently noticed a reaction setting in against these high-profile restaurants with their multi-course tasting menus, where the genius chef dictates every bite of a meal and how you will feel about it. I guess it’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Street food and food trucks are the new black.
Who is your favorite food writer?
You won’t catch me with that one. That’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite. Really, I don’t have any favorites. There are so many talented writers out there now, and so many distinctive voices. They also tend to be really nice people. Or at least they all really act nice to me, although I guess that could be because they hope that’ll get them into the book.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
My deepest, darkest secret is that even though I have been the series editor for Best Food Writing for 14 years now, I’ve never gone to culinary school or worked in a restaurant. I am actually (hangs her head in shame) not even a very good cook myself. As my husband and children will attest. (Howls of protest are heard in the background. We can’t tell if they’re agreeing or disagreeing.)
Really, that is your deepest, darkest secret?
Okay, not all that deep or dark. Still, it’s embarrassing. All that I can say in my defense is that my inadequacies as a cook give me that much more respect for the knowledge and skill of the food writers whose work I include in Best Food Writing. Plus I keep hoping they’ll invite me over for dinner.
HOLLY HUGHES has been the series editor of Best Food Writing since its inception in 2000. The former executive editor of Fodor’s Travel Guides, she has written several guidebooks for Frommer’s, including 500 Places to See Before They Disappear and 500 Places To Take the Kids Before They Grow Up. She lives in New York City.
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