Happy Thanksgiving – What a Year It Has Bean

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ELV note: Anyone who knows us, knows that Thanksgiving is our favorite day of the year.  It is a distinctly American holiday that, despite every retail and marketing effort to the contrary, has yet to be  co-opted by capitalism and bad taste. Thanksgiving is all about food, family and friends and that’s it. As much as we love the holiday, though, this year has been a tough one. Illness, death(s) in the family, a busted toe(!), and lots of angst over everything from politics to getting old — a year of false starts.

Still, there is much to be thankful for:

  •  I still have my eyesight.
  • I didn’t get any fatter in the last year, and may actually dropped a few pounds.
  • I’m more regular than a Swiss train.

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  • I took up golf again…and may be progressing past the “old man hacker” level.
  • I walk more in a day than most people do in a week.
  • Those funerals meant spending more time with my family — one of the ironies of growing old.
  • My kids and grand-kids are doing splendidly.
  • Making some new friends and continuing to enjoy many old ones.
  • I’m now drinking even more expensive wine — thanks to Mom and Dad.
  • My wife continues to grow more beautiful.
  • We’re cooking more and restauranting less. (It was time.)
  • Neither The Food Gal® nor I have lost our sense of adventure. We will not go gentle into that good night, and neither should you.
  • And finally, I’m thankful that, for the tenth year in a row, we will NOT be making a turkey. This year’s theme is Britsgiving: featuring a feast inspired by the countries from which the Pilgrims escaped and the foods they were fleeing. Pheasant and beef Wellington will be on the menu, plus Spotted Dick and a Stilton Cheese the size of my head. Turkey is for the birds.

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Regardless of the asperity sprinkled throughout the past months, Thanksgiving is a time to feast and remember all the good things, like “The World’s Greatest String Bean Recipe” — which we now publish for the 19th year in a row.  As usual, we do this by including not one, not two, but THREE recipes (from its origins in the 50s to an updated, more gastronomic version. Make them once, your Thanksgiving table will never again be without these sweet and sour luscious legumes.

And remember: satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

Before we get to cookin’, you might like to tune in here, where, in 2010, we explore the origins of this essential T-Day feast.

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GRANDMA SCHROADER’S SOUR BEANS (KNPR Version)

1. Fry and crumble a pound of bacon….which is really more than you’ll need, but half of it will miraculously disappear as you complete the recipe.

2. Take one 10 oz. package of frozen, French cut green beans. Microwave them for a few minutes (drain) and put ‘em in a nice serving bowl.

3. Bring to a boil:
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. of salt
1 chopped up onion

4. Now this is the hard part so pay attention…Pour everything over the beans and garnish with whatever bacon hasn’t miraculously disappeared from your kitchen counter.

5. Serve hot, cold or any temperature in-between.

GRANDMA SCHROADER’S SOUR BEANS  (Authentic, Straight from the 50s Recipe):

2 cans green beans
1/4 lb. Bacon

Fry and crumble bacon

Bring to a boil:
1/4 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. Salt
chopped onion

pour over green beans
garnish with bacon

 My Slightly More Gastronomic(?) Recipe

Fry and crumble a pound of good pepper-crusted bacon – which is more than you’ll need, but half of it will have miraculously disappeared before you use it as a garnish.

Trim and french-cut 12 oz. of fresh green beans. Cook (steam or par boil without salt) until tender. Drain and  put them in a nice serving bowl.

While the beans are steaming or simmering or microwaving, bring to a boil 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and one medium chopped onion (chopped not too fine).

Now here’s the hard part so pay attention: after the sugar/vinegar/onion mixture has come to a full boil, pour the entire mixture over the cooked green beans and garnish with as much crumbled bacon as your cardiologist allows.

Serve hot, cold or any temperature in between. These beans co-exist wonderfully with any Thanksgiving dinner, and if you serve them once, you’ll serve them every year.

No matter which version you make, it is virtually idiot-proof, and won’t take you more than fifteen minutes. (Frying the bacon takes the longest and you can do that hours, or even days ahead. But good bacon is a must.)

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By now, you are probably besotted and bored by legumes. So we’ll beat it from beauteous beans soon enough pilgrim, but not before we refer you to one last homage to Phaseolus vulgaris– and reveal one final surprise.

As it turns out, neither Grandma Hazel Schroader, nor our mother, nor anyone related to the Schroader or Curtas clans had anything to do with Grandma Schroader’s Sour Beans. Turns out they came from a neighbor lady (Fran Kesler) who clipped out the recipe and gave it to our mother (Ruth Curtas) sometime in the late 50s while we were living on Via Venetia Avenue in Winter Park (Florida, not Colorado).

Ah the 50s….when cryptic recipes were clipped and shared across the back fence, to the sounds of kids getting dirty outdoors and moms mixing the martinis.

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No matter who invented them, Grandma Schroader’s Sour Beans is a recipe destined for your Thanksgiving table. They won’t taste the same this year without my mother telling me how I’ve done them wrong, but I’ll be serving them in her honor, nonetheless.

Happy Thanksgiving….and remember:

Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments. – Samuel Johnson
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Pizza My Mind

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Ed. note: We got thrown out of the Las Vegas Pizza Festival last Saturday. Here is the story:

Human beings are funny creatures, by turns fiercely independent and slavish devotees to never thinking for themselves. No other creature goes to such lengths to assert its individuality (e.g. tattoos) while mindlessly going along with the herd (cf. tattoos).

Crowds, events, concerts, rallies, have never been my thing. My idea of hell is being corralled into any space along with thousands (or hundreds) of others in order to witness something. This is not claustrophobia (although I am mildly claustrophobic) as much as it is a visceral reaction to being treated as something lesser than myself.

Even as a teenager, the idea of going to Woodstock was less about my revulsion at the idea of (literally) shitting in the woods than it was about the thought of sitting on a hillside with 200,000 smelly hippies, all grooving to the same tunes in unison. Even then, I preferred listening and enjoying the music my way:

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If getting me into a crowd is harder than enticing me to an Asian buffet, asking me to stand in line (to eat anything) is an insult to my intelligence.

If I’ve learned one lesson in fifty years of rabid restaurant hopping it is that no food in the world is worth standing in line for. America is the land of plenty. Lining up like starving cattle for a taste of something (and wasting valuable time doing so) is a soul-deadening experience where the payoff is rarely worth it. (“Look at me! I stood in line for an hour for a cronut!”)

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You are basically sacrificing your time while beseeching someone to take your money, when it ought to be the other way around.

(Exception: Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington Texas, which is only open one day/week. But that’s it.)

With all of this in mind, there I was last Saturday, against my better judgment, waiting in some stupid, roped off VIP line, being marshaled by more security than a presidential debate, to eat a few slices of pizza at the Las Vegas Pizza Festival. But we never got there, no pizza tasting. No kibbitzing with pizzaiolos, no whooping it up with friends over some tasty pies.

Nope, we were kicked out and here is the tale, told as it happened, along with some perspective about why the foodie events like this might not be worth it.

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A certain queasiness grips me as we approach. What’s with all the brawn? Did they give a pizza fest and a hip hop concert broke out? Are they expecting a riot over insufficient pepperoni?

At least a hundred poor sheep…er…uh…I mean souls are queued up in the non-VIP line, waiting for the velvet ropes to open up. Inside, there are giant men in matching golf shirts treating the situation with all the solemnity of a state funeral. Not wishing to waste time, I stride past these behemoths and get our press passes without a problem. (My father’s advice: “Just act like you own the place, works every time.” And it does!)

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Then, just beyond the press table, there they are, the dreaded switchback queues — the bane of airport travelers and amusement park goers everywhere — but before we even get to them we have to confront our first security check. (Yes, there are multiple security checks…for….let’s not forget…eating a few slices of f**king pizza.)

Musclebound baldy guard in too-tight T: “I need to see your ID.”

Me: “But we already have our press passes.”

Him: “I need to see proof that you are over 21.”

(Fun factoid(s): The Food Gal® may not look 50, but she’s way past 21. I may be young at heart, but no one has mistaken me for a college kid since Jimmy Carter was President.)

Me:

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Food Gal (pleading sweetly): “I left everything at home; can’t you see I’m over 21?”

Him: “I’ll have to check with my supervisor.”

Supervisor gets checked with, within a minute or so we are waved in. To the second security/wristband table. Then a third. To get a slice of pizza. A sense of dread fills me. Little did I know what I was in for.

By this time, I have TWO wristbands on (Fun Factoid #3: I consider wristbands one step below cattle prods on the dehumanizing accoutrement scale). and my eyes have been rolling back in my head so much they’re practically glued to the ceiling, but we press on, patiently, with a forced smile on my face.

The good news: by now the VIP line has dwindled to a dozen or so folks, who themselves are enduring these small humiliations, but regardless, pizza nirvana is only seconds away, and we still will have fifteen minutes or so to load up before the barbarians enter the gates.

Then, the fun begins. As we are standing in line behind a few folks, and maybe in front of a half-dozen others snaking their way through the absurd roped gauntlet, we spot two close friends (prepaid VIPs) who have cleared checkpoints one and two. So we wave to them to get in front of us at the (by now almost nothing) final entry point so we can walk in together.

No different than when you’re standing in line to order tacos at a food truck and your good friends show up to partake with you, right? Or maybe a better example is a bunch of ticket holders filing into a sporting event together. No harm no foul…

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Wrong.

Faster than you can say “overreacting rent-a-cop”, a plus-sized female comes racing through the ropes screaming “No cutting in line!” at my two friends who have just walked around a stanchion to join us. I ignore her; my male friend does not.

Pleasantries are exchanged to the point where I’m fairly certain neither will be sending the other a Christmas card, and before I can chime in with, “Look, Miss, it’s my fault: I invited him to get in front of me.” she shoves him, and is threatening to call the cops.

Things settle down after a minute of jawboning so the wife and I head in thinking it will get sorted out between them as grownups.

Wrong again.

When our friends don’t appear after a few minutes, we return to the scene of the egregious crime, where our male friend is now surrounded by four men in matching rent-a-cop shirts. I approach this scrum, annoyed but civilly, thinking the matter has been resolved, so we can get down to the margherita at hand.

Me:

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New logo’d guy who I’m fairly sure coaches youth football after he leaves the car lot: “Sir, we are way beyond that now, you need to leave.”

Me:

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Him: “The police have been called; you’re being trespassed.”

At first I’m unaware if he’s directing this at me or my buddy, then I blurt out:

“Hold on a second…Youre gal was way out of line.”

Then he repeats the “you’re being trespassed” line several times (painfully, as if he took a great deal of time to memorize the words), and faster than you can say “quatro fromaggi, par favore” the four of us are being led to the door. 86’d, as it were.

Get Out Crash GIF by GritTV

(Several times during these various inane exchanges, I think about videotaping them, but I don’t because I don’t want to be “that guy”. Hindsight: I probably should have.)

Later the same day I hear through event organizers that the security company is thinking of “pressing charges” against us.

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This is the world we live in today.

Since adult perspective was sadly lacking in the whole kerfuffle, allow me to end with some.

These days, even something as innocent as a pizza tasting must be treated with the same heightened level of apprehension as rock concerts and political protests.

We have created a world that is both full of fear and afraid of missing out. Everyone wants to participate and have a good time, but even the most innocent of gatherings is fraught with concern over bad behavior. Because of this, businesses and governments seek to insulate themselves from allegations of failing to “protect us”, by, literally, keeping us in line.

What happens next is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Once the decision is made to ramp up security to absurd levels, what you get is a work staff that is looking for something to do. If all you have is a box of hammers (with IQs to match), everything is going to look like a nail. It is the perfect recipe for overreaction that doesn’t match the infraction.

There is no evidence that heightened security actually works, or that its effectiveness could be proven even if it did. (How do you gauge the level of bad things that don’t happen?) All we know is that loathsome, boorish, even murderous behavior is at an all time high, and all the security theater in the world hasn’t changed that. (I’ll grant you that big, beefy dudes are probably useful when it comes to tossing out obnoxious drunks at bars, concerts, and sports events.)

If you feel safer going through the ridiculous gauntlet in airports these days (even if they are wholly ineffective at their job), then I am happy for you, even if you’re fooling yourself. And if you enjoy walking up to a food festival and seeing a phalanx of puffed up guards scanning the crowd like low-rent watchmen looking for drugs, then enjoy your hall monitors.

As for me, as usual, my instincts were right. I should’ve turned tail as soon as I saw the guards and the queues. Incidents like this give me yet another reason to avoid the sheep-herding, shoulder-rubbing, warmed-over shitshows of food events.

Give me a decent meal at a good restaurant any day.

Postscript:

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After our defenestration, We repaired to Esther’s Kitchen and Garagiste and had a fine time tucking into a fabulous lunch with no lines, no security, easier conversation and better seating. Then, later the same day, we drove to Rosa Ristorante for a bite of one of Rob Moore’s gorgeous pies (below).

Better food. Better wine. Better people.

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Postscript #2: If you want to hear more about this tempest in a teapot, tune into our new food podcast, Eat. Talk. Repeat. this Friday for the full Monty.

Letter of the Month – So You Want to be a Food Writer…

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Ed. note: Every week we get e-mails, DMs, texts, etc. asking for our favorite (fill in the blank) __________, steakhouse, sushi, dim sum parlor, high falutin’ French, you name it. We’re always happy to send advice along, but none of those make us think the way Jessica recently did:

Dear Mr. Curtas,

For the last 10 years I have followed your works. Dreaming of the indulgent, and exquisite food you have been blessed to eat. Now, at just shy of 30 years old; I have finally decided on a career change. From being the youngest person in the state of Indiana to get my cosmetology license. To then being a stay at home mother. I have finally decided,  after decades of loving food, cooking and eating. I want to write about, and share my food experiences, like yourself.
 After doing research on how to start, it seems quite daunting.
At this point you must be wondering why I am even bothering you. I would like to ask your advice. What is a good way to start out in the field? Should I go straight to social media? Should I be blogging? Should I make Tic Tok and YouTube videos? Do I need a shtick  (like I only eat at certain types of places)? Any advice you are willing to bestow upon me, would be more then welcomed!
Sincerely,
Jessica
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Dear Jessica,
I’m going to give you two answers – one short (sort of) and probably along the lines you are looking for, and the other, another in a long line of my logorrheic lamentations on my alimentary ascriptions.
Answer #1:
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The first thing I would coach you to do is look around and then look inward. What are you really passionate about? Is it cooking? Eating out? Do you love something about your family’s food history that you’ve always wanted to share with others? Do you have family recipes you are proud of? Are you an avid baker? Does the thought of hunting down a great food truck quicken your pulse? Or do you dream of gourmet meals in dressed up settings?
This is a long way of saying yes, to get followers and be successful at this (however you define success) you will need a point of view and a shtick….but that shtick should always be an extension of who you are.
Then, I would look around where I live and check out who is covering the food scene. Check local magazines. Google local food bloggers. Check out TikTok and Instagram and see who is posting a lot in your area. And podcasting. Hell, even check out “elite Yelpers” and find out what they’re talking about.
Like any worthwhile endeavor, you have to start small. The greatest chef began making bread at his grandmother’s knee. The Hall of Fame ballplayer was once in Little League. Search for a niche in an area you love and see what unique voice you could bring to the subject.
Define what is special about your love of food and approach it from that angle. Use others for inspiration but try to find what makes your love of food unique to you and then figure out the best way to share it with others.
As for social media, I’m all for it, even if, for writers like me, its explosion has been more akin to what that asteroid did to the dinosaurs. TikTok is for youngsters (sort of) and those with the time (and skill) to produce short videos. Nothing against gloppy cheese pulls and humongous tacos, but there’s a gazillion TikTokkers and YouTubers out with whom you will be competing. Distinguishing yourself is going to be mighty hard. But if videos are your thing (and for those under 40, they seem to be), have at it. The learning curve isn’t that steep, but you have to do whatever you do consistently. The food landscape is littered with people who wanted to blog, or podcast, or post about food on some site, and then flamed out after a few months. The only way to build a following is to be a constant presence on whatever venue you choose, and hope that word of mouth increases your visibility.
Instagram is simpler, and becoming easier (either for still photos or videos), with the added bonus of now being more realistic and less concerned with professionally-polished content. As a recent article in Eater put it:
“The things that I see in photos now are really more of that photo dump style,” says Maggie. “It’s less of the perfectly curated marble studio and more interest in my actual kitchen that I actually cooked in.”
All of which bodes well for klutzy amateur food photogs like us, who simply want to get people excited about the foods we love.
To summarize: Find a shtick you love and shtick with it. Pick your platform and go nuts. But always be yourself.
If you truly want to write about food, the climb is much steeper and the audience much smaller, as you can read below…
Answer #2:
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(Let’s discuss our days as a galloping gourmet)
Before I begin doling out the infallible, inspiring, and unerringly erudite advice for which I am known, let me begin by noting that the landscape has changed dramatically since I began my career in food, no more so than in the past decade. The following is a much longer overview of my food writing trajectory (over ground which has been plowed before), to give you a little history on the subject of food writing, and perhaps some guidance.
I do not know how well you write or how much you intend to do it. I used to say that to be a good food writer you had to cook a lot, eat a lot, travel a lot and read a lot. The past ten years have relentlessly, systematically dismantled each of those (supposed) pillars of knowledge. Now, all you have to do now is know how to manage a social media account, none of which have anything to do with the written word. Cooking knowledge, eating adventures, and traveling experiences have also taken a hit, since with the swipe of a finger, a person can sound like they know all about Hong Kong dim sum parlors, or the best pastrami in New York.
Back in the Late Cretaceous period, you had to put in the work. Now, all you have to do is…
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(No passport? No problem.)
….which seems to be the motto of your generation (sorry).
Writing is rapidly becoming a lost art, right down there with toad doctors and drysalters, Though it may be an endangered species, for forty years of my life, the written word was the only way to communicate about food. In cooking, home cooks used to have to decipher impenetrable prose to learn a recipe from a printed page. This was how people were taught for over a century. Now, you can learn everything from mille feuille (puff pastry) to how to butcher a whole pig from a YouTube video.
Writing is hard. A real pain in the ass. (The classic saying is: writers hate writing but love having written.) Writing is its own reward, but you have to be driven to do it, and do it all the time. You can no more be an occasional writer (about food or anything else) anymore than you can be a good part-time violinist.
If you want to write about food, it helps immensely to be a good writer first. One can learn to write well, but as with music and sports, it helps to have a facility for it, and to start young. I knew I could write about food before I ever started doing it. I knew it in the way a good athlete knows from the beginning that they can play their sport. But as with golf (my favorite sport), even if you’re good, you have to keep at it, and even with constant practice, it can be frustrating.
Reading and writing are exponentially harder than talking and listening, which is why there are 2.4 million podcasts out there, and also why so much food media has taken to visual and spoken word platforms. Posting videos beats the pants off of slaving away for hours at a keyboard trying to think of entertaining ways to describe a dish or a meal. This is not to say producing YouTube content or podcasting is easy, but it ain’t as hard as churning out a thousand entertaining words about a restaurant.
Precious few people now want to read about food anymore than people want to write about it. The internet has created a race to the bottom, with both media and customers feeding off each other (PUN. INTENDED!) by demanding less and less in the form of thoughtful content — the triumph of unbridled narcissism over gastronomic rumination.

Well That Didnt Go Well Julia Child GIF - Well That Didnt Go Well Julia Child Julia GIFs(Mr. Curtas’s less-than egg-cellent TV career hit a snag when they discovered he had a face made for radio)

In the beginning, there was nothing insidious about social media platforms. They were convenient and free and immediately brought millions into the world of good food, nutrition, and better eating. In the space of this century they made more knowledgeable consumers out of an entire generation. I called this the Age of the Blogs (2002-2012) and what others have called the “good internet” or the Golden Age of the Internet — when people sought out websites and in-depth information about everything from pizza to politics.

Once Facebook took off though (around 2010), followed in short order by Instagram (in 2014 ) most blogs got plowed under by the sheer mass of two sites where everyone could get their news, info, pictures, and friends without ever having to leave a web page (cf. search engine optimization).

The rise of social media further combined to (almost) obliterate the mainstream food media where I made my reputation. Ten years ago, you could find me all over old school venues and some social media. Now it is just the opposite. I made my name by writing — first with radio commentaries (about food and restaurants), and later in print periodicals, which led to this website, TV appearances and eventually to my book (shameless plug alert!): EATING LAS VEGASThe 52 Essential Restaurants…
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The big national food magazines now exist only as a memory. Most local periodicals have either thrown in the towel, or gone completely to the free internet (with content that appeals to those with the attention span of a housefly). Food TV (what is left of it) has been reduced to ridiculous competition cooking shows. What has been buried under this avalanche of information are pearls of  wisdom. (MIX! THAT! METAPHOR!) Expertise is no longer valued. Now people want short, sweet and sexy — easy-to-digest info better at grabbing attention than making you think.
It is into this world you will step, Jessica:.
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Thus is the food media world now paradoxically saturated with content and starving for substance. Most media is either pay-to-play (advertorials disguised as journalism), or the kind of “influencer” nonsense (pretty pictures and gooey videos) designed to advertise to Yelpers.  Getting paid to write anymore is a pipe dream. The few of us who still get freelance gigs are doing it for peanuts. The number of food writers in America who actually draw a salary they can live on would probably fit around my dining room table. The days of Anton Ego are long gone.
So, whatever you do, dear Jessica, do it for yourself and no one else. The best a young person can hope to do in this climate is to develop an audience through social media, and then cultivate some kind of content-creating gig that will pay enough to subsidize your culinary appetites. But keep in mind, you will never be good at what you do, if you are only doing it for the clicks, or the $$$, or  the free food.
Final Thoughts:
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In his excellent essay on the essence of criticism, H. D. Miller writes:
Anton Ego has a pure soul. He is someone who cares only and exclusively about art (in this case cookery). He knows what is good and suffers enormously from what is bad. This is close to what I mean by “critical sense”, that the critic knows, deeply knows, the difference between what is good and what is not and is emotionally affected by it.
The job of a good critic is to educate, not simply appeal to the lowest common denominator. You must be in love with what you are writing about, and you should want to relentlessly share you passion with others. Without that level of emotional commitment, you will most certainly fail. With it, you will always find the devotion to keep going, no matter how large or small your audience.
I have always written for me, or someone like me. Every word — going back to my first radio scripts of 1994 — has been aimed at an avid home cook with an insatiable love of restaurants, travel, food and drink. I write for someone who gets as excited by a good cheeseburger as they do about a life-changing gourmet meal. Most of all, I have written for that person who wants to eat the best food, in the most authentic places, wherever they find themselves. Who wants to know why this taco is better than that taco, or why some famous chef isn’t worth your time or money, while some unknown cook, slaving to make the rent, is worth a trip — sometimes across town, sometimes across an ocean.
This is the best advice I can give you: think about who you are and what you love. Write, blog, podcast or produce something in whatever format for the person you are, and for an imaginary person just like you, who gets as excited as you do about whatever it is you are talking about. Do that and you will find an audience who appreciates you for all the right reasons, no matter what its size.
Best and bon appétit,
John Curtas
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