It's no easy thing, hiring a food critic.
There's the slogging through countless resumes and writing samples, the wining and dining of potential candidates, the follow-up phone calls and e-mails to find that one voice among the many whose writing pops off the page and knows what in the wide world of culinary sports they're talking about.
It's not a very self-selecting process: Many people think they can write about food simply because they eat it so frequently. And then there are the chefs who want to write and the writers who want to cook; and the necessary narrowing of the field to those whose work strikes the right balance between food and scene, the kind of driven, self-effacing writers who can make deadline as well as coffee. Well, it's enough to drive an editor to drink.
Nevertheless, after an extensive, intoxicating, three-month search, we are proud to make the following announcement:
Our new food critic is Hanna Raskin of Asheville, North Carolina. The mountain biking, yoga posturing Raskin has been the food critic for Asheville's award winning alt-weekly, the Mountain Xpress. She also blogs thrice-weekly for AOL's Slashfood, as its Southern food correspondent. To acquaint our readers with Raskin, City of Ate prepared the following Q& A for her (after the jump). Nothing too revealing, like her grandmother's recipe for gefilte fish. Raskin begins her tenure with the Observer on June 1.
City of Ate: Why the hell are you waiting until June 1?
Hanna Raskin: The only thing I love as much as food is multimodal transportation (Is it bad to start my tenure with a cliché?). I'm in charge of a week's worth of festivities celebrating buses, bikes and sidewalks in Asheville next month. Once we roll up the catwalk from the multimodal fashion show, I'm Dallas-bound.
COA: You are currently the Southern food correspondent for a popular national food blog. Are you suggesting by taking this job that Dallas is culturally and culinar-ily-- a southern city?
HR: By taking this job, I intend to find out. But my exposure to Dallas thus far suggests it probably doesn't belong on a list of Southern food cities, if only because restaurants here seem to expect customers to sweeten their own tea.
COA: Then what do you think of the Dallas restaurant scene?
HR: I'm tremendously impressed with its diversity, and thrilled to have the opportunity to cakewalk among cuisines. What I've found most surprising is that the local farm-to-table scene here still has that new car smell: The locavore movement is so firmly entrenched in the Southeast that Asheville's minor league ballpark sells hot dogs from a nearby farm.
COA: So what drew you to food writing in the first place?
HR After a few years working as a reporter for various morning dailies, I signed up for a graduate program in American history and museum studies. I wrote my thesis on the relationship between Jews and Chinese food, which vaulted me into the fields of culinary history and food writing.
COA: If you were a food group, which one would you be?
HR: As a print journalist, I should probably pick one of those food groups that the USDA deemed non-essential, like eggs. But I'll go with meat, since I tend to raise blood pressures.
COA: If you could have a fantasy dinner with any fast-food mascot, other than Jared from Subway -- who would place too many calorie restrictions on the meal -- who would you invite?
HR: I wrote a story last year about Corbin, Kentucky, where Colonel Sanders opened his first Kentucky Fried Chicken. Folks there are resisting the Chamber of Commerce's plan to erect a statue of Sanders, since he's still remembered as a thieving, two-timing, fast-talking scoundrel. He sounds like a fun date.
COA: Ketchup, Mustard or Mayonnaise?
HR: Mayonnaise. The real question is Duke's, Miracle Whip or Hellman's?
COA: Have you ever engaged in a competition eating and would you encourage others to do so?
HR: I entered a hot dog eating contest in southern Illinois a few summers ago, and probably would have won had the organizers not recruited a 320-pound contestant from the Sherriff's office when they realized an outsider was angling to steal the crown. I'd encourage everyone to eat competitively, although I'd strongly advise against eating a few buns at once and then trying to wash them down with water. I'm breathing much better now, thanks.
COA: Name one food trend you'd like to see make a comeback.
HR: Community taffy pulls.
COA: What is the most exotic animal you have ever eaten?
HR: I always eat the mystery casseroles at game dinners, where I assume the meat's granted anonymity in deference to social mores or endangered species laws.
COA: Kale: Love it or leave it?
HR: Love it.
COA: What is the most exotic animal body part you have ever eaten?
HR: I think I've eaten most every part of every common barnyard animal, from brain to testicles.
COA: If you went out for brunch with Christopher Walken, and he asked you to
order for him, what would you order and why?
HR: I'd rather listen to him order for me.
COA: Same question for Sandra Bullock.
HR: Two eggs, two strips of bacon and two slices of toast: I imagine she appreciates property that's easily divisible.
COA: What's in your fridge right now?
HR: Being a food writer means never having to say paper or plastic: I eat almost every meal out, and have a refrigerator so astoundingly empty that my father uses a picture of it as his screensaver. Right now, I have two bottles of Molson--holdovers from Olympics season--, locally-made porter mustard, half a carton of reduced-sodium chicken broth, wasabi green beans, lemon juice and a parmesan cheese rind.
COA: Chicken Fried Steak--Spawn of heaven, spawn of hell?
HR: When done correctly, heaven.
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COA: Is there any descriptive adjective we will never see in one of your reviews?
COA: And one final question that we, at City of Ate, consider the bright line test for all sophisticated palates: Chili--Beans or no Beans?
HR: Beans are incredibly important in southern Appalachia, where some families have been growing the same greasies for generations. There are a number of successful politicians in the region who've built their careers on pinto bean and cornbread suppers. I like beans. But I also like anchovies, and I wouldn't put those in chili either.