Hungry Onion Drooling Q&A with Jonathan Kauffman. Nov 17, 2016 2pm PT


Do food writers ever eat together? If so, are there additional challenges that some of you are ‘known’ and some of you maintain anonymity (e.g. Luke Tsai)?


The public sometimes put food writers, critics, and chefs on pedestals. What’s the biggest disconnect between the public’s view of food writers and food writers’ own view?


Years ago when you were a critic with SF Weekly you said that your work dictated your social schedule. How about now?


How to write a fair assessment on a restaurant, when the industry people might know who you are, and cook a better than normal meal to please?


Following up on @joet’s question about eating with food writers, in what ways do you experience a meal differently than journalists who don’t have restaurant experience? What kind of things do you pick up on that even seasoned food writers tend to miss?


In your opinion, how have sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon change the dining culture in the US? For better or worse?


Carolyn Said just wrote a piece on the Chronicle about Yelp and doctors’ problems with the site. Thoughts about covering Yelp and issues restaurants have with it?


Donald Trump said he wanted to deport undocumented immigrants. Anthony Bourdain said “every restaurant in America would shut down” if that plan came to fruition. Have you heard any concerns from restaurant owners and workers during and after the election? Has the ‘claim’ changed the way the industry hire? Will it? Thoughts?


I want to give a warm welcome to Jonathan Kauffman- thanks for taking the time to be with us today!

Remember- he said on Twitter to ask him all the tough questions!

(Jonathan will join us as soon as he’s ready)

(Jonathan Kauffman) #34

Yes, definitely! For those of you who don’t know, the Berkeley Food Conspiracy was a grassroots network of small food-buying clubs that formed in the early 1970s. I didn’t cover its existence specifically, but more its effects – the idea was copied all over the country, and many of those buying clubs turned into small storefront food co-ops.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #35

Thanks, and uh, I see you all have risen to the challenge! I’ll start at the top and work my way down. Thanks so much for having me. These are great questions. Please forgive weird sentence structure and random typos.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #36

I just make vinaigrettes in slender jars with lids on them so I can eyeball the right ratio of vinegar/mustard/shallots to oil. Then I shake it up. The NY Times has a good basic recipe: My only other recommendation is to add enough salt: you’re salting the oil and the vegetables you’re dressing.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #37

Well! That is one of the core questions that drove my research. Short answer: A lot of what drove the counterculture to embrace whole grains was a rejection of industrialization, mechanization, etc., as well as chemical agriculture. Much of that desire came out of a disgust with the received wisdom they had grown up with and the Vietnam War. They wanted to assert more control over what went into their bodies, and that meant stripping their diet back to whole foods – including whole grains. They also looked to alternative sources of information on nutrition and health, and that included consulting the health food movements that preceded them, as well as nutritionists like Adelle Davis who advocated whole grains. Man, this is a very short answer to a very long question.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #38

I think it has to do with the fact that almost all of us are immigrants, and our food traditions aren’t tied to thousands of years of living on the land we inhabit. Also, the industrialization of food that ramped up post World War 2 stripped away even more of our food and cooking traditions. With no traditions to rely on, we look to science and media for answers on how we should eat. (I’m certainly not the first person to argue this, by the way.)

(Jonathan Kauffman) #39

Did you read that New Yorker profile on NY Times critic Pete Wells? Man, did the writer capture how uncomfortable it can be to have a crew of servers and cooks wait on you when they know you are about to write about them. That can be true even when you’re not a critic. There’s a weird power thing about being in the food media, and some people enjoy being recognized and feted in person, but others of us (me) would rather just enjoy the food and the company. More often, though, I enjoy the fact that I get to get up at the end of the meal, walk back to the kitchen/kitchen window and say hello to the chef and tell him or her how much I enjoyed the meal.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #40

The book is being edited as we speak, so I hope (HOPE) that it is a year away. Roughly, I looked for stories – individuals or telling about what happened in particular cities – that would help me answer a few questions: Why did the counterculture embrace foods like whole-wheat bread, tofu, sprouts, and brown rice, and then how did those foods make their way into the mainstream in such a short time in the 1970s? I grew up in a small Mennonite community in Indiana, not San Francisco, and my family belonged to a food co-op and was eating all these foods that were supposedly so fringe. So I talk about macrobiotics, the organic movement and back-to-the-landers, the health-food scene in Los Angeles, food co-ops, and a few million other things.


I think they certainly won’t want to risk a bad review from elsewhere in the Chron even if you are not a critic.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #42

That is the question, isn’t it? I’m fascinated by that topic and all the ways these big changes are playing out in the Bay Area. I think that European-inspired bistros as we knew them in the 1990s and early 2000s are becoming financially impossible to run in their existing format. Younger diners with money are relying on delivery and meal kits and not patronizing mid-priced, full-service bistros the way previous generations did. A lot of people I’ve talked to in the industry are looking at innovative formats like State Bird Provisions, Lazy Bear, The Corridor, etc. because they might present some kind of business model that makes sense, financially.

(Jonathan Kauffman) #43

We haven’t named anyone yet but I know my editors are talking to people. That coverage will not go away. (Though we are still all collectively mourning Anna’s departure.)

(Jonathan Kauffman) #44

I don’t miss cooking – cooking on the line is great when you’re young and hard when you’re in your 40s, and I decided I didn’t have the drive and physical stamina to be a great chef. While I was trying to figure out what I would do next I stumbled into writing about food – a friend who worked at the East Bay Express basically pushed me in front of the editor when they were looking for new freelancers. It all spiraled downward from there.