Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


June 16, 2010

Separating the Food from the Fuss

In print, online, or on TV, Time Out New York's Gabriella Gershenson tells New Yorkers where to eat.

Max Lakin

Since 2006, Gabriella Gershenson has helmed the dining section and likeminded food blog, The Feed, at Time Out New York, and helped relieve overstimulated New Yorkers of the crippling ennui brought on by the city's glorious acreage of dim sum options.

And unlike a vast swath of culinary arrivistes, Gershenson has plied her palate over years and across media: The former restaurant critic and food columnist for The New York Press, Gershenson is a fixture of WOR's Food Talk and NYCTV's Eat Out New York. She appears as a judge on one of the Food Network's inimitably-named programs, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, and has lent her Big Apple savvy as the New York consultant on the Jamie Oliver travelogue, Jamie's America.

Gabriella Gershenson
"Critics are often better at articulating what is happening in any given field than the creators within it."

Gabriella Gershenson

In the following interview, which was conducted over email and edited for clarity, Gelf chatted with Gershenson about the subtle differences between writing about restaurants and critiquing them, filtering out the gossip, and why our late interest in food is more than a little bit of revisionist history.

Gelf Magazine: Why food writing? What got you interested, and what keeps you there?

Gabriella Gershenson: I grew up with a self-taught cook (my mom) running a catering business out of our home. I was lucky—she developed my palate, and I came to associate food with home. She also gave me a great education just by allowing me to watch her work. How that translated into food writing? I have confidence and a natural affinity for food, and writing happens to be the way I best express myself. My commitment to food writing has only grown since I got my start—there's just so much enthusiasm for the subject, and the opportunities for exploration are endless.

Gelf Magazine: What outlets do you enjoy, or loathe but respect enough to keep tabs on?

Gabriella Gershenson: It's slightly embarrassing but since my subscription to The New Yorker lapsed, I have been living on a steady diet of food blogs (Eater, Grub Street, etc.) and celebrity gossip (what I call junk food for the brain). For substance, I turn to NPR and the Times online, and for true food journalism, I like Saveur and the Art of Eating.

Gelf Magazine: How do you explain our collective embrace of foodism, largely in New York, but to be sure in places like Los Angeles, Portland, and Yountville, Calif.? Are you content in calling it cyclical and riding the tidal fad until it breaks, or do you think, as Michael Pollan in the New York Review of Books does, there's a sustained element involved?

Gabriella Gershenson: The US is a young country, and we didn't have the benefit of generations of culinary tradition to sustain us through mass production and industrial farming. Even in countries like France and Italy, the old food traditions have been threatened by so-called modernity, and movements grew up to preserve them. So, to me, it only makes sense that the "foodists" would embark on a backward journey, learning how to can, pickle, butcher and the rest of it. In a way, we have to create our culinary history like revisionists in order to have one at all. I don't think it's merely a fad, but it certainly is fashionable.

Gelf Magazine: You've had your hand in newsprint, TV, radio— just about every conveyance of food commentary besides performance art. Do you draw a difference between food writing and food reviewing?

Gabriella Gershenson: There's a huge difference. Food reviewing is really a service to the consumer—when writing a restaurant review, the critic, in my opinion, should always come back to "If I were a regular customer, would I feel good about paying for this meal and experience?" In a way, it is a stealth mission and a piece of public service in one. Food writing is also, in many ways, a service to the public. But one key difference is that it allows for transparency with the subject of the story, while criticism does not.

Gelf Magazine: How do you decide what to cover on The Feed, and do you approach those pieces for the web with different standards than something you know is slated for the magazine?

Gabriella Gershenson: The Feed is for the most part reserved for actionable tips—where to eat for cheap, what's going on this week, and what new places should you be checking out. At certain points in our existence we did more commentary on what's happening in the food world, but in the interest of staying consistent with what Time Out is about (going out), we've shifted our focus. The magazine shares that mission with the blog, but the format gives us a chance to be more curatorial. As for standards, accuracy in the Feed is just as important as accuracy in print.

Gelf Magazine: Do you necessarily agree with Josh Ozersky, who insisted to the Observer last year that "there is no way that you can really know the current state of gastronomy just by going around and eating meals. You need to talk to chefs and find out what they're thinking about and what turns them on"?

Gabriella Gershenson: It's a loaded question. I do think that the more information one can acquire the better, and would definitely encourage reporters and consumers to have contact with primary sources. However, the quote suggests a certain degree of chef worship that I don't agree with. Plus, it implies an inability of the diner to form an opinion without the validation of a chef, which I also think is incorrect. Critics are often better at articulating what is happening in any given field—whether it's food, film or theater—than the creators within it.

Gelf Magazine: To that end, do you think we're more interested in the non-edible connotations of restaurant culture, things like affluence and the well-heeled and being savvy enough to know when David Chang is opening his next spot?

Gabriella Gershenson: I don't think that people as a whole are more interested in food as celebrity gossip than food for food's sake. I think the Page Six aspect of our food culture is very much a New York media phenomenon. It's a product of the incredible influence of blogs like Eater, which is primarily concerned with the actors in the food scene and not so much with the food itself (if I recall correctly, they even have an anti-food porn policy). Then we have enormously successful blogs like Serious Eats, which are all about the food and love of it. I believe those have more relevance and broader appeal—people like to eat, and have very personal feelings about food.

Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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Article by Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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