My memory of the caricature of a food critic is someone who is an elitist and only recommends the poshest of places that few can afford. They may disguise themselves so chefs and customers don’t recognize them when they are out “critic’ing”. Restaurants bend over backwards to make sure the critic has an excellent experience, only to be disheartened to read a scathing review in the next publication. We’ve all seen this movie.
The foodie experience has changed over the last 10+ years and I’d go so far as to say that it has been democratized much like my industry of design.
One of the main disruptors, locally, to that old fashioned idea of the food critic is Stephanie March. She’s currently the Senior Editor of Food and Dining at Mpls.St. Paul Magazine and co-hosts the radio show, “Weekly Dish”.
Even though she used to pretend to be a writer as a kid, won a writing contest in high school and majored in English, she didn’t realize she wanted to be a writer until much later in life.
Her food hospitality experience started in college when she worked as the bar manager at the campus pub. When she graduated, she spent a short time in advertising, and then went on to bartend at Buca in Eden Prairie. She worked up the ranks at Buca, becoming the Director of Training where she would travel the country opening new restaurants and training the staff. One of the perks of this job was being able to eat and drink through all the cities she was traveling to.
She left that job for circumstances out of her control and launched her own freelance consulting business training restaurant staff, blogging and media buying. This was where she started to build her food network.
There was a new magazine launching in Minneapolis, called The Rake, where she pitched and landed a food writing gig. She spent 6 years at The Rake and when the magazine folded, she continued to blog. She was still figuring out that she was a writer.
She took one more restaurant consulting job at Oceanaire when the great recession of 2008 hit. Budgets and expense accounts dried up and nobody was hiring for that type of work anymore. It was also around this time that Andrew Zimmern was leaving Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, so she applied for his job. She was turned down, but took freelance assignments with the magazine, which ultimately led to an Assistant Editor job, which led to her current role as the Senior Editor of Food and Dining.
What I personally love about Stephanie’s work, is the attention she pays to what she’s defined as her two audiences: Readers to feed and the restaurant community as a whole. She’s earned the trust of chefs because she provides her honest feedback when they ask for it.
I also love how she believes that good food should be for everybody. She’s not judge and jury on what “should” be the right restaurant, chef or food experience. If you like it, that’s awesome. The way she describes food is her authentic experience of it, which may be critical because she has a duty to the reader to be honest about her thoughts.
She’s made the local eating out experience engaging, celebratory and fun. I’m a huge fan because her optimism is contagious.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
MFK Fisher. She’s a food writer who was born in Minnesota, but moved to California as a young girl. She was the first person I discovered who had a voice and creative writing around food. She took no pleasure in dissecting taste. Context was more important, as were trends and why we accept them.
What would you cook?
Speaking of trends, Cacio E Pepe. I would cook that.
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I used to think so. I’m locally known and enjoy interacting with people who respond well to my work, but fame is not a goal.
Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
No, I’m famously off-the-cuff.
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning. All the time. My kid and I listen to a lot of music and we sing in the car.
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
No, but I think about it. Like on a plane. My averages are up there because I used to fly so much. I’d think: “Is this it?”
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
3 beautiful and wonderful step children.
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
My mom is amazing and my best friend, but she raised us herself. It would have been nice to have had a male role model, but I don’t yearn for it.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Flight, so I don’t have to do so much driving. Ha! Seriously though, I have a pretty zen outlook, but I am at an age where I think about things differently. I need to trust myself more and let go of the BS that comes with doubt.
What is your most treasured memory?
Finding joy in the most difficult moments in life. To give you context, I’m a first generation American. My mom escaped the war in Germany and she worked so hard. She was an immigrant, divorcee, with 2 teenage daughters and in the process of getting her CPA. We didn’t have much. There were many nights when dinner consisted of Bisquick, tunafish and pasta. One night her and I were doing dishes and I played the “Rubber Band attached to the sprayer” trick on her. When she turned on the faucet, she got really wet! A laughing chase ensued, where she tackled me to the ground and stuffed a stinky, milky, trashy rag in my face to get back at me. We laughed ourselves silly. I still laugh really hard thinking about it today.