An editor and writer for one of the nation’s largest food-and-drink magazines share some perspective on restaurants, coffee, and much more.
BY ANGIE THOMPSON
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Elyse Inamine
We are coffee people. We drink, sleep, and breathe the production, preparation, and service of our beloved brew. We gain confidence and inspiration from hearing the stories of others who touch coffee, whether they improve farming practices or organize brewing competitions. Coffee’s place in the wide community of food and drink is growing and gaining momentum year after year as we source, purchase, roast, prepare, write, and, of course, drink. Today we introduce to you an individual with stronger ties to that broader world of food and drink—a writer who covers restaurants and the humans who run them. Elyse Inamine works for Bon Appetit, and I recently talked to her about becoming a food writer, her favorite stories, and the coffee ritual that fuels her work.
Angie Thompson: Hi Elyse! You’re the digital restaurant editor for Bon Appetit. Can you tell us what that entails?
Elyse Inamine: So, I research new restaurants (aka stalk openings on blogs, pore over Instagram, and occasionally eat at these places); talk to chefs about what they’re working on and what they’re excited about; and write and edit restaurant and travel stories for both our website and magazine. It’s a dream. And I get to do it all with a really creative and talented team at BA. (However, I did have to get a gym membership for the first time ever, so maybe I’m doing too much “research.”)
What brought you to the position you’re in now? Have food and the stories that surround it always been a driving force for you?
I actually thought I would be working in museums—I studied journalism and art history in college and spent most of my time interning at museums and galleries. But as I got more into journalism during my last few years in school, I ended up interning at general-interest publications, like Time Out New York, which gave me opportunities to cover food. That’s when I fell in love with it. Food seemed like a more approachable way to tell a story—“Everyone has to eat!” I told myself—than trying to convey the artist’s intent or method through tiny wall plaques in a museum or gallery. Not that I have anything against that! I was just drawn to a different kind of storytelling. So, food wasn’t always a thing for me, but after I graduated from school, it became my thing. I ended up working in restaurants and interning at publications I adored, like Saveur and Food & Wine, while writing a wedding column on the side to get my foot in the door.
You must talk to a lot of humans about food—people who cook, who eat, who shape the food culture by living it and doing it and consuming it. What’s one story that’s stuck with you—whether from your personal or professional life—and shaped your food philosophy?
Probably “Mama,” aka Carolyn Wandell-Widdoes, the career server at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. She was such a delight to talk to—she’s been a server for 30 years and approaches her work here in the restaurant as she did when she was a social worker. It was so inspiring to hear her story and how she takes her job seriously of embodying hospitality both for her coworkers and customers.
You’ve covered a lot recently, from your interview spotlighting a cookbook shop in L.A. to your piece on the the LEE initiative, a chef mentor program created in response to the #MeToo movement. What are the types of pieces you love to write?
Francis Lam, who worked at Gourmet and now hosts the “The Splendid Table” and edits cookbooks at Clarkson Potter, has always been a hero of mine, and I remember him explaining in an interview that the reason why he writes about food is because he loves people. That’s what motivates me too. I love finding people who are doing interesting things, whether it’s a former chef who opened a cookbook shop because he wanted to spend more time with his family or an all-female mentoring program that seeks to build up young rising chefs in Kentucky. I love the process of figuring that out by doing tons of interviews, running around reporting, and figuring out out the best way to tell someone’s story that they’ve entrusted me with. That’s such a great honor.
I gotta ask: Do you drink coffee? What’s your relationship with the drink?
Yes! I drink coffee every morning. It’s a ritual. I always make coffee (team AeroPress!), drink it from the same white ceramic mug, sit in the same chair in my living room, and just meditate for a little bit. I love carving out time for me to make something for myself that I can enjoy and unplug for a bit. So much of what I consume tends to turn into work, like I’ll be at a restaurant taking notes on my phone about dishes I’m eating or how the space is designed. Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do and know it’s a huge privilege—but it’s nice to just relax and not overanalyze, which is what coffee is for me.
As a food writer, what is your view of the coffee industry? How do the edges overlap into food and wine, in your opinion?
Well, I’ve gotten sort of geeky about this, in terms of how terroir and varietals in wine are so similar to coffee—more on that in a future print issue of Bon Appetit! One thing I do notice is how people aren’t just interested in the dishes and drinks at restaurants and bars, but the people and the stories. People want to know who is making it and that creates more of a community, rather than just a transactional kind of relationship. And I definitely see this a lot in coffee because of my dad. So, he is really into coffee. He buys up new beans from different roasters all the time and loves sampling them with the family. He knows all the cool baristas in L.A. and keeps me updated on the new shops that are popping up. But coffee isn’t just an obsession but a community for him. He goes out to the new restaurants with his barista friends or invites them over to dinner. And I feel like that’s what we’re starting to get at with the overall food and beverage industry, where it’s less about trends and hype but the people behind it all.
You live in New York, right? Where is your NYC home base (or bases!) for coffee, and what’s your order?
Yup, I live in Financial District, which is at the southern tip of Manhattan. I love Black Fox Coffee, which is just a five-minute walk from apartment. They make solid lattes, and it’s such a beautiful, bright space that’s nice for catching up with friends (or trying to crank out writing a story I’ve been putting off!).