Charlotte Druckman is my new food friend. I’ve admired her writing for years and am so in love with her column for The New York Times Style Magazine called “We Made It Ourselves” where she profiles handmade food.
While Charlotte has worked at many big-time publications like DailyCandy, Town & Country, and Food & Wine, you’ll probably recognize her name from her freelance writing. Her byline has popped up everywhere, including Gastronomica, Gourmet, Departures, Domino, Eater.com, In Style, New York Magazine, Real Simple, and Travel & Leisure. Phew, can you say all that 5 times fast?! I love Charlotte, and not just because she helped to dream up The Piglet for Food52.com. Below, she shares more about food and her column.
How did you come to food writing?
You know how sometimes the most obvious things are the ones you ignore because you think anything worth doing well is meant to be difficult? Well, that’s maybe why it took me so LONG to come to food writing. I was born to two food-fixated parents in New York City. My mother’s a brilliant cook and my dad’s an even more brilliant eater. They both love to travel and are happiest to travel for food. This might mean going to India (and leaving me and my brother–ages 9 and 5 respectively, at the time–at home with the chicken pox) or going downtown to The Odeon for Sunday night dinner in the early ’80s (and bringing us with them, thankfully).
I first knew I wanted to write long before I knew I wanted to write about food, but, I was certainly curious about food before I’d learned to write anything, even my name. I realized I wanted to cover food when I worked at Food & Wine. There, I covered everything-but-the-food, or, literally, the kitchen sink, as I love to say–I did Home & Entertaining, which ran the gamut (appliances to flower arrangements). I loved it, and because I had a background in art history and design, it seemed normal. But, greedily, I found myself wishing I could write about the food too. Everyone at the magazine was already so good at that, no one needed an extra palate. So, ironically, it wasn’t until I’d left, and after I began freelancing that I was able to shift slowly from writing about design and entertaining (which I’m still happy to do from time to time when the subject is truly inspiring) to writing about FOOD (hooray!).
Why create/write a column titled ‘We Made It Ourselves’ right now, in 2010?
You know, that was a really organic, and almost off-the-cuff idea. My editor over there at the NYT is Christine Muhlke, who’s, in a word, excellent (as in, consistently A+). We were discussing story ideas, or just things that I’d found inspiring or cool. She said if I had a column idea, I should suggest it. This was over lunch. I went to the loo, and, bam. While peeing, an epiphany. I realized that so many of the things I wanted to write about all happened to be these small, off-the-beaten-track artisanal products, many of which were coming out of unexpected places–they were side gig projects, or byproducts of other food-related operations. Mostly, though, the accessibility afforded by the internet combined with our cultural embracing of all things artisanal, or SLOW, has encouraged all sorts of entrepreneurial acts of bravery–people are daring to try to make and sell stuff. In the same way everyone’s a potential celebrity; everyone’s a potential chef. When this works–when it’s done with integrity, mindfulness, creativity and talent, it’s pretty amazing. I especially like the notion of using an online platform to get at things that are homespun–it’s a nice juxtaposition of technology and handicraft.
What’s the most important issue in food today?
That’s tricky. Food, in general? HUNGER. The fact that in this day and age, around the world there are millions of people who are starving, and, even worse, that it’s happening here, on our own soil, in our own backyards.
In terms of food culture? For me, it’s figuring out how to bridge the gap between the choir to which people like Alice Waters is preaching (those who are tapped into culture and can afford buying organic/local, can support sustainable entities, or can entertain planting a rooftop garden), and the rest of our country, who can’t afford that luxury, and, also, who aren’t aware of the difference in the first place. They’re the ones that need to hear that gospel. And we, collectively, need to find an economically feasible (and collectively profitable) way to make sustainability the norm, not a “lifestyle” option.
Charlotte is currently co-writing Anita Lo‘s first cookbook with her, and just wrote the article she’s been waiting to write for years on female chefs for the 10th anniversary issue of Gastronomica. This is the first in a series of upcoming interviews with Charlotte.