One Friday in August, I found myself in a froyo shop in ‘Aiea eating yogurt served in a watermelon.
That’s when I realized, “I really do eat for a living.”
I’m not going to lie: I had my reservations about being a full-time, full-on food writer. When I took the job as food editor at HONOLULU Magazine two years ago, I wondered if this was really the right fit for me. I don’t consider myself a foodie, I don’t cook Instagrammable meals, I have no professional kitchen experience. I don’t even care for truffles. (The fungus, not the chocolate.)
I get asked all the time: How did you become a food writer? And the answer always surprises people.
I actually started out as a sportswriter, working as a sports clerk for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, fully intending to be the third (at the time) female sportswriter in Hawai‘i.
After getting my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, I returned to the Islands with a job offer from the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser — as an entertainment reporter. That was not nearly as fun as that may sound.
After a couple of years writing features — which I grew to love — I, along with five other reporters, were tasked with the job of writing a blog. Everyone else had a topic — parenting, politics, college football — except for me. My only directive? Blog about something the others weren’t blogging about. Yeah, thanks, helpful.
The paper launched The Daily Dish, the original name of my blog, and I started writing about whatever — dating, reality TV, my dog. Then, one Friday, I posted some photos of what I ate for lunch. Nothing special. It wasn’t from a new restaurant. It wasn’t something I hadn’t eaten before. It was literally my lunch.
This was back before Yelp, Facebook, Instagram. There weren’t a lot of food bloggers and only a handful locally. And it was the first time a daily newspaper in Hawai‘i ran a blog about food.
It was a huge hit. Instantly.
I told one of my editors the food writer needed to launch a blog. People love the food blogs! They can’t get enough! And I have no idea what I was doing! I’m not a food writer! This isn’t my zone of genius!
But no one wanted to take on the task — and I was left to keep posting bad photos of my mediocre lunch every Friday.
That’s how it all started.
Now, here I am, more than a decade later, and I’m the food editor and blogger for a city magazine. It doesn’t even make sense to me!
I literally get paid to eat. It’s my actual JOB. I could think of worse things to do for a living.
But what I love about my job isn’t eating whatever I want. (Though, yes, it’s a perk.) It’s about writing the stories behind the food, it’s about discovering new things, it’s about meeting creative and passionate people in the community.
I’ve blogged about restaurants opening, restaurants closing, chefs taking risks, farmers following dreams. I’ve learned about finger limes, tried Safeway’s delivery service and figured out how to pronounce, “kouign amann.”
I got to find out what drives Christopher Sy to make labor-intensive artisanal breads at his shop, Breadshop, in Kaimukī. He read an essay back in college in Smithsonian Magazine by Rudolph Chelminski on the legendary Parisian baker Lionel Piolane, who crafted bread the old-fashioned way. Something about it stuck, he told me. And now he’s crafting some of the best bread in the country.
Christopher Sy, the bread master. Photo courtesy of Richard Walker.
I met Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn who asked the guests at their wedding at Kualoa Ranch to help them fund their restaurant dream. Seven years later, the couple opened Over Easy, now one of the most popular brunch spots on O‘ahu. I still think about the Potato N’ Eggs dish there.
Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn, owners of Over Easy in Kailua.
The Potato N’ Eggs dish has thick-cut French bread stuffed with a sweet tomato jam, then draped in a creamy potato purée and topped with bacon crumbles and a 7-minute local egg. It’s seriously addictive.
Then, there’s Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, a couple who moved to Kaimukī with plans to open a restaurant. They came with impressive experience and local ties — Mai‘i hails from O‘ahu — but not many people knew who they were. Until now. They’re the owners behind the award-winning Fête in Chinatown. I met with them at a small coffee shop in Downtown — thanks to chef Chris Kajioka — and found out I’m practically related to Mai‘i.
Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, owners of Fête. Photo courtesy of Robynne Mai‘i.
I got to tell the stories behind the fluffy, crispy malaasadas at Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kaimukī, the wildly popular poi mochi doughnuts at Liliha Bakery and the first locally grown acai bowl at Kahuku Farm.
Kahuku Farms figured out how to grow and process acai berries to make what’s likely the first locally grown acai bowls in Hawai‘i.
I may not be a foodie or a professional cook. But I’m a writer who loves to tell stories. And, at the end of the day, that’s what my job really is all about. I could be writing about doorknobs or dogs and it would still be the same: I’d write the stories behind the subject.
It’s just the food is way more interesting (and beneficial to me, personally) than doorknobs.
Read my food blogs at Biting Commentary at HONOLULU Magazine.