I like what I like, and while I’ll try almost anything, there are some foods — oh, like durian and canned peas — I’ll likely never eat again.
And I’m fully aware that we all have our own preferences, palettes and food experiences that influence the way we order at restaurants, swoon over smells, and inspire us in the kitchen.
So taking the job as the food and dining editor at HONOLULU Magazine — a role skillfully executed by both the legendary John Heckathorn and passionate Martha Cheng — wasn’t a decision I made very quickly.
In fact, it took weeks.
There’s a lot of fear surrounding a job like this. First off, it assumes you know everything about food, how dishes are prepared, what ingredients are in them, which restaurants are the best in town. And secondly, it’s a visible profession — unlike other writing jobs — where people know who you are — and have very strong opinions about what you say, do and write.
And finally, there’s that inevitable comparison to past food editors. Following the forks of Heckathorn (my longtime mentor) and Cheng (my dear friend) is incredibly daunting.
I thought about all of these factors a lot. Like, literally-drawing-a-pros-and-cons-chart-that-I-toiled-over a lot. I was worried I didn’t have enough food experience, I didn’t eat out that often — basically, that I wasn’t good enough to take on this role.
So I had to evaluate this.
I eat — and often. I spend an inordinate amount of time in my kitchen, experimenting with recipes or perfecting old ones. I talk to my mom — an incredible cook, baker and human — about food. My brother is constantly sending me links to food and wine events in town. I’m a longtime reader and subscriber of Food & Wine Magazine. I’m a self-professed fan of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the Great British Baking Show on PBS. And I’ve been writing about food — for magazines and newspapers and in my blog — for more than a decade.
What’s the problem? Why was I so afraid?
It’s never easy taking on a role that was so clearly associated with someone else. Like when I took over as the journalism instructor and student publications coordinator at Kapi‘olani Community College in 2008, a position that had been long held by the beloved Winnie Au for more than 20 years. I had massive amounts of respect for her and the way she had built the program there, and I was coming in and making huge changes, adding social media and video production, overhauling websites, and disrupting the comfortable existence of my student writers.
Let’s just say it wasn’t easy.
I was up against students who resisted change, who protested what I was hired to do. I had to convince an administration, already strapped and fielding requests from other faculty members, to fund improvements to this program. And I had to adjust from working as a full-time newspaper reporter who taught a couple of classes every semester to a full-time college instructor with a slew of different responsibilities like sitting on faculty committees, applying for contract renewals and filling out the seemingly endless forms and other tedious paperwork associated with any state job in Hawai‘i.
Man, it was rough.
But for four years, I stuck it out. A couple of students left, but most stayed — and many more joined the staff and enrolled in journalism classes. The program thrived.
Did I replace Au? No way. And I didn’t really want to. I just built on whatever she had already done for the program, and I knew I couldn’t have done what I did there without her commitment and contribution.
That’s how I feel about this job at HONOLULU.
I can never replace Heckathorn and Cheng. They each had their own approach to the role. And like the rest of us, they have their own preferences, interests, food memories, palettes, cultures, histories and skills. They saw food in sometimes very different and sometimes very similar ways. But they both had two things in common: a passion for food and telling stories. And I definitely share that with them.
I’m not one of those people who see food as fuel. (I’d be a lot skinnier and healthier if that were true!) Food, at least in my family and life, has always been that thing that brings people together. I still have family dinner on Sundays — now with my mother-in-law — and talk incessantly about recipes with my mom. One of my most favorite things to do is slowly browse the aisles of grocery stores — here, anywhere — and check out new ingredients and food products. And I have, even as a child, loved growing vegetables at home, something I still do, though now in hydroponic tables. (It’s what happens when you marry an aquaponics farmer.)
I’ve worked at a restaurant, at a commercial farm, done catering, even helped organize an international conference on food sustainability. And oh yeah, I have a degree in journalism and have been writing professionally for 15 years.
While I might not have the editing experience, mad cooking skills and command of the English language like Heck or the restaurant resume, globe-trotting experiences and poetic writing ability of Cheng, I need to feel confident that I can rely on whatever I bring to the job, and do the best that I possibly can.
Will I replace them? No way. I can’t. And why would I want to?
I’ll just be me. I’ll work hard, do my homework, eat a lot, learn everything I can, ask questions, be humble, and tell interesting stories that I hope inspire — or at least entertain — you all.
Did I mention I was going to eat…?