Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Friend's Friends are Cooler than Your Friends: Kirsten Henri

I'm definitely not as lucky as your typical toothless lottery winner, but I am rather fortunate when it comes to being in the right place at the right time.  In October of 2009, I shook hands with a dude named Jayson Tonkon, whom I would discover a few weeks later was in my fraternity after a string of "get outta' heres" and "no ways" led to the secret handshake (yes, I was in a fraternity; yes, I paid for my friends; and yes, there was a secret handshake. Commence judgment).  Since he lived a few doors down, we would start to bump into each other on the commuter rail, and as the "getting to know you" evolved, he mentioned casually that he was really good friends with Kirsten Henri, you know, the new food editor of Philly Mag?  I thoroughly enjoy being in the right place at the right time, and after a brief introduction, Kirsten agreed to meet for lunch to discuss roots, (w)riting, and rockstars. What follows is actually an email interview that was equal parts humbling and amusing.

FG: Firstly, congrats on your new gig at Philly Mag.  Great bunch of writers there.  How’s it going so far?

KH: It's going well. Print is so quaint and charming! We use paper and think about things for days at a time! It's fun.
FG: Now let’s ask some tough questions.  What’s the square root of 7?

KH: Please don't ask me math questions. It's painful for everyone involved.
FG: Speaking of roots, which one is your favorite? You can say ?uest Love if you want.  He’s everybody’s favorite root. 

KH: I do like ?uestlove. 

FG: And what of root vegetables? Which one’s your favorite and who does it best in Philly? 

KH: I don't pick favorites. But I am a fan of ginger root. The more the better (Chifa's chicken wings with spicy ginger sauce are pretty dang potent) and also in ginger beer, which is my one of my go-to carbonated beverages.
FG: Now let’s talk about getting back to your roots. You're from the area, right? Whereabouts, and what did you grow up eating? 

KH: I'm from the Northeast and I grew up eating Italian food that my grandmother cooked for me. It's the kind of "simple Italian food" that peasants in Puglia eat because they are poor, but restaurateurs in Philly charge exorbitantly high prices for...
FG: Whose menu does the best job of putting your childhood memories on a plate? 

KH: My grandmother is still alive, so I'm going with her menu.
FG: Was there a defining moment and/or dish that made you decide that food writing was what the cool kids do? Was it food first and then writing or the other way around? 

KH: Like most things in my life, it was by accident. I always wrote and I always ate a lot. Then I worked in restaurants. Then I started writing. There's no logic to it. If you want to be a successful food writer, you should go to law school.
FG: Who, in your opinion, are the cool kids (food writers, bloggers, etc)? I’ve got a personal vendetta against Sam Sifton, Frank Bruni’s replacement at the NY Times. 

KH: This job is not for cool kids. You have to be extremely dorky to get that obsessive about any subject and food nerds rival Trekkies for obsessive dorkiness. I always loved Jeffrey Steingarten's food writing in Vogue, though. And Bruni. And Regina Schrambling, who is contrarian and kind of amazing. Bourdain is great, too. I like good writing more than the subject matter and all of those people are excellent writers. And Philly's own Rick Nichols is the greatest man on Earth. If you ever meet him, you should buy him a drink. 
FG: Would you say that we are currently in a golden age or a gilded age of food?  Do you see any sort of market correction or food bubble happening? I think it was Chris Rock that said love isn’t the opposite of hate, rather, love leads to hate (see above personal vendetta).  Are we so stoked about food that it could blow up in our face one day?  People seem to really be grumpy about Food Network these days (I also have a personal vendetta against Guy Fieri), but I think it did a lot for where we are today. 

KH: Clearly, people are not grumpy about the Food Network - its ratings keep going up. The people that are grumpy about it are the teeny-tiny minority of hard-core food nerds. This is why Gourmet magazine no longer exists and the Food Network magazine's circulation has multiplied. The masses really like the FN.  But it is a bit of a gilded age, I think. 
FG: What’s your take on chefs as rock stars?  My spiky-haired nemesis recently went on tour with a show I’ve read was pretty piss poor. Should budding chefs add on-camera skills to their education?  Do you think they’re entitled to trash hotel rooms? 

KH: It's annoying, but cooking is a brutal profession that generally pays poorly and destroys your body.  You can't really fault anyone for trying to find a better way to make money. Don't knock the hustle. Having said that, you couldn't pay me to go to one of those shows.
FG: And speaking of stars, I have to ask: Steven or Jose [Garces], or is that apples and oranges?  Who would win in a street fight? 

KH: Can't we all just get along?
FG: Back to food, how about some predictions? What ingredients/cuisines/concepts will emerge in 2010, and who will make them happen? 

KH: In addition to not doing math, I also don't make predictions. Unless I'm getting paid for it, in which case, I will say whatever you want to hear.
FG: What’s the square root of 1,934 (another tough one)? 

KH: See above.

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