An interview with Amy Scattergood, food writer

The most recent round of cuts at the Los Angeles Times included my favorite food writer, Amy Scattergood. The still stellar Food Section just isn't the same without her contributions. Her work was well-written, deeply researched and often included original recipes like the one for a North African hot sauce called harissa, a fan favorite. It turns out that she's a triple-threat; she's a published poet with an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop who went on to train at the California School of Culinary Arts. She also has a masters in religion from the Yale Divinity School. No wonder her recipes taste divine.

Lucky for us, she has a blog, called "1000 Bread, 1000 Cattle". She's also writing cookbooks. She's co-authored a whole grain baking book, Good to the Grain, with pastry chef, Kim Boyce, arriving early next year from Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

What do you miss about Iowa?

What do I miss about Iowa? Snow. Tornados. Empty roads.

How did you end up in Southern California? Why stay here?

Foodwise, you can get everything here that you can get in Iowa, much more in fact. The corn and apples are better there, in my opinion, simply because you can walk outside and pick them yourself, and the Amish and Mennonites make amazing butter.

I ended up in LA because I used to be married to a screenwriter; I stay here because we have kids and this is where his work and family are. Also because I really like proximity to the Pacific and taco trucks.

How did you get the LA Times writing gig?

I started at the LAT as an unpaid culinary school intern. I was supposed to work in the [test] kitchen, but started writing stories as soon as I got there, as I had a writing degree and my editor didn't have to pay me for cover stories, which she very much appreciated.

What was the most difficult food writing assignment you had?

The most difficult writing assignment ever? It was about married chefs, and I hated writing it because I had to ask chefs about their personal relationships. Some of the chefs in question were divorced (from each other) and I had to ask them about that, which was absolutely none of my business. Everyone was very polite, but it was perfectly awful.

You are writing a cookbook, can you divulge any details?

I just finished working on a cookbook with Kim Boyce. It's a whole grain baking book, due out early next year from Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Kim used to be pastry chef at Campanile and Spago; she's an awesome baker and her book is going to be fantastic.

What are your LA favorites? Favorite farmer's market, grocery store, place for a well-cooked meal, place to get wine?

My favorite farmers market in LA is the Wednesday Santa Monica market; favorite grocery store is Trader Joe's (there you go--no Trader Joe's in Iowa, at least 5 years ago; I'd go to Chicago just to load up). My favorite restaurants in LA are Mozza and the Hungry Cat, although I miss L B Steak House, which was my favorite place to eat in Iowa. I don't know if it's still there, but it was in West Branch, Iowa, the little town where I grew up outside of Iowa City; John Madden used to detour his bus off of I-80 just for the massive grill-your-own steaks.

What's the most expensive thing you've burned?

The most expensive thing I've ever burned? I don't tend to burn things, but I did overcook a whole sturgeon once, which was tragic.

How would you create an edible cookbook?

An edible cookbook? I'd pipe out a recipe in chocolate on top of a gateau of some sort. Too high concept for my tastes, personally.

Did you go to culinary school intent on becoming a food writer?

I went to culinary school as the occupational therapy part of a mid-life crisis; I had no idea what I was going to do.

How well does a culinary education prepare you for food writing--do they offer classes in recipe writing now or food journalism?

Does cooking school prepare you for food writing? I don't know that cooking school prepares you for much these days--most of them are 21st century debtors prisons. When I was there, it was full of kids who wanted to be Bobby Flay and have their own Food Network show; they had no idea they'd be working for minimum wage with massive student loans instead. People should go apprentice in restaurants if they want to learn how to cook. And they're sure not going to learn how to write at a culinary school.

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