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The Culture Diaries

A Week in Culture: Amanda Hesser, Food Writer

December 8, 2010 | by

Photograph by Sarah Shatz.


11:00 A.M. Paris Reviewers: You may want to sit down for this, or drink a few stockpiled Four Lokos. I am about to rock your world with a schizophrenic, middlebrow, totally aimless, and mostly pointless cultural hodgepodge. And the jittery attention span of youth is no excuse—I’m well over thirty.

An early morning of kitchen prep, latte guzzling, and e-mail scouring (Techcrunch is my daily must-read e-mail; I’m too busy for other newsletters, though I dearly miss VSL). Then six of us begin our weekly photo shoot for food52. A former food52 editor taught us oldsters the terms “douche-b” and “d-bag.” In her honor, I play for everyone Kanye West’s new song “Runaway,” whose chorus is “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags. Let’s have a toast for the assholes. Let’s have a toast for the scumbags. Everyone of them that I know.”

1:30 P.M. Eat the fruits of our morning labor: two kinds of latkes and a brief break to watch “Don Draper Says What?” He says “What?” and looks handsome in at least forty-three different ways. Back to work, girls!

8:30 P.M. My husband, Tad, and I heap some leftovers—roasted salmon, more latkes, and arugula salad from Fishkill Farms—onto our dinner plates, then sit on the bedroom floor (reminder: must get TV tables!) and veg in front of It’s Complicated. The Nancy Meyers movie is particularly enjoyable because we’re not in the aging-boomer demographic it aims for, and thus are freed up to appreciate the calculated shrewdness—and lifestyle porn (the spas and island kitchens!)—of the seventy-five-million-dollar mom-com.

1:00 A.M. Culture mulching in my new Internet-y lifestyle happens late at night. As I dig myself out of the daily e-mail blizzard, I flip back and forth between Twitter and NYTimes is like my wise parents; Twitter, my smartest pals. From Twitter, I link through to to read about extraterrestrial life. Guiltily, I creep on over to the Washington Post to catch up on Jane Black and Brent Cunningham’s op-ed on the food culture wars. This is the topic foodniks have long been avoiding; I love stories that call out the elephant in the room.

New Yorker writer Susan Orlean wrote a cookbook review for food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks. It ran today and was such a gem in structure and tone, I read it once more, just for fun.

Late, late: Realized that I fell so far behind on the Wikileaks hullabaloo that I have no idea where to begin: Analysis? Original breaking story? Instead, look at photos of Brad Pitt’s leather pants on HuffPo. He really should not wear leather pants.


10:00 A.M. Today we have our Piglet Party to celebrate and announce the winner of the Tournament of Cookbooks on food52. We are expecting two hundred and fifty people. On our way to drop off the trophy and supplies at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca, we listen to “Code Monkey,” by Jonathan Coulton.

Shop for pig-shaped stamp in honor of the Piglet. So glad I went to college to prepare for this kind of specialized work.

2:00 P.M. In meeting, check out Svpply, a social service that allows you to build a portfolio of any clothing, jewelry, furniture, or other stylish, material goods you like, and then to follow others whose style you like. I’m addicted. Look at Lot 18 for design inspiration.

8:00 P.M. Piglet Party at full tilt—even a few crashers! A slide show by New York Times editors Christine Muhlke and Luise Stauss showcase food porn from the fifties to the present day—everyone from Cindy Sherman to Irving Penn. Drink one too many vodka cocktails and eat one too few meals. Photos!

12:30 A.M. On Twitter, @cpaik directs me to Epic Meal Time’s “Breakfast of Booze.” Epic Meal Time is a food channel on YouTube created by a bunch of twenty-something guys. Have you ever seen the Bacon Explosion? Their videos are Bacon Explosion–meets–Iron Chef–meets–bored suburban youth. I watch their entire oeuvre, and so should you. Want to meet the lead “chef.”


8:30 A.M. Read Bob Lefsetz’s e-mail newsletter defending Kanye West’s new album. Friend who knows West recently convinced me he’s the real deal. Was captivated by his Twitter rant some weeks ago. Spent much of past week downloading his music, and my husband often finds me singing along to “Dark Fantasy” on my earbuds. I am a very bad singer, and even worse when I can’t really hear myself.

10:00 A.M. Read GothamGal. True culture vulture. A New York woman with a busy career and three mostly grown children. She goes to seemingly every art opening, restaurant opening, movie, and new band, and blogs about it all before you’ve had breakfast.

2:00 P.M. At Dogpatch Labs, the Internet incubator where I work, @MerrillStubbs, @SarahRich and I page through vintage Good Housekeeping pamphlets, Gastronomica, the 11 Madison Park food magazine, and Long Shot magazine. Look for inspiration, study trim sizes for food52 magazine.

7:00 P.M. A few months ago, a dinner with Merrill and me was auctioned at a Greenmarket fundraiser. (Was too afraid to ask how little it went for.) Today is the cash-in day, so we meet our patrons for dinner at Hearth. Twelve courses later, we are whooping it up with our newfound pals. Discussion of whether “kids today” read—a favorite oldster topic (kids today, with their rap and sexting!). Also cover about eight plays and movies I’ve never seen, including 1000 Clowns.

Amanda Hesser is a columnist for The New York Times, a cofounder of food52, and the author, most recently, of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Check back tomorrow for the second installment of her culture diary.



  1. Susan | December 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Please, I beg everyone, stop using the word “schizophrenic” when describing something other than the illness. It’s cringe inducing.

  2. Jemme | December 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I quite enjoyed the links provided throughout this post. thank you for sharing.

  3. Jennifer | December 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Agreed with Susan – v. offensive, especially for those whose families have been touched by the disease.

    Also, not sure what the trend is with the self-obsorbed blogging about their lives and reading habits. has the internet really come to this? please people, start posting something more interesting. more substantive!

  4. Gabriela | December 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Was in doubt about buying The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Didn’t know that ms. Hesser was responsible for the book. After reading her article, I’m totally buying the book. And, yes, the links are super.

  5. NWB | December 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    I love reading the culture diaries. It’s interesting to see how successful writers go about their days. is a great website and I love that Ms. Hesser’s day consists of so much food!

  6. Thessaly La Force | December 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Gabriela, I’m so glad you decided to buy the book! It is, in my modest opinion, amazing!

    And Jennifer, I point you to NWB’s comment about the culture diaries. Sometimes it can just be good fun to take a peak into another person’s life.

  7. Lynne | December 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    I LOVED this blog and agree with NWB, I love reading cultural diaries…. Awesome “Don Draper says What” and “Breakfast of Booze” – hilarious!! I am now a fan of food52!!

    Susan and Jennifer – get over yourselves…don’t read any further if you are offended, this blog is obviously not for you.

  8. pd mallamo | December 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

    A message from Kansas: more recipes/less BS. What the HELL you people do all day is very mysterious, even when you attempt to tell us (“Was captivated by his Twitter rant some weeks ago.”) “Captivated”? Really? Does he cook? Who cares?!

  9. cayetana giorgio | December 17, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    you should do a profile of commenter PD Mallamo. A message from kansas, indeed.

    I get so sick of the self indulgent, painfully self conscious panmediasavvyness of the Amanda Hessers of our overcrowded, loud, little world.

    The most interesting thing I read on this page was that commenter and his quick, dry comment, not a three day investigation into every thought in amanda hesser’s head and how she wastes time over the course of her day.

  10. Trixxs | January 6, 2011 at 12:38 am

    I appreciate this word: “panmediasavvyness”. What strikes me though, is how voluntary this all is, so voluntary that you can hardly criticize any of it. What is worse than reading about how someone fritters away their precious time? What is worse is that you chose to fritter away your time reading it.

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3 Pingbacks

  1. […] (books, mags, web, etc.) or listen to (music, radio) in that time. See diaries by the food writer Amanda Hesser and the composer Nico Muhly, whose diary is in two parts, for […]

  2. […] fell in love poring over her culture diary at Paris Review Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  3. […] reading it, I understood Hesser’s about food writing was coming from a culture adventurer who delighted […]

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