Special Sauce: Food Editor Joe Yonan on Finding the Color of His Parachute
It’s always fun to have a longtime friend on Special Sauce because I always learn so much about the person sitting across from me, no matter how long I’ve known them. And that’s just what happened when I sat down with Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan.
Yonan spent the first ten years of his career writing, reporting, and editing for suburban newspapers in the Boston area, during which time he learned a lot of valuable lessons about telling stories. “You know one of the things that reporting does,” Yonan notes, “especially if you start out in a small place, is that you have to learn how to make a water-and-sewer board meeting interesting and relevant to people who have no interest in it.”
Eventually, he got tired of hard news coverage, and so he did what many other people at the time did: He read What Color is Your Parachute?, the enormously popular self-help book. “You’re supposed to sit in a quiet place and have a pen and a pad down and you’re supposed to close your eyes and imagine yourself both working and happy, believe it or not,” Yonan says, recalling one of the exercises in the book designed to help you find your calling. “And I got all set up to do it, I had the pen and paper and I closed my eyes and in five seconds I was like, ‘Oh, it’s food.’ Food makes me happy, food has always made me happy.”
I met Yonan when I went to Boston to promote my pizza book in 2005, and I took him on a Boston tour de pizza for the Globe’s food section, and during our conversation he reminded me of a sage bit of wisdom I gave him way back then, which I’d completely forgotten. “I don’t know how many places we went to,” Yonan says, “I mean, it was ridiculous. I remember at one point we’re on place eight or nine or something, and I am suffering physically…Do you remember what you said to me? I’ve repeated it hundreds of times since then. You said to me, ‘Joe, the good ones learn to eat through the pain.'”
For anyone interested in writing about food, becoming any kind of journalist, or just coming to terms with who you really are, or even about learning how to eat twelve slices of pizza in a three-hour period, this episode of Special Sauce with Joe Yonan is required listening.
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Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce. A serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture. Food folks and non-food folks alike.
Joe Yonan: I don’t know how many places we went to, like a dozen places.
EL: Yeah we went to ten pizza places-
JY: I mean it was ridiculous. I remember at one point we’re on place eight or nine or something, and I am suffering physically. I’m physically suffering, do you remember what you said to me?
EL: No. I’m afraid to find out.
JY: Oh it’s so great, I’ve repeated it hundreds of times since then. You said to me; “Joe, the good ones learn to eat through the pain”.
EL: This week we are lucky enough to have Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan with us to talk about his journey through food media of many decades at this point, right? Oh I’m sorry Joe, but it’s been a long time. The role of food sections and newspapers in 2019, the books he’s written and what the future might look like for food media. Welcome to Special Sauce Joe Yonan, I think we first met when I took you pizza hunting in Boston in 2005?
JY: I believe that is correct.
EL: And I fished this story out of the way-back machine.
JY: I’m so glad that you did because I haven’t read it in a while, I should have read it to prepare.
EL: It’s good, you were an excellent features writer.
JY: Thank you very much.
EL: And probably still are.
JY: I don’t do it much anymore, but thank you.
EL: Exactly and a lot has happened since then right? Well that was 14 years ago.
JY: Yes, I cannot believe that was 14 years ago, that is crazy.
EL: It’s crazy. So first tell us about life at the Yonan family table growing up.
JY: Oh I love questions like this, okay so, I am the youngest of eight kids.
EL: What? I didn’t know that.
JY: Yeah, a couple of them aren’t with us anymore but yeah youngest of eight.
EL: You’re the youngest of eight? I’m the youngest of four as you read, you read Serious Eater?
EL: But wow, that’s crazy.
JY: Yeah there was a little bit of gap, you know my mother had five and then she had a gap of like nine years and then she had two more. So most of the time in the house when I was growing up, there were four kids and I had all these older siblings who had moved out. And my parents divorced when I was two and my mom remarried.
EL: And you’re in west Texas?
JY: Yes in west Texas, San Angelo.
EL: San Angelo, made famous in Dallas, the TV show.
JY: Yes that’s right. And the Los Lonely Boys are from San Angelo, that’s another one. And I wrote about San Angelo for a travel story years ago and I picked up some new trivia. One, is that it is apparently one of the largest cities in the country that does not have access to an interstate highway. Which I find really telling in hindsight because it pretends to be a big city but it’s so isolated that the culture is pretty slow to change.
EL: Yeah, fascinating.
JY: There’s a big air force base there, that’s why we ended up there my dad was in the Air Force. And I was born actually in Albany, Georgia and we moved to San Angelo when I was less than a year old.
EL: Do you say Albany-
JY: Albany, if you’re from the south you say Albany.
EL: Right, if you’re from New York you say Albany.
JY: Right. And yeah, we had a very sort of, low key upbringing. We didn’t have a lot of money, my dad ended up having more money a little later but we didn’t really see much of that.
EL: Damn him.
JY: Yeah my step dad was a Sears TV repairman.
JY: My mom stayed home, I sort of got into food because at age eight my mom, who was budget conscious, realized that there was a loophole in the Air Force base rules. When they divorced, she lost privileges to shop at the discount Air Force base commissary.
JY: Which was huge, right, because it was significantly cheaper-
EL: It’s not like 10% off, we’re talking 30 or 40.
JY: Exactly. She lost privileges but she realized that there was a loophole, her kids, his dependents, did not lose privileges. So at age eight she started taking me to the supermarket, to the commissary with a list and cash and I had this little red clicker counter thing and she dropped me off. She couldn’t go in so she waited in the car.
EL: That’s crazy.
JY: And I shopped for the family, I did the weekly grocery shopping for the family.
EL: And how long did you guys exploit that loophole?
JY: And it was super fun for me, I loved it. I was trying to remember how it ended up being me and not any of my older siblings and my mom can’t really remember. I think I must have just reacted enthusiastically at the idea and so our deal was if I got everything on the list and I came in under budget, I could buy something for myself. So it taught me to comparison shop and it taught me that the name brands aren’t necessarily the best brands.
EL: That’s the perfect training for a food section editor.
JY: It really was, I very quickly wanted then to know what was happening to the food when it came home, right? When I would make decisions between different brand, I wanted to see, like what that ended up meaning.
EL: In terms of taste and texture and everything else?
JY: Yeah, so I started developing some pretty serious preferences.
EL: Love this.
JY: And as someone who, I know we’ve talked about this before, has incredibly strong opinions. I know you can identify with that. So yeah, I started cooking more at home, wanting to help her out with things and it just sort of grew from there.
JY: I mean the very first thing I learned how to make, my step dad taught me. I sort of think of him as the Clint Eastwood character in Bridges of Madison County the movie, very quiet, you know soft spoken gently kind of guy. And he’s from a tiny town … He’s not with us anymore but he was from a little tiny town near San Angelo and he taught me how to make chicken fried steak. That was the very first thing I learned how to make: chicken fried steak.
EL: Do you still make a mean chicken fried steak even though you’re a vegetarian?
JY: Right, no I haven’t-
EL: Do you make chicken fried asparagus?
JY: I have made chicken fried cauliflower.
EL: All right that’s good.
JY: I mean I would still make it for people.
JY: Yeah he taught me the pan frying and the dredging and-
EL: That’s so cool.
JY: The whole nine yards, the little pan gravy, all that.
EL: So I have a question because what I really want to know is what you bought? If you succeeded in saving enough money, I want to know, give us three or four things that you would end up buying.
JY: I’ll tell you okay, a Mr. Good Bar.
EL: Mr. Good Bars are underrated.
JY: I completely agree, the peanuts and the milk chocolate, really great.
JY: Shelled, salted roasted sunflower seeds.
EL: Got it.
JY: I could eat, I’m talking a huge bag.
EL: Like a half pound bag.
JY: Yeah, I was getting my fiber. And a Dr. Pepper.
EL: Right, because you’re from Texas.
JY: Yeah and I was a Pepper and wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too? And let’s see what else, I was a big fan of actual butter which was something that my mother and I had a conflict about.
EL: Right because it was an expensive substitute.
JY: Yes and my mother for the longest time told me that butter and margarine were the same thing, we bought margarine and she called it butter. And I was over at a friends house, his mother was German, like German German, you know had the accent, stern, tall woman with her hair in a bun. And I went over there for dinner and to spend the night and she served this incredible, I don’t remember what the dinner was but before dinner she served this incredible home baked brown bread. And she had, what I thought was margarine on the side and I spread it on the bread and my life changed.
EL: Oh great.
JY: And I remember saying to her, I was interested in these brands right, I was like “What brand of margarine is this?” And she was like, “Margarine?” You know, I’m not going to try to do the German accent, like “No, no this is butter.” And I went back home and was mad at my mother, but that was one of the things that she said, okay if you otherwise come under budget you can also spend more and get real butter for the house. But you also have to get some margarine because my step dad liked to whisk margarine and black strap molasses on his plate after he finished every meal and use Wonder Bread to dip into the mix of margarine and molasses. That was his dessert.
EL: And you’d probably never eaten a pad of margarine again?
JY: That is absolutely right, yeah.
EL: So you grow up in west Texas, you must have done pretty well in school because you went to Austin?
JY: Went to Austin.
EL: You went to University of Texas.
EL: Which is only available to the high performing graduates of Texas high schools right? And probably now it’s not even available to them.
JY: It’s more competitive now, even than it was then, if you were high performing you could get scholarships and stuff to UT. I think they let in any state resident that scored a certain score on the SATs which is why I was there with 49999 of my closest friends.
EL: So what was that like coming from San Angelo to Austin, which must have seemed like, oh my god.
JY: Like New York City.
EL: Yeah exactly.
JY: It was, it was fantastic. I’m gay so I needed to come out and it was helpful to move to Austin.
EL: Would have been hard to come out in San Angelo, right?
JY: It definitely would have. Now there’s probably, and I’m so jealous of kids today, there’s probably a gay straight alliance at my former high school.
JY: And it’s probably much easier, but yeah so for me going to Austin is was about that, certainly food was huge. We had a fairly limited exposure to foods in west Texas. I mean there was an Olive Garden and honestly, this will kill you but I honestly really thought that that was Italian food.
EL: Well it’s totally true because when I wrote the pizza book, I said that for most of the country the pizza they first tasted was a chain pizza so they thought that was pizza.
JY: Pizza Hut or…
EL: Right, or Little Caesars or whatever.
EL: So it doesn’t surprise me because it’s the same thing with restaurants.
JY: Right, absolutely.
EL: So Austin must have been eye opening. You were in the center of the barbecue belt, although Austin at the time was a barbecue desert but it was surrounded by barbecue greatness.
JY: That’s right, and my brother, I have mostly sisters and one brother, and my brother is a huge barbecue aficionado. He taught me early on how to cook barbecue myself, he had a half 30 gallon drum that he had converted into a smoker.
EL: That’s so cool.
JY: And he lived in … When I was going to UT Austin, he lived in College Station, he was teaching at-
EL: Texas A&M?
JY: At A&M. And so I would go down there and spend weekends with him and we would, between the two places, we would do a lot of barbecue tasting which was awesome.
EL: That’s so great, and were you close to your siblings growing up?
JY: Yeah, I was sort of the pampered-
JY: Youngest, the one who’s going to save the family as my father used to say. Or my mother would say, I’m the only one who understood her, you know I was like the golden child.
EL: Yeah they used to say that about me too because I could make people laugh as I wrote in the book. So it’s like, it was all good, probably they didn’t think they had to worry about Joe.
JY: That’s exactly right, I had some older sisters who were very-
JY: Yeah very wild adolescence and I mean, I was a little wilder than my mother knew.
EL: Of course.
JY: Of course.
EL: That’s redundant.
JY: Yes of course, always, yeah. But yeah, she was always kind of … She could count on me.
EL: And what was the reaction when you did come out from your family? That must have been intense.
JY: Yeah it was intense, my mother was mostly all about, I hope that this doesn’t make your life difficult. Like she was perfectly-
EL: Which was a classic reaction, right?
JY: Yes I mean she was not, there was no this is wrong or … But it was like, oh god I hope that this just doesn’t make your life harder. So she felt for me or was worried about me. My father, how much time do we have Ed?
EL: Well you know, some people have compared being on Special Sauce to an hour of therapy, so I’m sure that must have been difficult.
JY: That was difficult, my father was a fundamentalist, Christian.
JY: You know, he passed out tracks on the street, when he moved to Chicago he preached to prisoners at Joliet State Prison, took me with him.
EL: That’s some intense shit dude.
JY: It was intense. And so when I came out to him, or actually my mother told him in a fight.
EL: Oh god, the worst way to find out.
JY: Right? “You think you know your children? You don’t even know your own son is gay!” That was how it happened. Yeah, so he was horrible about it and cut me off financially and really actually ruined our relationship. He really never quite got there, I mean on his death bed … How much longer after that was it, 20 years later, he kind of apologized to me for being awful to me.
EL: Wow, that’s intense.
EL: So you’re at UT and for you it’s like New York.
EL: That must have felt like New York. And did you know you wanted to be a journalist? How did you arrive at that?
JY: Yeah I really did, when I was in high school I had worked on my high school newspaper, I was the editor for both my junior and senior years. I think I was the first junior to ever be editor or something like that. And that actually happened because I hated my English teacher my junior year and the newspaper advisor came into the English class and said, “Hey we’re looking for people to be on the student newspaper and if you do, you’ll get to come out of English class once a week”. And my hand shot up as fast as possible because I didn’t want to be in English class. So yeah, by that point I was really into journalism. I was also really interested in band and music and I know that you were-
EL: I know there’s always this weird thing that has been discussed by you and me and other people who are interested in music and food. Bill Addison, a lot of people we know in common.
EL: And Calvin Trillin once wrote about Jim Leff, the founder of Chowhound, in the New Yorker where he made the connection between, why are all these people who are into food also into music?
EL: It’s a weird thing.
JY: It’s so interesting yeah. And when I got to UT, I had thought I really am interested in being in a marching band and studying music, but I really wanted journalism too. And both the programs at UT are incredibly intense and I really couldn’t do both.
EL: Got it.
JY: I really had to choose. And frankly, I played the trombone, I wasn’t that good.
EL: Right, you were probably a better writer and journalist than you were at trombone.
JY: I completely was.
EL: You were no JJ Johnson or any of those guys?
JY: No. I mean I love the trombone, I love the way it sounds, you know whenever I hear it in songs even to this day I’m always like “Yes!” For the trombone, you know, it’s funny you have these allegiances.
JY: But yeah, much better writer and UT has an incredible daily student newspaper called The Daily Texan.
JY: And it’s run completely top to bottom by students, there’s no-
EL: There’s no faculty involved?
JY: There’s no faculty involvement. So I really wanted that and I wanted to be able to do as much there as possible. So I spent my whole college career working at The Texan.
EL: And who were the journalists that inspired you when you discovered you wanted to be a journalist? Were there, you know, like Molly Ivins or any of the Texas greats?
JY: Oh definitely Molly Ivins.
JY: Definitely, hilarious and wonderful and pointed and critical and wrote so beautifully. I was there in those years, you know, when she was writing these wonderful things about Anne Richards.
JY: You know, the Ginger did everything Fred could do except backwards in high heels years, the quotable years.
JY: So that was definitely, she was definitely one. And then certainly the big national figures, Woodward and Bernstein.
EL: So you were reading, when you were at UT, you were reading the Washington Post and the New York Times?
EL: That was your real homework?
JY: Yes absolutely. You know and I think over the years, when I worked at the Boston Globe, once I moved to Boston, there was a point when I was in Boston that I finally ended up getting tired of news, in a way. Which is when I made the shift to food journalism.
EL: Got it. So you graduated from UT and did you just decide you would go wherever there was a job in journalism? What happened?
JY: Yeah it’s really like … Sometimes I still ask myself this, like how did I end up in Boston? So the first thing was I knew I needed to leave Texas and it was mainly because the only good paper in the state at the time was the Dallas Morning News. And I hate Dallas, no offense to any people who love Dallas, but I never liked, I never felt like I fit in Dallas, it didn’t speak to me. Austin was my Texas home.
EL: And Houston was probably a better option but you just wanted out of Texas?
JY: Yeah I just thought, you know what I need to get out of Texas. And I had a friend who lived in Boston, very close friend who’s from Texas and I started looking around at the market. I think at the time I thought that it also might be a step towards New York, I just never ended up taking the second step.
EL: Right, I know we’re always surprised that you never ended up in New York.
JY: I know, people find it so disappointing. So yeah I ended up looking at Boston and seeing that there were just a lot of jobs and so I gave it a shot. And I ended up working at a lot of small community papers for my first several years in Boston, which was amazing.
EL: Really? As both writer and editor?
JY: Writer first and then editor, I spent my first couple of years there working as a schools reporter working in Waltham, a suburb of Boston.
JY: Close suburb of Boston. And you know, I remember when I was there the first time, at lunch time someone said, “Hey Yonan do you want to come with us, we’re going to the spa?” And I was like, the spa? Right here in the middle of the work day? Don’t we have things to do? And I don’t know if you know, a spa is a convenience store that sells sandwiches.
EL: That’s awesome.
JY: So I worked there for a couple years and then I ended up, when you’re a clean writer you often get pressured to become an editor because there are a lot of writers that aren’t. And editors are harder to come by than writers and so I sort of got pulled into editing and I worked a graveyard shift for a couple of years, 11PM to 10AM. Graveyard shift editing copy for this little chain of suburban papers, Waltham, Dedham, Needham.
EL: Yeah and we should say by clean copy, you mean copy that doesn’t need a lot of work from the editor?
JY: Right, no typos, no grammatical errors.
JY: Fairly tight, not long winded, that kind of thing. And then after that, working the graveyard shift for a couple of years, in which I should say I cemented a 15 cup of coffee a day habit.
JY: It lasted 10 years.
EL: That’s a lot of coffee dude.
JY: Yeah, then I ended up going up to New Hampshire to edit a weekly regional community paper that, one of the top editors who really liked me had gotten laid off in some corporate reshuffling, and she was doing a lot of job hunting and she found out about this job. And she was completely over qualified for it, she was more on the business side and she asked me if I was interested in being the editor of this paper. And I didn’t really know, I had never been to New Hampshire at that point and the paper is in Peterborough, it’s called the Monadnock Ledger, it’s a Peterborough New Hampshire-
EL: Still exist?
JY: The paper and the town, yeah. Peterborough is the town that Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town about and wrote it while he was there. It’s the home of the MacDowell Arts Colony.
EL: Right that’s where I know it from.
JY: One of the biggest claims to fame. And it was great because I got to remake the paper.
EL: It was like almost an entrepreneurial adventure for you, right?
JY: It kind of was, yeah. A new publisher had come in, they were really trying to remake everything, I was 25, I was working with reporters who were born in the town and had never worked anywhere else.
EL: Wow that’s nuts.
JY: Trying to teach them, as a 25 year old, what journalism was.
EL: So you really paid your dues, I mean how many years were you a working journalist before you got to The Globe?
JY: Almost 10.
JY: Yeah, it’s 8.
EL: Yeah that’s a long apprenticeship.
JY: Yes it was.
EL: And what do you think now, most of those papers are gone, like there are no places to hone your craft in journalism.
EL: Do you think that’s a problem?
JY: Yes I do, absolutely. It’s the farm team problem, like where are we hiring people from? I mean, you know you’ve written a lot and talked a lot about blogging, and you and I have also talked about this, in a way I don’t see exactly what Serious Eats did and does as-
JY: I mean you were using a lot of really great people, but as you know, one thing that blogging did was it solved that catch 22 of you can’t get published without clips but how can you get clips if you haven’t been published.
EL: Yes and it’s a very interesting thing, because I hired this amazing woman Robyn Lee who was a great blogger and photographer, she was amazing, brilliant. Now she lives in Norway with her husband in Bergen and she’s a, I’m not kidding, a mail person. Or a mail carrier.
JY: Oh I thought you were saying that she had transitioned.
JY: She’s mail, m-a-i-l.
EL: She transitioned to the mail. But what I used to say about Robyn was, I realized that the plus side of blogging was that you develop your voice.
JY: Yeah absolutely.
EL: The down side of blogging is that Robyn, I couldn’t send her out on a reporting assignment.
EL: Because she had been blogging since she was 14.
EL: And so her voice was fantastic, still is, I look forward to her emails her voice is so good.
JY: Right. You know one of the things that reporting does, especially if you start out in a small place these kind of places that we’re talking about, is that you have to learn how to make a water and sewer board meeting interesting and relevant to people who have no interest in it.
JY: You know, you have to figure out how to make that short, how to make it interesting, and you have editors. That’s the other thing that I was getting to is that I think one of the downsides of the, you know well just jump into blogging, is that I mean you mentored people. You really mentored people, but a lot of people who start up a blog don’t necessarily have access to mentoring and editing. I mean there’s some great bloggers out there and a lot of them have high journalistic standards too, but I do think it’s a problem. I don’t know where all the journalists of the future are going to come from and, I think of course, we need the more than ever.
EL: So then you did find your way to The Globe, but not as a food editor, right?
JY: Right, I had been editing, I came from New Hampshire back to Boston to edit another community paper. It was a weekly paper in the south end neighborhood called The South End News, our office was across the street from the biggest housing development in New England. And it was between the Cathedral Housing Development and the Villa Victoria, which is an amazing housing development based on the layout of Puerto Rican villages. And the two were in a gang war when I first started at The South End News.
EL: Well that will keep you interested.
JY: Yeah, in Peterborough it was front page news if, well there was another paper in town at the time in Peterborough which was really interesting. And it was front page news in their newspaper when I got pulled over for a speeding ticket.
EL: Got it, that’s big news.
JY: So in the South End, it wasn’t front page news if somebody got shot.
EL: Yeah that was just an everyday occurrence.
JY: They’d have to die or multiple people would have to get shot, you know. So I worked at The South End News for a few years editing everything and again, I got to remake it. But the thing about The South End News was the South End was where all these restaurants were developing in Boston.
JY: So while I was there, I started talking to a lot of chefs and I did a lot of stories myself about the South End restaurant scene.
EL: And that was the beginning of the Boston restaurant scene?
JY: It really was. And then when I left the South End news, which I did after a few years just because there was nowhere else for me to go there. So I decided, you know what I’m just going to freelance for a while. So when I started freelancing I immediately started freelancing for a neighborhood section of The Globe about the South End stuff and so much of my writing was about restaurants because that was what I had done. And then after, I don’t know six months of doing that, I got hired onto the night copy desk at The Globe. And it was part time, temporary, like for a couple of years and at The Globe at the time it was very hard to get off of the copy desk if you were hired onto the copy desk. They really needed people and I have to say, at the time this was before Marty Baron, there was a little bit of an attitude of we don’t care what you did before you came here we hired you to do this job and you have to prove yourself at this job. And it felt very stiffing in a way but after a couple years I went for a promotion I remember, to be a news editor and I didn’t get it and honestly it was the first time in my life-
EL: That you didn’t get something you went after?
JY: That I didn’t get something that I went after. And instead of being devastated about it, I felt myself overcome by this sense of relief which surprised me. I was like, I don’t understand why am I feeling good about this, what’s happening?
JY: And I realized that I was tired of news, I was tired of politics and news coverage and breaking news coverage. And so I went through one of those, what am I going to do with my career-
EL: Right, existential crises.
JY: Exactly. Do you remember that book, What Color is your Parachute?
JY: Yeah, so I was studying that and I was getting ready to do an exercise, they had these exercises in the book.
EL: Sure I remember.
JY: Like, visualization and you’re supposed to sit in a quiet place and have a pen and a pad down and you’re supposed to close your eyes and imagine yourself both working and happy, believe it or not. And then try to work yourself towards imagining what it was about that vision that made you happy. And I got all set up to do it, I had the pen and paper and I closed my eyes and in five seconds I was like, oh it’s food. Food makes me happy, food has always made me happy, I’ve always cooked, my favorite stories have been ones involving food. My favorite interviews have been with people about food, with chefs and home cooks. And so I decided to go to culinary school but to keep my job.
EL: Right so you went to Cambridge Culinary Academy?
JY: Yeah, Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Porter Square, Cambridge. And I did that during the day and went to the copy desk at night for a year. And it was very funny because I did the math and I think the class load, the actual time in the kitchen classes was like 25 hours a week or something. And my job at The Globe was very regimented, 37 and a half hours a week.
EL: So that’s 62 and a half hours.
JY: And I thought, I’ve worked that much before, I thought you know I’ve done that. I’ve worked that hard before, I can do it for a year. What I wasn’t calculating of course was all of the outside class time that I needed to study and to work on things.
EL: You were up to 80.
JY: Yeah, so it was a little ridiculous, but super fun. I’m sure that my work on the copy desk during that year suffered but there were enough of us and I mean, The Globe was fat back then there were a lot of editors and I was a very high performer right up until then. And I could slack off for a year and people didn’t really care.
EL: And then you transitioned to the Travel section?
JY: That’s right, went to Travel first.
EL: I think when I met you that’s what you were doing.
JY: Was I in travel?
EL: I think you were the editor or the travel section but doing a lot of freelancing for the food section I believe?
JY: Yes and bring a lot of food into travel and you know, basically I was like I really want to be a food editor so I’m going to do it even if I’m the travel editor.
EL: You really faked it really well, I mean that piece you wrote was one of my favorite pieces.
JY: Oh thanks.
EL: About when the pizza book came out, in 2005.
JY: That was such a fun experience. And I can’t believe, I don’t think it made it into the piece, do you know what quote from that day stuck with me and that I repeat to people more than anything? I do not think it’s in here, that I repeat to people more than anything else. So we are, I don’t know how many places we went to, like a dozen places.
EL: Yeah we went to like 10 pizza places.
JY: It was ridiculous, and I remember at one point we’re on like place eight or nine or something and I am suffering physically, I’m physically suffering. And either I expressed that to you or you could just pick it up, you know you could tell and do you remember what you said to me?
EL: No, I’m afraid to find out.
JY: Oh it’s so great, I’ve repeated it hundreds of times since then, you said to me; “Joe, the good ones learn to eat through the pain”.
EL: That is one of my lines.
JY: And I was like, oh all right okay this is what this is about. And you know, I really took that with me, I remember writing a piece about—or I tried—, Boston was not really known for its food truck scene for a while. But when the food truck scene started to develop, I did like a 40 food truck crawl across Boston and sampled everything and I just kept telling myself, Ed says eat through the pain.
EL: That’s awesome.
JY: It’s not a great way to live long term, as you know.
EL: It’s true, it’s a very short sighted view of our lives.
EL: Man we haven’t even gotten to your time at The Washington Post as a food editor, the three books you’ve written or I guess two you’ve written, one you edited.
EL: And how you go about steering an old media vehicle into the digital age which you have had to do, but we have to leave it here for now. And we’ll pick up all those topics and many more in the next episode if you can stick around, which I know you can. It’s great having you here.
JY: Thank you.
EL: And we’ll see you next time Serious Eaters.
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