Frank Bruni: Eating On the Job

The former New York Times restaurant critic and author of Born Round: the Secret History of a Full Time Eater reflects on his childhood and entrée into the business of food journalism.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question/Topic: How did your childhood shape you?

FRANK BRUNI: I was born in White Plains, New York just outside the city and grew up there for the first 12 years of my life.  And I’ve never really thought about how that’s shaped me.  But I think probably like anyone who is born and who grew up in the New York metropolitan area, we’re exposed to a great range of things that I think expand our horizon in the future.

As a kid, well I grew up in big sports family.  And so I remember with my brothers and my father going into the city fairly often to see Rangers games and Knicks games.  And then I remember when I was, you know, 11 and 12, and probably too young to be doling it, going to Led Zeppelin, and Queen, and Pink Floyd concerts at Madison Square Garden on the train, and feeling very sophisticated and very grown up.

I was actually an incredibly good swimmer.  I used to travel around the country to go to swim meets, because when I was 11 and I was 12, I was one of the best swimmers in the country in certain events for my age.  So to find the right level of competition I would travel, you know, to the Midwest.  I would travel down to Washington, D.C. frequently to go to meets.

Topic: Journalism

FRANK BRUNI: I got into journalism really through reviewing, but not through reviewing food.  When I was in high school, and then when I began college, I was just a big movie buff – and to a lesser extent a music buff – and I wanted to write movie and music reviews, mostly movie reviews first for my prep school newspaper and then for the university newspaper where I went to school.  And so it was through writing, you know, criticism or whatever  passed for criticism in my 19 year old head that I kind of realized oh, you could do other things with this whole putting words into news print business and actually maybe make a living at it.

I’ve done a lot of different beats or whatever you wanna call them journalistically.  I was a news reporter for many years.  I always tended to write more news feature stuff.  Right before I came to the Times, my last job at the Detroit Free Press, which is the big morning daily in Michigan, was as the paper’s movie critic.  So I’d kind of come back to how I’d begun on the journalism road or whatever.  But when I came to the Times, I came there as a news person, and that was intentional.  During the, I guess, 13 years I’ve been at the Times, I’ve covered politics.  I’ve covered George Bush’s initial presidential campaign in 2000.  In 1999, 2000 I covered the White House for a while.  After that I was the newspaper’s Rome Bureau Chief for a couple of years, so I was covering European politics, the Vatican, and just general news features from that region of the world.  And then I came back to New York to be the restaurant critic.

Question: Will young journalists be able to have varied experiences in today’s world?

FRANK BRUNI: It may be more possible for any young person who wants to write about a range of things in his or her life to do that.  What’s uncertain now, I think, to all of us is exactly what the vehicle or format will be; you know whether that will be in a predominantly or largely electronic realm; whether it will be in a more traditional mold.  It certainly won’t be in a traditional mode.  But in a way now with the Internet, anyone almost can, with a certain amount of technological or technical know-how, have a web page or a blog on which he or she posts his or her writings on anything.  And there are no bounds for that person in terms of what they write about.  What remains to be seen is how – and this is something the Times is struggling with right now; as well as how, as everything moves to this kind of electronic, kind of public forum and all that – how people will be remunerated in a way that they can support themselves and fund their very own, you know, research activities, reporting activities that are necessary for certain kinds of journalism.

Recorded on January 22, 2008