Food, wine and spirits maven Amy Zavatto has shared her passion for good eats and great wines throughout the past decade. Published in New York Magazine, Frommers.com, Imbibe, Edible Brooklyn, Food & Wine, and Time Out New York (just to name a few), the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bartending and The Hedonist’s Guide to Eat New York, and co-author of The Renaissance Guide to Wine & Food Pairing, Amy has proved herself a unique leader in the pack. We share her insights into the exciting and enticing world of food communication with you.
What were the first subjects you covered on your food beat?
I began my career by interviewing chefs for Gotham magazine. My first interviewee was the acclaimed, Italian chef Cesare Casella and my second was Anthony Bourdain. I remember being incredibly nervous and intimidated because I had such respect for these people, and Anthony, of course, had this huge bad-boy reputation, so I was shaking in my boots when he wanted to meet for breakfast. But they honestly could not have been any cooler or nicer, and that cemented my reasons for wanting to write about the topic — people in the food, wine, and spirits world are passionate, interesting folks by and large.
In NYWICI’s event on Feb. 2, the Barefoot Contessa discussed how she used communications to create a major presence in the food world. How did you cultivate your brand?
It's a slow process, or at least it was for me, and I believe it's always ongoing. You really are aiming at two different groups: first, the editors with whom you want to cultivate good relationships and a good reputation for being a great, dependable, easy-to-work-with writer; and second, the readers. I think if you're serious about writing on a specific topic, whether it’s food or wine or spirits, you need to put your money where your mouth is and really try your best to learn about it, not just hop from story to story doing cursory research. It's tough, but it's worth it. Then you are looked to as a source of knowledge from both those who hire you and those who read you.
How have you maneuvered the fragmented landscape of digital technology and citizen bloggers?
I'm currently under contract to write two blogs: one called "Food for Thought" on food, wine, and spirits for BarnesandNoble.com, and another that I share with a writer of the same first name for Frommers.com called "Amy & Amy: Between Bites," which covers all the delicious and exciting stuff we get to eat and drink the world 'round. With that said, though, I really resisted the blogosphere for quite sometime. It seemed (and, honestly, still does seem to me) too unfiltered and too crowded with far too many people with nothing to say, but who are determined to say their nothings. My guess is that people are as likely to get their restaurant or wine information off a blog or a site like Yelp as they are to read a professional review. Still, there are some really great blogs out there, which I think show that you don't have to throw good writing out the window. I think it's also given a voice to certain fledgling or dabbling writers who weren't doing it professionally, but who have something to say. I don't agree with those who insist that the printed-on-a-paper-page word is dead, but as a journalist you must embrace digital media in some form or perish. If you want to go into this business, you really need to love being a writer.
What do you think food journalism can teach us about communications in general?
One of the most amazing things about food is that it’s a way that people communicate when they can't speak the same language. Everyone knows hunger and yearning and the lure of delicious aromas. Everyone has some memories of food from their past, whether it's from their families or the place they grew up or a trip they took. I wrote on a recent blog for Barnes and Noble about how my husband's father couldn't stand his son-in-law because of face-value cultural differences. That is, until they made peace over a mutual love of tripe. I mean, seriously — how great is that?
Final question — what are some of your favorite affordable wines?
I've recently become a fan of the grape Gaglioppo from Calabria, Italy, and the producer Statti makes an $11 bottle that's a great, easy going, everyday red. Another recent find that I like is Mud House Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ. It's also around $10 or $11 a bottle and super refreshing with a lovely, lime-y, gooseberry quality.
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