Still new at interviewing, I was nervous about talking with Pete. When we met, he had recently won his second and third Beard Awards—named for the legendary cooking-teacher and author—for magazine-feature writing. He shrugged off my congratulations. “Some people call them the Oscars of the food world,” he said, “but it’s a very tiny world.”

Pete’s career in New York began with freelance fact-checking in 1988 at Vanity Fair and Tina Brown’s New Yorker, where he acquired a skill-set that made him overly cautious when he first began writing features, he says. With practice, he became more comfortable telling “the story in my own way, putting the facts in order and drawing a narrative out of the facts.”

After writing press releases at The New Yorker, food features for Time Out New York, and some freelance assignments for Food & Wine, he joined the staff there as an editor. His beats included restaurants, spirits, and the news & notes section, which offers pithy up-to-the-minute items about food and drink from around the world.

“It’s rewarding to write about the people involved in cooking food or brewing beer,” he says, because “people tend to be really happy to talk about it.”

Though relieved that food writing is no longer about how to “make fake salmon out of macaroni and cheese” or relegated to the women’s pages, Pete also wanted to use “the other side of my brain, not just the food side,” so he left Food & Wine in 2001 for the young men’s magazine Details, where he is currently articles editor. In a recent issue, he wrote three pieces: two were on food (ice in cocktails; oysters) and the other, assigned by his editor, was on relationships—specifically, about men being “whipped” by girlfriends or wives (in the sense of not being allowed to watch football or go out with the guys rather than the sort that raises welts). This topic satisfied his hankering to write about something other than food, he says, “But I definitely wouldn’t say it was more meaningful, or better in any other sense that implies a value judgment. It was just different.”

Pete has also continued to write for Food & Wine—including “Captain Bacon,” one of the stories for which he won the Beard Award, in which he accompanies Dan Philips, creator of the Bacon of the Month Club, on a trip through Kentucky and Tennessee to visit his purveyors. The article mixes an insider’s view of smokehouses with insights about Captain Bacon himself. “That this rivalry with his Jewish father set young Dan Philips on a path that has brought him to his mother’s home state in search of the flesh of the swine, struck me as material that would keep a psychoanalyst busy for years,” he writes.

“Pete could be the best food writer in America if he keeps at it,” Alan Richman says. (Assuming that Richman retires, that is.) “He can flat-out write. His stories reek charm, delicacy, and humor.”

 

It made total sense to Pete Wells that Lisa Futterman would combine her love of cooking with her aesthetic sense as an artist. As it turned out, Lisa prefers her creative expression in the kitchen rather than the studio. With fine art, she says, “You can’t eat what you make, so it’s not as much fun.”

It was while cooking at the White Dog Cafe under chef David Spungen C’83 that Lisa had what she calls her “aha moment”: If David was a Penn grad and a chef, Lisa reasoned, she could be one, too. Inspired by his example, she enrolled in the nine-month Chef’s Training Program at the Philadelphia Restaurant School, where her classmates were mostly high-school graduates from South Philly. While David turned in his toque after just a few years for a career in which stocks and markets involve neither soup pots nor fresh vegetables—he works for an investment firm now—Lisa stuck with the food world.

After working in several restaurants in Philadelphia and San Francisco, Lisa eventually moved to Chicago, where she wandered into the Chopping Block, a school for home cooks that was getting started in 1997. “We immediately connected,” says owner Shelley Young. Lisa became the cooking school’s first teacher aside from Young herself, and is now the director of the company’s two schools, managing and training all the instructors.

When Pete, then senior editor at Food & Wine, came to the Windy City to eat with her, he realized she would be the perfect candidate for the recently vacated position of contributing reporter for Chicago—and a food-writing career was born. Lisa continues to fill that role since his departure from the magazine’s editorial staff, reporting on new restaurants, trends, and gossip in the industry, and has also written for other publications. “Now all I do is cook, eat, talk, and write about food,” says Lisa.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/29/04

FEATURE :
Taste Quakers
By Nancy Davidson
Illustration by Phung Hyunh

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