The progression seems natural — food eater, food reader, food writer. Food eater, check. (See aforementioned 50 pounds.) Food reader — working on it. There are so many excellent writers in the world of food. M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child’s teaching and recent memoir, Michael Ruhlman who has written a cookbook (and done it oh so well) with every chef who can hold a knife, and of course Jeffrey Steingarten who is as brilliant as he is outspoken.
After spending a lot of page time travelling the world, I was reminded that one of America’s best food writers lives in my own back yard. John T. Edge has written half a dozen books and is contributing editor to Gourmet. At the University of Mississippi, Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance whose mission “is to document and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the American South.” There is so much more to say, but that’s why his website has a bio page. So, ok, one more thing has to be said — Edge has been a judge on Iron Chef America.
We don’t get to visit Oxford, MS, as much as we would like, but we get emails from Square Books there to keep us in the know. One sweet day, the weekly email came bearing that one-word siren call — donuts! Four of Edge’s books are a “series that celebrates American icons”. Fried Chicken, Apple Pie, Hamburgers and Fries, and it all culminates with Donuts. We all had just been invited to have free coffee and donuts, oh, and to meet John T. Edge as well.
Edge is charming and homey. He is also tremendously knowledgeable and thoughtful. He spoke about the wide range of donuts he found in his travels, from plain old junk food to donuts made sublime by top chefs. More importantly he spoke about the true message of his books, not the burger joints and chicken shacks, but the connection that we all have with our food and the way that food connects us all.
I’m ashamed to admit that, with all our recent reading, we haven’t read much by the local boy who done good. Nonetheless, Edge was very gracious when we arrived at his table with all four of his books unread and ready for signing. We introduced ourselves, and he inscribed each of his books with a different dedication to Squirrelly, Jr. While the rest of the line waited, we told him briefly about an upcoming trip to San Francisco, and he recommended the best dim sum place in town. We told him that we had been reading a lot of food writing lately, including his fellow Iron Chef judge Jeffrey Steingarten. He told us that he had just had lunch with Jeffrey last week.
Jealousy was definitely beginning to set in, but then he asked us why we cook. Why do we? We don’t entertain often, and when we do, it’s a friend or two or my in-laws. We’re not big on crowds. No, we cook to be together. We cook for the adventure. We cook to expand teh boy’s horizons. Sure, some of it is ego — there’s nothing better than having company give an impressed wow at the plating or a contented sigh at the taste, but ultimately, there is nothing better than watching my son grin while he chops veggies or watching my wife’s genius at work while she creates. Edge is definitely right. Food brings us together just like love does.