Food For Thought

Angela Blue talks about food writing class

Musing over Meals at The Muse Writers Center, Norfolk

By Angela Blue

It was my first semester at ODU. I’d decided to major in journalism because I knew that I wanted to write, and although I couldn’t decide between journalism or creative writing, I didn’t feel that I knew enough about life to write a book, so there I was. Aside from teaching us the very basics of journalism, the professor of my Journalism 101 class invited speakers in different fields to come from time to time to tell us a little bit about what they do.

Various professionals came and left the class, telling us all about their career and answering questions, but none of them stood out in my mind. Then one day, our class was introduced to Lorraine Eaton, food writer for the Virginian-Pilot. She shared with us all the exciting food-related events she attends in Hampton Roads and all the interesting meals she’s tried and written about. “What a fascinating career,” I thought. “Eating food and writing about it. I love writing. I love food. Done.”

I finished my bachelor’s degree, and two years later, I landed a job at Hampton Roads Magazine as assistant editor. This was truly a dream come true, as I now have the opportunity to write about a plethora of topics—, sometimes food. However, the main food authority here is my coworker, Chef Patrick Evans-Hylton, the food and wine editor for Hampton Roads Magazine and Virginia Wine Lover magazine.

Since working with Patrick, I’'ve enjoyed his writing and have been envious of his expanded knowledge of wine and the experienced precision in which he describes food. I’m not the only one. Often, I hear people come up to him and proclaim their jealousy for his career. “I’d love to do what you do,” they say. “Well you can,” he responds. “You just have to spend about $40,000 on culinary school.”

While I certainly wasn'’t prepared to begin extensive training in a culinary school at this point in my life, I decided to sign up for Expressions in Food Writing at the Muse Writers Center, just what I needed to boost my food writing without dedicating thousands of dollars and many years of training. Plus, Chef Patrick taught it, so it had to be good.

The class was small,—only five students including me, —but everyone was passionate about food and eager to learn. Patrick taught us the fundamentals of food writing— describing every aspect of the dish as well as how we may put our food writing to use. He also taught us how to photograph our food and how to achieve the best lighting, even in dimly lit restaurants. We all started a blog and began writing about our food experiences and proudly uploading our photos.

Next, we learned the basics of cookbook writing and the correct way to list ingredients when writing a recipe. My favorite was learning to write a restaurant review and discussing not only the quality of food at eating establishments but the service, appearance of the restaurant itself and overall atmosphere.

The best aspect of the class was the food. We ate during each class, each person bringing a dish they’d bought or prepared, and we would take turns photographing and describing each dish. Some classes, we would meet at local restaurants and each order a dish to share and discuss.

Now that the class has come to an end, I view food writing entirely differently and realize that it’s a lot more than just eating and writing. Dining at hundreds of restaurants a year and writing about your experience seems like a piece of cake (pardon the food pun), and while I’m sure food writers do enjoy their careers quite a bit, it’s not as easy as you’'d think. Having to photograph each meal and making mental and literal notes of the taste, texture and appearance of each individual dish is time consuming and can spoil the social dining experience. On the plus side, it requires you to think more about what you’re eating to describe the flavors and feelings that are invoked with each bite.

It’s also not easy to share your dining experiences with the world—especially if they’re negative. Putting your writing out in the open is automatically making it susceptible to criticism, and people are temperamental about their food.

Since the class, I have a deeper respect and admiration for what Patrick does although now that I realize the tremendous responsibility that comes with his job, I’m no longer envious. I may pursue food writing down the road, but for now, I’m happy with the glimpse that I’ve experienced through Patrick'’s teaching. In the first class, he told us that we would learn the difference between someone who eats and someone who truly dines. I don’t think I’ve reached the pinnacle of this concept yet, but so far, I’m having a delicious time getting there.

Visit to view other food writing classes taught by Patrick Evans-Hylton as well as a complete listing of classes offered at The Muse.