BEHIND THE BYLINE • MELISSA CLARK
Food writer Melissa Clark on the holidays, her favorite cookie, and how she relaxes when not cooking.
Food writer Melissa Clark, who introduced the world to Fried Twinkie, has been contributing to The Times since 1997. She has published thousands of recipes and writes A Good Appetite, her weekly Times column, since 2007 Ms. Clark, who shares her days between recipe testing and writing, posted trending stories, guides, countless articles, videos and 44 cookbooks, with a new one coming soon. Here, she explains what the holidays are like for a food writer, her favorite cookie – shortbread – and how she could possibly do a batch blindfolded.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you get started writing for The Times?
I think the first thing I wrote was in 1997. A man by the name of Rick Flaste was the editor of what was then the Dining In / Dining Out section, and he asked me to do a little column entitled The Food Chain. This was before you could just go to wikiHow. People wrote with questions, and we chose something to answer in writing. My first was to beat the egg whites and the right technique to do it. It wasn’t in the newspaper every week; it was probably about twice a month. Rick would choose the questions, then I would write the answer down. Then, in 2007, when Pete Wells was the managing editor of Dining, he gave me a column, and that’s when A Good Appetite was born.
How would you describe the purpose of your work at The Times?
When I started writing the column in 2007, food blogs were just getting started. And we were giving the recipes a voice that they hadn’t really had before. It was a new idea that Pete needed to give writers the space to write about the recipes in a slightly more personal way. It was a little personal and a little didactic – we were teaching you something. We also let you enter the mind of a cook. We’re still informed by the same idea that we’re going to teach you things, and we’re going to give you delicious things to eat, and we’re going to let you in and show you some personalities.
When did you decide to become a food writer?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and I didn’t know what form it would take. And so many food writers, especially in my generation, will say, “Well, I’ve read MFK Fisher.” And it all came together, and I realized, oh, I can write about food in a careful, thoughtful way that went beyond writing about recipes. At that point, I started freelance and wrote as much food as possible.