As some of you know, I was the Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper for almost five years before moving into this choice seat. I have a soft spot in my heart for the paper in general and the Y&H position in particular. It’s demanding, but also one of the best food-writing perches in town.
The paper waited a while to fill the job, but just this week, the new Y&H, Chris Shott, 35, took over the position that also has been occupied by Brett Anderson (now at the New Orleans Times-Picayune) and Todd Kliman (now at the Washingtonian).
Shott took a few minutes to answer questions via e-mail:
This isn’t your first dance with City Paper. What did you do previously at WCP?
Gosh, what haven’t I done at City Paper? I’ve been an intern, contributing writer, staff writer, interim news editor, now food editor — I even took a turn in the WCP-promotional dunking booth during Adams Morgan Day several years ago. (I’m pretty sure some of that filthy water is still lodged deep in my sinuses.) Veteran readers might remember me from the old “Show & Tell” column, dealing with the arts and nightlife scenes (heavy on the nightlife). I spent a great deal of time trying to infiltrate various D.C. nightspots while wearing Timberland boots (which is generally prohibited) and authored a Worst Case Scenario Handbook-style guide to surviving a dance-floor knife fight (of which there were many back then), among other things. The paper has changed a lot since my last full-time stint on Champlain Street, but it remains an important and independent voice in District discourse. I’m thrilled to be back.
Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your other jobs in journalism?
Sure. I got my start working for a few small news outlets, notably including the now-defunct States News Service. More recently, I was employed as a writer and editor at the hallowed New York Observer, where I reported extensively on the restaurant and hospitality sector, which sort of segues nicely into how I landed this sweet gig.
What made you want to get into full-time food writing?
I live to eat. And the industry is fascinating, what with its various struggles, obsessions, customs, personalities. It’s a great beat. And let’s face it, it’s just plain sexy. I’m lucky as hell to have this platform, and I don’t intend to waste it.
Monday was your first day on the job. What was your first order of business as the new Young & Hungry?
Breakfast at Taqueria Nacional the second I hopped off the train at Union Station. Then I figured I ought to make an appearance in the newsroom, an obligation even the most immersed restaurant reporter/reviewer must fulfill from time to time. We’re just starting to strategize on where to take the column and blog moving forward, so outlining that vision is a big first priority.
The beauty of the Young & Hungry column can also be one of its liabilities: You have no rules. You can write about anything and everything food-related. Do you know yet what areas you will devote your attention to: restaurant reviews, more investigative food stories, trend-oriented pieces? What’s your aim?
All of that. Criticism, hard news, trends, even business-y profiles. I’m probably more of a reporter than a straight-up critic to begin with. And, frankly, a lot of the articles that have won Young & Hungry its prior acclaim were heavy on the reporting side. So that’s a tradition I’d like to continue: good journalism with a strong point of view, clear voice, and, yes, a sense of humor.
As part of your job, you’ll be editing the Young & Hungry blog. Do you have some writers that you’d like to bring into blog, or topics you’d like to explore on it?
We have some great contributors right now, and I’d like to keep them cranking out the goods in addition to bringing in more voices. (Pitch me, people!) We’re heavily into the beer scene at the moment — and I love that stuff — but there are other niches where I think we can really stand out. The vegan/vegetarian scene is one, and we’re already making headway on that.
You’re coming from New York, considered one of the greatest food cities in the world. Please tell me you won’t spend your first year telling Washingtonians how lame we are in comparison to New York. (Okay, that’s not a question, but a plea for open-mindedness and a hope that you can see a city’s own strengths without the need to stoop to comparisons. Will you?)
What a lame question. Nobody would ever ask me that in New York! Seriously, I’ve spent a great deal of time defending the D.C. dining scene to skeptical New Yorkers. Lately, I’ve been having to speak up a lot less. You and I may have long thought of D.C. as a desirable dining destination. Now even snooty New Yorkers are taking notice.
Sometimes the comparisons will be unavoidable. But, from a critical standpoint, there should be a high bar for making those observations. What strikes me now is how much of New York has moved here since I moved there: P.J. Clarke’s, BLT Steak, Hill Country. Shake Shack is coming to town. I can’t say we’re just one Tavern on the Green from total assimilation, of course, because, well, New York doesn’t have a Tavern on the Green, either, anymore. Considering my last meal at Tavern, that’s probably a good thing. For both places.
What’s your initial impression of Washington as a food town? What parts of it fascinate you and what parts bore you?
Overall, I think this is just an exciting time to be in D.C., in general, and in the food scene, in particular. In terms of neighborhoods? Obviously, it’s thrilling to see all the culinary development taking place on H Street NE. On the flip side, I’ve never been a big fan of Georgetown. That had more to do with the overall aesthetic, though, and less to do with the food. But then I tried the fish burger at Westend Bistro and that deliciousness alone has made me more open-minded about that part of town.
You and your wife recently had a child. How do you plan to balance the many responsibilities of this job with being a father? (Full disclosure: I’m terrible at work-life balance.)
What, are you saying they don’t have high chairs at Citronelle? I’m betting that Michel Richard can do wonders with a green pea and sweet potato puree. My own father has been preaching to me about maintaining balance my whole life, which is kind of ironic because he’s a bit of a workaholic. But he was still able to have a successful career and be a great role model to his children. I figure I’ll just try to follow his example.
You and I are friends (I guess I should have said that from the outset, eh?), and I’m happy that you have become the next Young & Hungry. All three former Y&Hers have devoted ourselves to writing about food and drink as a career path. Do you see the same for yourself?
I’d like to think so. But let’s not get carried away about what’s next for Chris Shott, my friend. I still need to write my first column, for chrissakes.