Village Voice Media apparently has a thing for Washington food writers. Just weeks after hiring Scott Reitz as its food critic for the Dallas Observer, the alt-weekly behemoth plucked fellow Washingtonian Melissa McCart for its Broward/Palm Beach paper. I’m beginning to think DCist, Washingtonian, City Paper and The Post should start collecting fees for developing talent for VVM.
If you haven’t read McCart’s work, you haven’t been trying. She’s not only freelanced for all of the local publications mentioned above but has for years maintained her own blog . During her time in D.C., McCart also taught high-school English and edited Michel Richard’s D.C. Chefs magazine, which, coincidentally, employed Reitz to test recipes. McCart generously agreed to take questions from All We Can Eat as she packed for South Florida.
All We Can Eat: Congratulations on landing the job as food critic at the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Melissa. When do you report for duty?
Melissa McCart: Thanks so much, Tim. It’s looking like Aug. 1.
AWCE: What made you want the job, and did you have any hesitation about moving from Washington to South Florida?
MM: Before I had applied, I liked Village Voice Media. After talking to the heads of recruiting in Denver — thanks to [Washington City Paper food critic] Chris Shott’s suggestion — I was hungry to work for the company.
As much as I love D.C., I’m willing to move to for a job that fosters my growth as a writer in a market where I can make a mark. In the application process, one of my editors in particular really pushed me. I was thrilled and want more.
Do I have hesitation about moving from here to South Florida? Of course I do.
AWCE: Tell us about the job you’ll be doing. Will you only review restaurants, or will you review restaurants and write feature and cover stories, too?
MM: It’s restaurant reviews, blogging three times a day as well as occasional feature and cover stories.
AWCE: Have you prepared yourself emotionally for moving from a city that values status and power to an area that obsesses over well-toned calves and a killer tan?
MM: You know, I thought D.C. was more wonky than it is. I’m banking on finding a Florida that defies the silicone and botox stereotype.
I hope that a decent bookstore or two, home delivery of the Times, a friend network, good food and satiating work validates the tradeoff. Maybe I’ll find a sense of humor like Carl Hiaasen has.
AWCE: How much eating around South Florida have you done? Are there restaurants that actually require shirts and shoes?
MM: I’m excited to explore low brow, ethnic eats and mid-range cuisine in such a wide area. In 24 hours there, I had a [fantastic] banh mi and a terrific soft shell crab sandwich with pickled veggies. I ate pig ears (where I can’t even get them at Pilar anymore). I tried fresh hearts of palm. I ate decent dolled-up sweetbreads. And we even had to wear shirts and shoes. Probably won’t have to at the surfer bars, though.
AWCE: What will you miss most about the Washington area?
MM: I have a very strong friend network. I think it has been easier to meet like-minded people here and to build nurturing relationships than it was for me in New York, Massachusetts and Berlin — the other places where I’ve lived. I’ll miss living in an intellectual city. And I’ll miss being in the audience of a city that shapes so many people’s lives.
AWCE: Village Voice Media also has a weekly in Miami. Does that mean you have to focus all your coverage on the towns north of Miami?
MM: Pretty much. All the way to West Palm.
AWCE: Have you determined which Food Network personality you’ll trash first at the next South Beach Food & Wine Festival?
MM: My trash talk is less wit and more wood, so I’m hoping I don’t have to go there, not to mention I don’t even have a TV. I’m the most illiterate person ever when it comes to TV celebs. That said, Paula Deen and Rachael Ray are always worthy targets.
AWCE: Are you scared by the Festival Flea Market Mall, America’s largest flea market with 500 shops and restaurants?
MM: Any mall scares me. That includes Tysons.
AWCE: Will you miss teaching at all?
MM: I already miss teaching. It’s a huge honor and responsibility to work with high school kids — and very rewarding.
AWCE: What will be the hardest part about becoming a full-time journalist for you? And the easiest part? (Perhaps no more teacher-parent conferences?)
MM: I’m concerned to make the jump to journalism when its viability is in question. Let’s face it: Newspaper work isn’t exactly a growing field.
The easiest part about it is that I’m investing in the career that I want for myself instead of writing on the side.
AWCE: The D.C. market has just provided two food critics — you in South Florida, Scott Reitz in Dallas — to newspapers in other markets. What, if anything, accounts for our area’s ability to nurture food writing?
MM: D.C. has been a wild west when it comes to restaurants. The growth of restaurant groups, the migration of big name chefs to the D.C . area and diners’ craving for new restaurants, ethnic eats, more fine dining alternatives and everything in between — these conditions coupled with a more stable economy than most cities during the recession — have really shaped the transformation in the city’s dining landscape. The dining scene coupled with a city of wonks and bloggers: It makes sense that D.C. nurtures writers.
DCist in particular was the jump start me as well as for a ton of writers and photographers: Sommer Mathis, Mike Grass, Kyle Gustafson, April Fulton, Kriston Capps. They’re all still at it. I think it helps that writers and editors from Washington Post, Washingtonian, City Paper, NPR and elsewhere have really helped many of us along. I’ve found terrific mentors, colleagues and friends here. I’ll miss just about everything about my life in D.C. and the people who have shaped my experience.
AWCE: Have you thrown away all your sweaters and heavy coats already?
MM: No. I’d miss them! I love fall and winter. I’ll have to visit for doses of seasons.