Last week, City Paper food editor Drew Lazor shocked the locals and announced he was leaving his post after 7 years. Lazor was the first real investigative food blogger in Philly, and forever changed the news cycle in our industry to last 24 hours a day. Along the way, he gave online journalists legitimate credibility, and introduced us to many of the unsung heroes of the local culinary landscape. Eater caught up with Lazor on his last day at the CP for a little insight on what makes a good food writer, his cupcake disgust, and his next steps.
How did you end up at the City Paper? In 2005, I interned here when I was a senior at La Salle, and arbitrarily got put on the food beat. I always liked the food scene, and was into it, but didn't think I would end up doing the food section. After I graduated in 2006, there was an opening, and started as an assistant. Just worked my way up.
Meal Ticket was launched in 2008, with you and Felicia D'Ambrosio spearheading the project. Was that your initiative? For the longest time, I just posted menus and restaurant openings in The Clog, our blog which covered everything in one place. Like music, politics, and a million other things. But, our editor at the time, Brian Howard, thought it was viable, and suggested we do it. We just had so much food content, that it made sense. Felicia was my intern, and still probably the best intern I've ever had. She knew her stuff, and had a readable voice, and was the only person I could ever really do that blog with.
At the time, Mike Klein at The Philadelphia Inquirer was the only person on the food beat breaking stories, and you carved out your niche by posting the PLCB licenses long before word ever got out officially for these restaurants. It was a slick move. Was that a big part of your plan to get Meal Ticket readership? Not specifically, but just the instincts of being a writer or a reporter and finding ways to get info you don't have. Being creative and inquisitive by nature is part of the job, and working those angles specific to your beat is important. Before I aggressively pursued food, I covered sports, local news, community meetings, education, and all sorts of stuff when I was working freelance during my college days, so it was a skillset I had when I got here. Maybe not so much a skillset, but a dogged pursuit of information. I don't think everyone has that bone in their body. It's not so much a methodology as busting your ass, and working hard. Also, putting yourself out there, meeting people, and being available for people to contact you is very important in this business. Being accessible.
Meal Ticket was always informative, but it never felt like a newsroom environment. There was always a personal touch, which wasn't the norm in the business. Do you think that helped get readers? Food sometimes gets too serious, and has this academic and analytical feel to it. Dining sometimes gets this reputation of being snobby and bougie, and the people who make it and who eat it generally aren't, so having levity is a good thing and matches up well.
You mentioned that the people who cook the food mostly don't have an elitist attitude, which is true in Philly. Do you believe that Philly has more down-to-earth cooks? I don't know if I would say that things are different than in the era of chefs like Georges Perrier, but food journalism has changed. Reading old articles in the past, food was covered much differently. I think the best writing focuses on the human element, which this industry has in droves, and there's a great scene here.
People think food writers spend their days hanging out and drinking and eating expensively and just chatting up chefs. What advice do you give people looking to get into the business? Journalists covering the food beat, or actually all lifestyle journalists, people have this misconception that it's not a hard job. But, the reality is you bust your ass, and can't fake success. People think movie critics sit around and smoke weed watching Jason Statham movies. I think it's pretty ignorant to think that these people aren't working. They have to talk to interview people, talk to people involved in the industry, understand the film, and write insightful copy quickly. Friends always think I just go to restaurants, eat tuna crudo, and say "Fuck y'all!" The reality is you spend so many days and nights writing. What I would say to people looking to get into the business, is get bylines and be published before you get out in the real world. Take the time to pitch local pubs to get the experience of being in the editing process.
So, why did you finally leave City Paper? I just wanted to try something different. I've been working here 7 years. It's the only job I have had since college. Some of my friends have had 8 jobs in 7 years. There's no salacious story, or cool philosophical reason, I just wanted to try something else.
What can you tell the next food editor for the City Paper? I know it's stupid and cliche, but be yourself. Don't force wit, or saying clever stuff because you think you need to. Look for the stories people won't cover, or don't see the interesting story within. Meal Ticket will thrive if you're honest with your readers. The City Paper is a great place to work.
What were your favorite stories? The one I just wrote about Pumpkin's Chris Kearse meant a lot to me. It's a story people needed to know, and I wanted to tell. I was pulling my hair out making sure it was right, and ultimately he was happy with it, which is super-important to me. I also loved the story I did with the guys from Bistrot La Minette up at the James Beard House. It was a fun 24 hours, and I learned that they don't stop talking shit to each other for even 5 seconds.
What trends in Philly excited you over the years, and which ones baffled you? The new pizza scene is great. I loved doing that big story on it awhile back. And I interviewed so many people. One guy would tell me one thing, then I would bring it up with the next guy and he would refute it and say it's all bullshit. Something that's really simple had a lot of different opinions, and viewpoints. The trend that I don't get is cupcakes. Why did it need to unfold in so many ways? Cupcake trucks and shops, then savory cupcakes. I don't really like cupcakes. I like the ones you get in the box with the blue and red spots on it. The only place that makes those type is at Iannelli's. Most cupcakes are like hand grenades. There's just too much. I don't know if I'm mad at cupcakes, but I don't get cupcakes. And we have cupcake reality shows.
Can you talk details about the next step? Well, I don't have any ultimate goal, and no full-time job in New York I'm leaving for. I really just want to see what else is out there. Why not try everything?
Will you stick with food, though? You've made a name for yourself writing about film, too, and you've written for Saveur.com, and some big pubs nationally. I think food will stay the focus. I could never fully leave the food beat. There are great stories to tell. I am doing a piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer up at the James Beard House with some Philly chefs. So, that's coming up. I'll be a fly on the wall up there, and we will see how it turns out.
If you can't get enough Drew Lazor, you can follow him on Twitter, where he often writes about sour candy, Ravens football, and an inexplicable love for Nicolas Cage. Good luck, Drew!