Some people say grace before a meal. I have a similar ritual before chowing down, as do so many others in this social media age: I take pictures of my food. If I am dining with friends, I excuse myself beforehand, apologizing for the practice. But I perform it religiously.
The images go up on social media, mainly Instagram and Facebook. My audience is small—just closing in on 3,000 followers on Instagram and around 800 friends on FB. But it includes some of the most celebrated names in food, who I have gotten to know through my ritual dining out, as well as colleagues in the news business in which I've worked for more than 30 years, at Time, People and currently Bloomberg Businessweek, where I am deputy managing editor.
I am more of an enthusiast than a reviewer. I go to the restaurants I like again and again. If I try someplace new, it's mostly because I'm following a cook or staff from my favorite places to their latest culinary ventures. Social media allows me to share my enthusiasm with the rest of the world—and in that way, I feel I am doing what I can to promote the work of the chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, waiters, managers and other talented people I now have the privilege of calling my friends. It's my way of being grateful—of saying grace.
Sometimes, I get invitations to try new restaurants from people who follow me on Instagram. But I'm a creature of habit and prefer to spend my money on places I know I will enjoy, restaurants that are an extension of my sense of home. Recently, after telling one of my friends I might try to come by his new place, I was told, "Maybe you can get another food influencer to come along with you."
I didn't realize until that moment that I had become a cog in the influencer economy.
It's ironic. Despite my obsession with all things culinary, in my career I've mostly focused on hard news—politics, religion, war, scandal, crime, and now business. When I was at Time, I suggested some chefs for the Time 100, the magazine's annual list of the world's most influential people. After leaving there in 2013, I dabbled in food journalism—with mixed results. I started a weekly column called "Cocktails and Carnage" on Roads and Kingdoms, a gorgeous food and travel website. Alas, my columns managed just a hundred or so readers a week, and after 30 installments, I agreed it was time to shut it down.
My other professional foray into food had the Twitterverse up in arms, and with good reason. I had returned to Time as a freelancer to oversee a special project called "The Gods of Food." Unfortunately, this elaborate genealogy of the world's most influential chefs failed to include a single woman. I found myself in the eye of a social media storm, and nearly three years later, I still get called out on it. The one positive thing about the controversy was the attention it helped focus on the work of women in the restaurant business. They can't be ignored or left off any list now.
There was a time when I wanted to keep secret the restaurants I love. That way, I could walk in and grab a seat at the bar or reserve a table without trouble. Of course, that's not the way the business works. If no one else goes to the places you adore, then the places you adore won't be around for long. And so today, I post constantly—every day, in fact—about the chefs and restaurants in New York that give my life meaning.
Restaurants have always been intrinsically woven into my life and my work—long before social media began its reign. On March 19, 2003, I was having dinner at Annisa, in Greenwich Village, when my phone rang. It was the news desk at Time. The Second Gulf War had just begun with the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad. I turned to Jennifer Scism, Annisa's co-owner and manager, and apologized for having to leave in the middle of meal being prepared by chef Anita Lo. I was the news director of Time and had to oversee the deployment of reporters in a sudden war zone. "You've got to eat," Scism insisted. And then, as fast as the lunch-rush crew at McDonald's, the staff at Annisa had my main course in front of me and my dessert wrapped to go. I noshed on sesame mochi—one of chef Lo's specialties—as I spent the rest of the night tracking down reporters to make sure they were in their assigned military embeds.
When I'm done with work (or when I think I'm done), you'll continue to find me at Annisa or the 25 or so other restaurants in the city that consider me a regular. And nowadays, you can track where I'm eating, because I'll be posting it on social media.
Here, some of my favorite Instagram posts from the past year.