It sure seems like there are a lot of food and drink writers out there today. Clearly, everyone eats, and most everyone has access to the Internet. So if you have an opinion on food and drink, you’re just a hop, skip and “click” away from sharing your opinion on every bite you eat and sip you take. In a large city, like Philadelphia, the opinions on food are numerous. So who do we follow and rely upon for food opinions? Which food and drink writers are creative, sincere, humorous and knowledgeable enough to separate themselves from the pack? Meet Drew Lazor, professional food and drink writer in Philadelphia since 2005. Drew has brought a unique voice to Philadelphia the last eight years. While legendary Philly food scribes, like Michael Klein, Craig Laban and Rick Nichols, offer many more years of experience in food reporting, Drew Lazor has championed a modern movement of new Philly writers. Shall we call them Generation Nex(t Course)? What makes Drew’s writing so unique? Well, as an example, examine Drew’s 2011 City Paper piece on recreating a meal from one of the very first great French cooking chefs Auguste Escoffier. In his piece, Drew playfully attempts to do justice to the “father of haute cuisine’s 108-year-old book that’s as close to a holy text as it gets in the culinary world” and at the same time is extremely (and humorously) self-deprecating throughout the challenge, success and failure of making Escoffier’s dishes. Maybe it’s Drew’s ability to laugh about the food world and himself that makes him so accessible, especially to younger readers. He respects the history of great food yet is willing to laugh at the sometimes over-seriousness of the food world. We recently saw Drew read at a Philly Writer’s Evening at Jose Pistola’s in Center City Philadelphia. With an abundant amount of nachos and craft beer everywhere, Drew was a natural, discussing the modern food world, as he sees it, with event host TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb’s Dan Bruskewicz. After the event, we caught up with Drew Lazor via email to share some (chocolate covered) memories …
How did you find yourself in this food writing niche of the industry?
In ’05 or so, I interned at Philadelphia City Paper as a senior at La Salle University. My editor at the time arbitrarily assigned me a beat column about local restaurant openings and closings, and it just kinda grew from there. I came on fulltime in ’06 and eventually took over all of CP‘s food and drink coverage. I left the paper as a staffer in June 2012 to refocus on writing, but I still definitely gravitate toward food and drink more than anything else. You can check out some clips of mine here.
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
A few! I was a “Sandwich Artist” at Subway in my hometown of Bel Air, Maryland (the level of artistry on display was unprecedented), and I also did a bunch of odd “Charlie Work“-style jobs (washing dishes, running room services, scrubbing grills with caustic chemicals) for a pub in the Holiday Inn in Aberdeen, Maryland.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
Picking chicken bones out of the trash at my parents’ old house in Baltimore so I could gnaw on them. I must’ve been 2 or 3. I stand by my decision.
Where does your love of food stem from?
It stems from a family that always prioritized cooking and eating meals together. I probably didn’t want to admit it as a douchebag teenager, but all that was really important to me and taught me how formative and important the process really is.
What foods remind you of childhood?
A bunch of things. My mom is from the Philippines, so any dishes she makes — lumpia, pancit, lecheplan, sinigang — remind me of growing up. My dad’s family, meanwhile, is half-Irish and half-Slovakian, so there are plenty of dishes from those traditions that take me back, too. My paternal grandfather, Jack, was a crazy good cook, and I remember making “salt sticks,” long, chewy breadsticks with sea salt and caraway seeds baked in on top. My maternal grandmother would always make us packaged ramen she’d hook up with her own spices, veggies, meat and seafood and we’d all call that “grandma soup.”
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up?
Nope, I’ve never been a picky eater. I’ve always been excited to try new things. I credit my family with developing that mentality in me.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult in Philly?
I used to be a summer camp counselor, and I have some fun memories of cookouts and campfire-type meals from those days. I’ve been going on an East Coast hiking trip every fall for the past few years, too, and we tend to do New York strips on the campsite grill on the last night of the trip. That’s always badass! In Philly, I’m a bit more of a “hide in a dark corner of a bar with whiskey” person than a “picnic in Rittenhouse” person, but I have had some really fun times bringing a bit to eat up to Wissahickon Creek, one of the most beautiful places in the city.
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers)?
I think the modern food world is amazing. I love the conversation. As long as you’re up-front about your love of food and your desire to constantly learn about it, the conduit or context through which you express this passion doesn’t matter. A Yelper or blogger has just as much of a right to share what inspires them as a professional cook or writer does. I do have an issue, though, with people who don’t seem to actually care about food and are just “in it” for insincere reasons. Like phony pretentious diners who just want to get their asses kissed by chefs and bloviate about overpriced wine. You can spot ’em a mile away. Those people need to get over themselves. That’s not what it’s about.
What family recipe do you want to share with us?
Lumpia, or Filipino fried spring rolls, are one of my absolute favorite things to eat. Every family does them differently. Here’s a recipe from my momma, Generosa (“Tita Rosy”). These are the best. Quick tip: After you’re done wrapping the lumpia, try freezing them before frying. It typically results in a much more even end product. Enjoy Tita Rosy’s Beef and Sweet Potato Lumpia!
A native Marylander and longtime Philadelphian, Drew Lazor has been writing about food and drink professionally since 2005. The former food editor of the Philadelphia City Paper now contributes writing to the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Serious Eats and more. Check him out at drewlazor.com and say Hi on Twitter: @drewlazor.