Back in September 2010, when the Italian food extravaganza Eataly first opened its doors in Manhattan, theAtlantic.com posted a glowing report on the event written by the CEO of the Italian espresso company Lavazza USA, whose café anchor’s Eataly at Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Smelling a conflict of interest, reader and chef Sara Jenkins raised an eyebrow and fired off what she describes as a “snarky comment,” asking “Is this journalism or a press release for Lavazza? I’m confused.”
The Atlantic food writer and editor Corby Kummer’s canny response was to invite Jenkins to try her own hand at blogging. “I realized I’d really like to do that,” recalls Jenkins, who gained fame with her East Village sandwich shop Porchetta, and was preparing to open her nearby trattoria Porsena. Nearly a year’s worth of candid, insightful posts later, Jenkins continues to give readers a glimpse into the joys, insecurities and hardships of a chef’s life.
That’s not to say that Jenkins is not also getting valuable publicity from her blog; the difference is that the reader ends up on the winning end of this deal. Jenkins has admitted to wanting to run off to the expat pleasures of life in Hanoi to avoid the crushing pressures of opening a restaurant. She’s interspersed recollections of happy times in Italy with recipes, her thoughts on fresh versus dried pasta, charity dinners and Yelp.com. “I try to be more positive than negative,” says Jenkins of her posts, “because it can sound like whining.”
Jenkins’s parents, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Loren Jenkins (he’s now senior foreign editor for NPR) and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins, bought a home in Rome when she was eight, and she has spent time there on and off ever since. Despite her deeply informed love for Italian food, Jenkins had no clue she might want to cook until a good six years after her 1987 graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied fine art photography.
Working as a cub photographer for a group of suburban Boston newspapers, she discovered, was not nearly as interesting as working in kitchens with Todd English and Barbara Lynch. “I couldn’t get out of bed for the photo shoot at an ice cream social, but when I had to work at the restaurant, I was up early, reading cookbooks and coming up with ideas,” she says.
She has mixed feeling about the celebrification of chefs today, but recognizes that fame drives restaurant traffic. What really interests her though — her writerly parentage showing — is food-related writing for the new world of interactive electronic publishing. “Publishing is not dead,” she believes, “there are just different media now.”