I mean, when it didn’t work out with the flying trapeze, credit-default swaps, or Sunglass Hut, I had to do something. Writing seemed as good as anything.
In recent years, I’ve been writing because I’m fortunate enough to work in the world of food television, to travel and taste and learn about cooking from the best chefs in the business, and to share my recipes with other people. To my knowledge, I haven’t poisoned a soul to date.
But at its core, the reason I write—and the force primarily responsible for the hoax that passes for my career—is great editors.
As is the case with chefs, people outside the trade have little idea, I think, what the best editors actually do. It’s about commas, clarity, and brevity, sure. I’ve had editors at great national magazines tell me that many of the biggest “name” writers we all read and revere turn in copy that looks like it came from a weed whacker. (True story: Maureen Dowd speaks not a word of English.) But great editors do so much more.
The linchpin of my career and, really, my life is the recently retired editor of Chicago magazine, Richard Babcock. Many others who have been lucky enough to work for Dick, a veteran of New York magazine and a protégé of the great Ed Kosner, will tell you the same. Not only did he give me my first break, he also taught me a national magazine sensibility: what justifies space on the page, why stories must be fresh and exclusive and vivid. He also pushed me to try things stylistically, to stretch and take risks. He allowed me to learn the ropes of restaurant criticism, which opened the vast world of food to me and played a crucial part in my eventually landing a job on Queer Eye, which paved the way for all the food TV work that followed. And unbelievably to this day, he responded to my most preposterous ideas, pitches that usually began with, “Dick, we have an opportunity,” sending me to write about Chicago shenanigans and the Illinois State Fair, of course, but also about wealthy motorcycle enthusiasts in Sardinia and land-mine sappers in Mozambique. I’ll always cherish him for his sense of adventure—and, almost certainly, his willingness to cook the books a little when necessary to get the story. (And for teaching me the meaning of “bloviate.”)
Too soon, I had to leave Chicago when Scott Omelianuk, then at Esquire, now the editor-in-chief of This Old House magazine, brought me onto that rarefied masthead as his go-to scribbler and challenged me to stretch even further. Then and current editor-in-chief David Granger, who for 15 years has landed ridiculous amounts of National Magazine Awards at a title many thought was destined for the scrap heap, has kept me there, for some reason, to this day.
And there were so many others. Joel Schatz, who gave me my first job at a community newspaper, and Bill Santamour, who gave me all the rope there that I needed. Chris Pavone, who edited my first cookbook, and Rica Allannic, who has done such a beautiful job on my new one. Barbara Fairchild, Maile Carpenter, the list is longer than I’ll be able to remember.
Thanks to you all. Now, leave me alone—copy TK.
Ted Allen is the host of Food Network’s hit show Chopped and the author of In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks.