Someone once said of the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher: she was a passionate woman and food was her metaphor. It's an image that has stuck with me throughout my career, the idea that what we eat is a touchstone for human existence, and that food writing can tell us about so much more than what was on the plate. Eating is one of the few experiences that knit us all together—whether we encounter it as a source of pleasure and joy or one of anxiety and deprivation. Food is a basic need that we all confront every day and, for me, it's a compelling force in why I write.
Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, I just love food and am probably a little obsessed with it. My mind is always bouncing back to my last meal, or my next. This was influenced in no small part by growing up in a household of food lovers. My parents are foodies to the extreme, and when I was a kid, they arranged our vacations around eating in France. Nearly every summer we'd exchange our Brooklyn home for, say, a house in Provence and spend the month of August comparing tasting menus at every good restaurant within a two-hour drive. My sister and I were encouraged—okay, begged, bribed, and cowed—into trying everything from foie gras to veal kidneys. Back in Brooklyn, our own recipes were discussed and dissected as a matter of course. My father once spent an entire year perfecting veal marsala before moving on to shrimp in lobster sauce.
My parents' exuberance was contagious and I especially caught it bad. Food became our way of relating to one another, our own family metaphor. It is something to be cherished, sought out, and talked over, and the primary means by which love is expressed. In our family, there is no sadness that can't be at least partially soothed by grilled lamb chops cooked perfectly rare. It's no wonder it continues to be the inspiration for my work.
Now that I have a family of my own, I know that answering the question "what's for dinner?" in a way that pleases everyone (especially the cook) is a never-ending challenge. The thought of somebody out there eating a better meal because of something I write drives me forward. This means not just writing more, but spending more time in the kitchen trying to come up with something new.
I feel lucky to be a food writer. Knowing that my work literally feeds my readers and, through my recipes, teaches them to feed themselves brings me an unquantifiable amount of satisfaction. Best of all, it means there's always something nice coming out of my kitchen.
Melissa Clark, a James Beard Foundation Award winner, writes about cuisine, wine, travel, and other products of appetite for numerous publications including Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and the New York Times, where she writes the column "A Good Appetite." She has written 29 cookbooks, the latest In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite: 150 Stories and Recipes for the Food You Love (Hyperion). Clark was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she now lives with her husband and toddler.