I did this interview with Mike Dunne when I had the Sac Food Forums. The interview took place in 2007. I'll repeat it here..now. I will say that I am incredibly disappointed at how the Bee "did not handle or mention" why some of our favorite writers are just gone. For someone with abandonment issues...this is hard. :)
Mike Dunne has worked for The Sacramento Bee since 1978. He is the food & wine critic and has a blog, Appetizers with Mike Dunne.I asked Mike, about a month ago, if he'd be willing to do an interview for the Sac Food Forums website. He agreed to it but advised me to get in touch with him about the middle of April. I marked my calendar for the 19th of April. I contacted him on the 18th to remind him. He got back with me and said "give me a number and a time to call.
I will preface this interview by saying that the quotation marks do not indicate an exact quote.. but do indicate that Mike is the one doing the talking. What I am trying to say is I didn't use a tape recorder and I don't type super fast.
1. Why did you agree to an interview for this website? "Well, because it gives me insight into what is interesting to others and because I am interested to see what the reaction/feedback might be."
2. Do you visit this website often? "Yes. Not every day, but several times a week."
3. Someone sent me an email with a request to ask you this; what do you think of the dining reviews on websites similar to this, or on blogs? "I think it is good overall. It brings more voices, a greater diversity of opinions. If you read them, for the most part you'll see that public opinion usually stacks up with what food writers have to say about the restaurant. Sure, restaurants have bad nights. The chef is off that night, or the server is. Slip ups occur. The drawback is when anonymous people post to having a bad experience but they don't elaborate why. They don't make themselves accountable for the review."
4. What is your food/wine background? "I don't have a commercial background in food or wine. I made wine as a hobby. In 1978 I was a feature writer at the Sacramento Bee. My boss, at the time, began to assign me stories on food and wine. I interviewed Robert and Tim Mondavi..and introduced Opus One via my writing. I also interviewed Julia Child and Alice Waters. The Bee was very supportive in sending me to related symposiums as well as cooking and wine classes. Back then there weren't that many..not like now. I ask, "What was Julia Child like?" Mike said, "She was very down to earth, entertaining, funny, and knowledgeable. She wasn't political at all, in that she was totally candid..which made her a fun interview."
5. What is your fondest childhood food memory? "I know this is going to sound trite or cliche, but it is the memory of my moms apple pie. Everyone thinks their mom made/makes the best apple pie. She had a way with crusts. She left me the recipe but I think she left some ingredient or technique out because I haven't been able to duplicate it yet. I think I took her cooking for granted growing up (in Sonora). It wasn't until I'd come home from college and was sent back with her apple pie. My roommates and I really appreciated it and looked forward to it. Also, she had a group of friends who had their specialty dishes.... one made the best waffles, one the best tamales and the other the best ravioli. I've still not found apple pie as good, nor have I had waffles like that. Those childhood foods set the standard for me. I've found some comparable tamales and ravioli but am still searching for those waffles and apple pie." [be on the lookout for the guy eating apple pie, tamales, and ravioli] Mike went on to say that his mom was an RN and his dad was in the lumber industry as well as being one of Sonora's early postal carriers. His father was also a noted poet and artist..everyone knew that about him.
6. What is your favorite meal to eat..or to cook? "It would have to be Italian. I like everything from pizza to osso bucco. I appreciate how Italians have that fresh and direct approach to cooking. There's not a lot of elaboration."
7. Do you have a wine cellar at home? "Yes, well we have two. We have an old Victorian in midtown. We have one cellar under the stairs..which is closed off and has an entryway. I have about 10 cases there, which are wines I bring out for special occasions. We also have a cellar in the carriage house, in the back. Those are my short term wines. I am partial to Rieslings and currently am enjoying those from the Fingerlakes region of New York. I also have some CA Zins, Pinot Noirs, and some Rhone varietals, among others."
8. How many cookbooks do you own? What are your "go to" books? "I have about 150 cookbooks. Some, like Thomas Keller's French Laundry, I just use for reference or technique. I guess my go-to cookbooks would be The Joy of Cooking and any of Mark Bittman's. James Peterson has a great dessert wine book, and I appreciate Harold McGee for his information on food science. I also enjoy Elaine Collins and Russ Parsons. Locally on wine, Elaine Smith of Sacramento Magazine and nationally I enjoy the food writing of Coleman Andrews, Rob Walsh in Houston, Frank Bruni of NYtimes, Michael Bauer of the SF Chronicle, Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly... who just won the Pulitzer prize and is the first critic to win that award, and Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator and Eric Asimov of the NY times. I also check out blogs such as Vinography and Fermentation."
9. Do you read local food blogs or websites?
"Oh yes. I come to your site often, and I enjoy Elise's- Simply Recipes, Brendon's-Something in Season, Cakegrrl..although I see that she has changed the name..she is active in the community, is knowledgeable, and it's a good read, I read Garrett's-Vanilla Garlic, and Sacatomato. There are lot's of good food blogs in this area." [check out Mike's blog, Appetizers with Mike Dunne].
**10. I interviewed Matt Woolston a few months back (Mike replies, "yes, I read that interview.") [oh shit, I am thinking] but I say, that's great! So you know what Matt said about wishing that food critics would ask this question, before rating restaurants: 'what are you trying to be?' Yes, I saw that. Years ago I used to ask something similar to that. Now I am of the opinion that a restaurants or chefs vision should come across in the food that they serve".
11. Has a restaurant owner ever comped your meal? "No, nor has anyone ever tried. I would not accept it. I am on an expense account with the Bee, a great perk. Years ago, a bottle of sparkling wine showed up at our table. We had not ordered it, and I sent it back. I get recognized about 1/3 of the time. I make it clear that I want to be treated just like anybody else."
12. If you could eat at one restaurant in the world, where you haven't been yet, where would that be? "Impossible to narrow it down to one. I'd have at least 10 in each city. In New York I'd want to eat at all of Mario Batali's restaurants..and at Paris Bay. I'd have 10 in Paris, 10 in Hong Kong, etc. I can't narrow it down really."13. What is the most rewarding part of your job, and the most challenging aspect?"The rewarding part is the diversity of the food and wine. If I am writing about asparagus, I can look at it from the growers perspective, it's history, what to do with it (recipes), or even what wine to pair it with. The challenging part is coming up with an angle or topic, and doing justice to it.
"Well thank you very much Mike. I have enjoyed talking with you. You made it easy. Is there anything else that you want to add? "Yes. You asked, if I was stranded on an island, what wine and/or beer would I want with me?"Oh yes. What would they be? "A Riesling and a Pinot Noir..and some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale." Good choices..but I would take some nice Sauv Blanc, a Rose', and Sapporo beer
On those notes,we say goodbye. He tells me to holler at him if I have any further questions. He also thanked me for my persistence in nailing him down for this interview. He is a very busy guy. [and I was beginning to feel pushy..glad I didn't give up!]
We'll miss you Mike, and Bob Sylva, and Pat Rubin, and Gwen Shwoen..and many others. Sorry if I didn't spell your names correctly. I blame it on menopause. I have cancelled my subscription to the Bee..and have told them why. I was hoping they'd acknowledge, and say a fond farewell, to those who they "forced retirement" upon.. those who have been writers at The Bee for many, many years. They didn't. Did they think people wouldn't notice?