Washington Post food reporter and James Beard Award winner Tim Carman will speak 7 p.m. Monday (Nov. 12) at Copeland Hall Room 142 on the UNK campus. His presentation is titled “Food Writing in the 21st Century: From Suppertime to Sexual Harassment.” The event is free and open to the public.
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Tim Carman is a food reporter for The Washington Post.
Yes, that means he’s frequently sharing recipes and reviewing local restaurants.
His weekly $20 Diner column showcases those small, out-of-the-way, mom-and-pop spots in the Washington, D.C., area where people can grab some cheap and delicious grub that often takes them a step or two outside their comfort zone. Vietnamese soup with pig organs, Peruvian chicken cooked over hot coals and Texas barbecue made the menu recently.
Carman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney (then Kearney State College) in 1983, called it “very satisfying” work – in more ways than one.
He gets to eat interesting food, meet the unique people who prepare it – many of whom are hardworking immigrants trying to make it on their own – then share this cultural experience with others.
“I really love doing that,” the 57-year-old said.
That part of Carman’s job is what people expect to see from a food reporter.
But there’s another side of the stories. Food writing can also touch on politics, agriculture and sustainability, history, sociology and a range of other topics.
“It’s not just walk into a restaurant, order some food, sit down, take some pictures with your cellphone and write about your food,” Carman said. “There are so many aspects of food journalism that I think people are surprised by.”
Carman recently wrote about rapper Kanye West’s lunchtime visit with President Donald Trump and a high-end D.C. restaurant hammered by political protests after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife dined there.
He’s covered the efforts of chef José Andrés to feed the hungry following natural disasters in Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Florida, and documented the rise and fall of restaurateur Mike Isabella, a former “Top Chef” contestant accused of sexual harassment.
The James Beard Award-winning writer even penned a piece highlighting the notion that fish feel pain – a concept that would shake up the commercial fishing industry.
“I know that elicited some pretty strong reactions from people,” Carman said.
An Omaha native, Carman started his journalism career at the Kansas City Star before working as an entertainment reporter and critic at the Houston Post and managing editor at the Houston Press. Prior to joining The Washington Post in 2010, he was a food editor and columnist at Washington City Paper for five years.
Carman has written for Imbibe and Food Network magazines, The American Scholar, Men’s Journal and other publications, and his work has appeared in five editions of the “Best Food Writing” collection.
He appeared in a 2009 episode of “No Reservations” with the late Anthony Bourdain, someone Carman described as “a romantic trapped in a punk’s body” who loved things with abandon.
Here’s what Carman had to say about a variety of other topics:
What drew you to journalism?
“That’s a good question. Probably a limited imagination. I couldn’t really seem to think very far about what I was good at or what I wanted to do. I knew I liked writing. I thought I would be a writer, and journalism was probably the most practical way to go about doing that.”
How did UNK impact your career?
“I had really good teachers. I had instructors that I liked, that I respected, that taught me a lot about journalism and about life and culture in general.”
Do you have a favorite food or restaurant?
“It depends on the day, it depends on the meal, it depends on the people I’m with. I have so many favorite foods, so many restaurants that I like, any of which could be a favorite that day.”
He is, however, particularly fond of a certain icon from his home state.
“That was one of my proudest moments, getting a Nebraska-style Runza into the recipe database of The Washington Post.”
What’s the biggest challenge for today’s journalists?
“I think it’s a constant struggle for attention. There is so much competition out there, despite the fact that many newspapers are struggling. There’s so much online content and people’s attention spans are really short.”
“I think it’s a struggle between doing something quick and attention-getting versus doing something long-form and thought-provoking.”
A little advice for current and future journalists?
“If you want to continue to thrive in journalism, you can’t just stay stuck in what you know or what you’re comfortable with. There are still things I’m learning. You always have to feel like you’re expanding your skill set.”