Original recipes by J. Kenji López-Alt of The Food Lab and Stella Parks of BraveTart
James Beard Award-winning founder of Serious Eats Ed Levine finally tells the mouthwatering and heartstopping story of building--and almost losing--one of the most acclaimed and beloved food sites in the world.
In 2005, Ed Levine was a freelance food writer with an unlikely dream: to control his own fate and create a different kind of food publication. He wanted to unearth the world's best bagels, the best burgers, the best hot dogs--the best of everything edible. To build something for people like him who took everything edible seriously, from the tasting menu at Per Se and omakase feasts at Nobu down to mass-market candy, fast food burgers, and instant ramen.
Against all sane advice, he created a blog for $100 and called it...Serious Eats. The site quickly became a home for obsessives who didn't take themselves too seriously. Intrepid staffers feasted on every dumpling in Chinatown and sampled every item on In-N-Out's secret menu. Talented recipe developers like The Food Lab's J. Kenji López-Alt and Stella Parks, aka BraveTart, attracted cult followings.
Even as Serious Eats became better-known--even beloved and respected--every day felt like it could be its last. Ed secured handshake deals from investors and would-be acquirers over lunch only to have them renege after dessert. He put his marriage, career, and relationships with friends and family at risk through his stubborn refusal to let his dream die. He prayed that the ride would never end. But if it did, that he would make it out alive.
This is the moving story of making a glorious, weird, and wonderful dream come true. It's the story of one food obsessive who followed a passion to terrifying, thrilling, and mouthwatering places--and all the serious eats along the way.
Praise for Serious Eater
"Read[s] more like a carefully crafted novel than a real person's life." --from the foreword by J. Kenji López-Alt
"Wild, wacky, and entertaining...The book makes you hungry for Ed to succeed...and for lunch." --Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar
"Serious Eater is seriously good!...you'll be so glad [Ed] invited you to a seat at his table." --Ree Drummond, author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks
"After decades of spreading the good food gospel we get a glimpse of the missionary behind the mission." --Dan Barber, chef, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was a sunny, bitterly cold day in December 2010, though there was so little natural light in the Serious Eats office that it was impossible to tell once you were inside. The eleven of us were crammed into our funky loft office on one of the last blocks of what was once the thriving Little Italy enclave in lower Manhattan. Actually, to call it a loft would be a stretch. It was a nine-hundred-square-foot, awkwardly shaped studio with low ceilings that our Italian commercial baker landlords had once used to churn out cannolis. The “test kitchen” was a funky island we had bought at Ikea that we had rigged with an induction cooktop. It was so not up to code that we could only hope and pray that the Department of Buildings of New York City would never pay us a visit. It was tight in that office, but it was all we could afford. And we were a tight- knit group anyway.
I was about to ring the cowbell, which I did whenever we earned a major piece of business. And we were celebrating a major piece of business: a $500,000 advertising campaign from a huge financial services company. It was a commitment from a Fortune 500 company. It was a big fucking deal. This was going to be the ad campaign that put us over the top, the one that made us a sustainable business after five nail- biting years of me wondering every week if we were good for payroll. We were going to make Serious Eats work as a business. I felt so sure of it, I let myself gloat.
We ordered pizza from Prince Street Pizza to celebrate— specifically, its Spicy Spring, a Sicilian- style pizza with a chili- flecked sauce and crisped slices of pepperoni. A Spicy Spring slice is simply a life- changing slice of pizza. Believe me. I know pizza. I wrote a whole book about it, spending an entire year eating a thousand slices in America and Italy. The pan- baked crust is a gorgeous burnished brown. It is crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. The crisped pepperoni is the good stuff. It doesn’t turn the whole slice orange, though there’s plenty of spicy rendered fat on top. Once you have a Spicy Spring slice from Prince Street Pizza it’s hard to eat any other slice of Sicilian pizza.
The pizza came, and the celebration was on. We broke out the wine and the beer. Our two resident mixologists, Drinks editor Maggie Hoffman and managing editor Carey Jones, whipped up a cocktail or two. Yup, we were on our way. We were kicking ass and taking names.
The next day our ad sales director got an email from his contact at the financial services company’s ad agency. They were canceling the ad buy effective immediately. “Can they just do that?” I asked. “Yup,” he replied. “It happens all the time.” Five hundred thousand dollars— the $500,000 that would keep us safe— went out the door in a nanosecond. It was gone, and it never came back.
The timing of this particular fiasco couldn’t have been worse. We were running out of money. My investor brother had told me, “When you run out of money, you lose control of your business.” Actually, in my case, I was just going to flat- out lose my business.
I had been fruitlessly searching for new investors for the previous three months. My old investors were tapped out. I had learned the hard way that just because almost all my investors were people of considerable means did not mean their checkbooks were always open for me. To keep the business afloat, I had taken out a loan from a bank that I had personally guaranteed. Why? Because one of the deep dark secrets of trying to build a small business in America is that you cannot borrow money for that business without personally guaranteeing it.
Of course the bank tells you that the money you get from them in the form of a line of credit should not be used for operating capital. Good luck with that, I thought to myself. I had no choice, because there was no other money to use to pay the staff. That’s right. I was betting the ranch, or in my case, the apartment we had been living in for more than thirty years.
So the day after my suddenly meaningless cowbell- ringing ceremony, the ball had rolled back down the hill, Sisyphus- style. I tried to put on a brave face, but my lousy poker face made that a doomed endeavor.
How had Serious Eats, the flavor of the month, even the year, the site that the New York Times Magazine called the “culinary supersite,” that PBS had called the future of food media, ended up in this insanely precarious position? I knew the answer, but I couldn’t say it aloud to my employees or even my wife. There was no road map for digital publishing businesses, particularly those that are bootstrapped and undercapitalized. We were all making it up as we went along. And press clippings cannot be used as collateral or to pay the rent. All the great slices of pizza from Prince Street were not going to change that.
Table of Contents
Foreword J. Kenji López-Alt xi
Serious Eater Playlist xvii
1 Missionary of the Delicious 5
2 The Love I Lost 11
Recipe: Hot Fudge à la C.C. Brown's Stella Parks 22
Recipe: Dad's Old-fashioned English Muffins Stella Parks 23
3 Grinnell College: Where Everything Seemed Possible 25
4 Trying to Hook All the Shit Up 29
Recipe: Fat, Diner-Style Burgers à la the Village Vanguard's J. Kenji López-Alt 40
5 From Jazz Guy to Ad Guy to New York Eats 43
6 One Small Thing 51
7 Gusto: The Meal Ticket That Wasn't 61
Recipe: Magic Bagels Stella Parks 69
8 The Siren Call of the Blogosphere 71
9 Next Stop Startup-ville 81
Recipe: White Clam Pizza J. Kenji López-Alt 94
10 Team Serious Eats 97
11 Tribe Serious Eats 107
Recipe: Spiced Onion Clusters with Blackened Ginger-Curry Sauce J. Kenji López-Alt 121
12 2007: The Year of Living Deliciously and Dangerously 125
13 Meltdowns, Traitors, and Truth 141
14 The Great, Slow Pivot to Recipes 151
15 Some Dreams Die Hard 165
16 The Dramamine Years 179
17 Only the Strong Survive 199
Recipe: Classic Cherry Pie Steila Parks 212
18 The Jig Is Up 215
19 Waiting to Exhale 221
20 The Aftermath 239
Recipe: Onion Bialys Steila Parks 250
21 A Day in the Life of This Serious Eater (2018) 253