A friend started it all, asking, "Do you want to come have a drink with me? You can meet my friend who writes for the City Paper, Lee Jenkins..." Of course! Who could resist getting in on that little secret? Not this restaurant criticism junkie...
A couple of weeks later, I asked Miss Jenkins to meet, to get her to tell me the secrets for breaking into the food journalism world. We went on an actual review dinner. I was hooked. I never did figure out how she got into the business, but I found her mighty fetchin', and a long succession of review meals ensued. In fact, I was that "dining companion" on nearly 300 review trips over the next few years. As you might guess, we became well acquainted over so many meals, so much so that we got married. We're expecting our first child, a boy, in February. Go figure.
Five years of constant reviewing and writing takes a toll -- something I feel qualified to state with authority. Most readers don't realize that Lee managed to build an excellent career in the real world while still finding the time and energy to eat out an average of twice a week at locations of the CP's wide-ranging choosing. Finding the time to write 1,000 words about the experience is likewise often not so easy, and there's a fine line between "get to go" and "have to go."
I hear you crying, "But all those free meals!" and you have a point, of sorts. The truth of the matter is that for every trip to McCrady's or Peninsula Grill, there are 10 or even 20 visits to creepy sundry joints on Ashley Phosphate Road or mediocre bar-and-grills on Folly. I can tell you, after doing it twice a week, every single week, for five years, that it's a lot of work.
And so, I suppose I've discovered the secret to breaking into food journalism. One needs the ability to write, to be sure, but marrying a current critic seems to help ... kidding. I kid. Lee has stepped down, and I've been lucky enough to be allowed to try to fill her shoes. Of course, she'll just be making a lateral move to "dining companion" for most, if not all of, the trips to come, but she's got other, uh, fish to fry these days. So while you might miss her byline, rest assured that she's still out there eating -- she just doesn't write it all down anymore. Meanwhile, I'll do my very best to uphold the very high standard she's set at CP, and continue to enjoy the company of my "dining companion" for many issues to come.
Rest in peace, Lee Jenkins. (That's Mrs. Goodwin to you.)