by Luke Tsai
So no one accuses me of trying to bury the lede, let’s start with this: Next week I officially start my new job as the East Bay Express’s resident food writer, taking over for my esteemed colleague, Jesse Hirsch. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Around this time three years ago, I was teaching high school English — saving my sharpest barbs not for $15 cocktails or overcooked chicken, but for poems about pet puppy dogs and the never-ending stack of Great Gatsby essays that had taken over my dining room table.* When I finally decided to hang up my red pen and try my hand at freelance journalism, it was the Express that bought my first pitch — 3,000-plus words on an East Bay coffee scene that was starting to really blow up.
* Make no mistake: Teachers are doing God’s work. Can I get an amen?
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of writing, here and elsewhere, about school gardens and YouTube videos, about comic books and Chinatown politics. But mostly what I’ve written about is food.
And why not? I grew up in a family where the subject of dinner conversation was often, well, dinner — whether the dumpling skin was too thick, whether the shrimp scampi was as spicy as the version we’d had at some random restaurant ten years ago. My dad likes to joke about how people from his home province in China will eat anything with four legs except the kitchen table; my mom is one of the finest home cooks I know. For me, food has always been the language of currency.
Besides, it’s true what my friend Lillian says about the Bay Area — about the East Bay, in particular: It's a paradise for people who like food. Lillian is the one who lured my wife and me out to Oakland to begin with, plying us with soul-warming caldo de pollo from Fruitvale, with the Laotian crispy rice salad known as nam khao, with impossibly fragrant melon and strawberry varietals we hadn’t heard of before. Warm bagels and red-sauce Italian of my East Coast upbringing notwithstanding, there was never any contest.
In short, it's been a pleasure to write about the gelato geniuses, the bad-ass butchers, the off-kilter food trucks and nouveaux Jewish delis that populate this rich culinary landscape. Something for all palates, as they say. And not to get too English teachery on you, but I think of my favorite line from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: “I like a story with something to eat in it.” If that isn’t a food writer’s manifesto, I don’t know what is. And I doubt there's a much better place to dig into those stories than here.
The nitty-gritty is that, like John Birdsall and Hirsch before me, I’ll be writing the restaurant review for the Express each week and manning the What the Fork blog as well. I can’t wait to get started.
Got tips or suggestions? Email me at Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com. Otherwise, keep in touch by following me on my (brand spankin’ new) Twitter account, @theluketsai or simply by posting a comment. I'll read ‘em all.