“I’ve been coming since the first mastodon leg was cooked over an open fire and someone said, ‘This is creamy, crunchy and family-friendly!’”
Julie Kendrick, freelance writer/journalist extraordinaire, is a familiar face at Food Connections. She’s penned countless compelling stories—many of them about food—for HuffPost, the Star Tribune and Takeout.com just to name a few.
But enough chat, let’s hear from the pro herself.
For those who don’t know, can you describe what you do for a living?
I talk to interesting people about what makes them interesting and then write about it. I’ve interviewed celebrities (Walter Mondale, Maria Shriver), celebrity chefs (Curtis Stone), community activists (Minneapolis’ own Rose McGee), farmers, ranchers and genetic scientists.
Has your writing process changed during social distancing?
Not a bit. I’m the laziest writer alive, so I’ve always tried to wriggle out of in-person interviews, which require driving, pants-wearing and smiling at people when I just want to listen and take notes. So, I’m still right where I’ve always been, doing what I always do — calling people from the spare bedroom upstairs, eternally thrilled when anyone is willing to talk to me. This afternoon, I talked with a man in Austin who owns a “sober” bar called Sans Bar. We talked about what it’s like to be a (currently shut down) black-owned business that serves the recovery community. That’s for a story in TheTakeout.com. Then I talked with a Minneapolis-based “death doula” (it’s a thing) about what a day is like for her, for a story on NextAvenue.com. When I talk to people in other places, I always ask them about the weather. It’s such a dumb thing to do, but people love it (it was 100+ degrees in Austin today, for example, a fact I would not have known had I not interviewed that sober bar guy).
What’s been your favorite takeout meal?
No takeout, ever. No restaurant meals either, even before. In addition to being lazy, I’m also incredibly cheap. Man, you’re a tough interviewer — I’m really baring my soul here.
What have you been cooking lately?
This Sunday, I made English muffins (using the recipe from the Tartine cookbook, on loan from the library) and used them as a base for Eggs Benedict. The 2-minute Hollandaise from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats is so easy and good; you just need a jar and an immersion blender.
Thanks to inspiration from IN Food’s resident culinary genius Lori Gerdts, I’ve been making tons of sourdough crackers, using Sunrise Mills heritage flour (taken out in trade for writing the new back-of-label copy on their bags).
I’m always making a new batch of kombucha or sauerkraut to put in my fermenting crock. I make, parbake and freeze individual sourdough pizza crusts, and I’d say at least one pizza gets made here just about every day, using homemade tomato sauce, or, just recently, pesto made from basil from the garden.
And, almost every night, someone makes popcorn in the Whirley Pop. It’s the best dinner ever.
When did you decide that you wanted to make a living as a writer?
Early in my career, I worked in agencies as a copywriter. Then I started leading presentation teams, so all I wrote was introductions (“Thank you so much for the opportunity to present our pack of lies to you today …”). I did that a lot, back in the days when submitting something online scared people, at least the delicate, creative flowers at the agencies where I worked. I became an expert at hitting the “submit” button and not hyperventilating.
When the economy crashed, all that business went away. (Earnings for the month of December, 2008 = $200. Fun, familiar times). I was volunteering for a youth theater, trying to get coverage about a bullying prevention play they were doing. I approached the editor of MN Parent magazine and offered to write a story about the play for free. She took me up on my offer, and after that she started offering me assignments. I was astounded that someone would pay me to talk to a person and write about it. One thing led to another, and I’ve been a freelance writer for 17 years.
What/who made you want to write about food?
There are three kinds of people who are always fun to interview: farmers, scientists and chefs. Not sure what the throughline is there, but I guess it’s that they’re generally independent thinkers who create things instead of just talking about them. Also, everyone thinks they understand what people do in those jobs, but usually they don’t, so there’s always a new angle to explore.
What’s something you love about food writing?
Finding an unsung hero who is excited to tell their story. It’s even better when I can help that person find a national platform for their work, which I’ve been able to do a few times. It’s incredibly gratifying.
What’s difficult about food writing?
Keeping it fresh, because so many things have already been said. I mean, we’ve been eating since we’ve been here (quick Wikipedia check: about five million years), so a lot of adjectives have run out of steam. A while ago, I worked on a project for General Mills to add SEO content to their 200 top-searched recipes. I had to write a 200-word “story” about each recipe. I quickly learned that there are only so many different ways to say “creamy,” “crunchy” or “family friendly.” I just about lost my creamy crunchy mind, 40,000 words later.
Who’s a food writer or personality you admire?
I read a lot of cookbooks (library, cheap) and most of them are awful. You know a fun one? Surprise, it’s Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings. It’s clearly dictated to a lackey, because I’m not sure this woman has ever held a writing instrument in her hand, but it’s utterly without pretension and seems to capture her spirit of not giving a fig what anyone thinks about her. I made her split pea soup with hot dogs for a Soup Swap and it was great. Tyler Kord’s A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches, edited by Francis Lam, is fresh and original. Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat is a filthy, profane and very entertaining chef memoir. Chef Rossi’s Raging Skillet, ditto.
In terms of writing, everything Anthony Bourdain ever wrote was true blue and straight from the heart. He’s the food writers’ Hemingway, may he rest in peace.
I also love weird, old-timey books about food that I have to get on inter-library loan and wait months to receive. I just read The Girl from Rector’s, written in 1927; it’s about a NY restaurant that was a hot spot in the Gilded Age. My copy still had a stamp card with due dates in the back, and the last time it had been taken out was in 1946. I was in heaven.
Where do you find inspiration?
Even though I am, as previously confessed, lazy, I also am a relentless hustler for new material, so pretty much everything I see, eat or hear about gets evaluated – could this be a story? I pitched & sold that Whirley Pop story after making popcorn (dinner) one night and seeing “Monon, Indiana” stamped on the top of the popper. I wondered what that place was like (answer: population 1,748; one stoplight). I wondered if I could trim my own bangs during quarantine and wrote about that. My daughter wondered if it was a bad idea that she hadn’t worn a bra during the entire pandemic and I wrote about it (and got to interview a UK-based biomechanics professor / bra expert, proving that there is, in fact, an expert for everything). Whenever I talk to someone, I’m always sizing them up for their editorial worthiness. It’s my life goal to write about every single person I know and quote them at least once in a story. I’m getting closer all the time.
What’s your go-to beverage when you’re cranking out an assignment?
Usually just tepid tap water, whee, but if I’m especially stressed, I treat myself to Diet Coke. When I wrote the HuffPost story about Rose McGee giving away Sweet Potato Comfort Pies at the George Floyd site, I turned the story around in three days. I was in an absolute panic, wanting to make sure it was worthy of such a great woman. I drank two liters of Diet Coke in those three days, and I think I burned a hole in my stomach. But she was happy with the result and ended up being interviewed for Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, People magazine, Reader’s Digest … so I guess it was worth it, even though I’m just now coming down off that caffeine high.
Is there an article you’ve written recently that you’re particularly proud of? (I’m sure it’s hard to choose just one).
In February, I pitched, sold and submitted a story about Shop Dogs of Minneapolis for the Strib, and then it had to be put on hold until just now. I hope it makes people smile for a minute.
What’s the strangest thing (in a good way) someone’s ever commented on one of your articles?
Not necessarily good, but funny: When I wrote a story about goat meat, the HuffPost editor slapped on a snarky headline that made people mad — so mad that it was the #1 story on all of HuffPost for 24 hours (news flash: outrage sells). The editor was thrilled, but my Twitter feed exploded. I heard from angry world citizens who wanted me to know they’d always eaten goat meat (the point of the article, but no one read that far) and many, many incensed vegetarians who sent pictures of baby goats with captions like why Julie why? Fun fact: I have never eaten goat meat.
If someone wants to partner with you, how can they reach you?
Julie@KendrickWorks.com // 612-382-5333
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