Feminist, Uncle, Gadfly: A Conversation with Tim Mazurek

[This is the second in a series of conversations. The first one is here.]
If you’re familiar with Tim Mazurek and his site, Lottie + Doof, you likely read “You’re Boring,” a subversive think piece on why food media mostly sucks and how we can do better.

In Tim’s view, part of the problem is that professionals in mainstream food media are too similar-minded and too cozy with one another. In his words, they have “worked together, or might someday work together, so nobody can criticize anyone else. Everyone is too busy congratulating each other or promoting each other’s work (often while talking about how shitty the work is behind their back)… Don’t get me wrong, professional camaraderie and friendships are great. But they shouldn’t exclude formal criticism.”

I completely agree and have spent a fair amount of time calling out my least favorite food and lifestyle magazines for what I perceive to be a kind of trend-focused, overly precious, and largely soul-less approach to food and cooking. That being said, it’s probably a bit easier for me to do so as a food media outsider—I have very little to lose. I also don’t really have friends in the business. I don’t know people who work at Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, etc. (Perhaps ironically, Tim himself is the closest I come to having a good friend in food media.)

What I think makes Tim a national treasure is that he does know these people and isn’t afraid to ask for more out of them. Plus, and probably most importantly, he’s not selling anything. He doesn’t pay the bills via his blog, food-writing, or a Lottie + Doof-branded line of pots and pans. Are there any other major names in food who can say the same? And this isn’t meant as a knock to the people who are selling things, myself included (Uhm, buy my book!). Rather, it’s a nod to the magical power and freedom of distance, the idea that when you’re too close to something, you can’t see it clearly—which brings to mind the words of the late, great Bill Cunningham: “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” (Not that there is a lot of money in food-writing.) (Buy my book?)

This brings me to my first question.

Amelia Morris: At one point, I know you were considering writing a cookbook. Are you still?

Tim Mazurek: Ugh. I don't know. I think I like the idea of having written a cookbook better than actually writing one. There are a few issues. First of all, I honestly do not know how to incorporate it into my life. I work full-time (am I the only 9-5 food blogger?) and I have friends and family I want to spend time with. We're also living in the golden age of television—a new season of Fleabag isn't going to watch itself. Time constraints aside, there are too many cookbooks being published and most of them are so very mediocre. I don't want to produce another boring forgettable cookbook. One of the beautiful things about blogging is that whatever I say goes, Lottie + Doof is this world that I have complete control over. Working with a publisher means that I am giving up control of my work and that would be a struggle for me. Plus writing pays shit, which isn't motivating. So, there are a lot of checks in the cons column, at least right now. All of that said, I am still considering a proposal and have a very rough draft that I look at occasionally. I have this idea that I like and some recipes I would like to share. I like the format of a book in that it is finite and an object that would exist in the world. And theoretically, I do like collaborating and would enjoy working on a project like this with the right people. But I don't know if the weirdo book I would want to produce has a place in contemporary cookbook publishing. And all of this presumes that anyone would want to publish me, which they probably wouldn't. I don't know. I'm conflicted. So promise to never ask me about it again, okay?

AM: We started our food blogs at very similar times and about a year before Condé Nast decided to dump Gourmet (end of 2009). Were you a fan of Gourmet? Why or why not?

TM: I did like Gourmet! It was a different time, I was young and innocent and hadn't consumed much food media. Who knows what I would think of it today. But generally speaking, I liked stuff better back then because nobody thought it was cool. More importantly, it didn't think it was cool. It was earnest and nerdy in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. So much media today seems like it was created by public relations software, it is all hashtags and cross-promotions and celebrity waffle trends. This was why blogs were cool back then, too. They weren't a thing. It was just a bunch of randos who wanted to write about food, it wasn't part of a business plan or brand strategy. I miss those days. I miss Google Reader.

AM: I want to talk more about formal criticism, but also as it relates to informal criticism. I’m specifically thinking about Twitter and online comments. Have you experienced—like I assume most bloggers have—some hateful commenters on Lottie + Doof? Or Twitter? Also, it appears that you can’t comment on your blog anonymously—was that a conscious decision?

TM: I am both unable to keep my mouth shut and very sensitive, which is a terrible combination. And especially poorly suited to the internet. So I live in constant fear that someone will say something mean to me. They occasionally do, but mostly the people who read my blog have proven themselves to be real gems. I love my regulars so much. And I not only prohibit anonymous comments, I also approve all comments from first-timers before they are posted. Both were conscious decisions. I want the site to be a fun place for myself and anyone who drops by. I am more often attacked on Twitter, which I guess is expected....and sometimes I deserve it. Social media isn't the best place to discuss serious topics.

AM: Via your blog, you introduced me to the poem, “I Woke Up” by Jameson Fitzpatrick. I love it so much. It’s such an entertaining and yet still powerful poem. Where did you first come across it? Do you have a favorite line or moment from it?

TM: I am so glad you like it! I came across it on The Poetry Foundation's website. The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorite Chicago cultural institutions. People should visit it when they are in town. And their website is an incredible resource for finding poets and poems. I really like everything about that poem, but especially: Who I thought was handsome was political—which makes me sad.

AM: I am on an ancient Chinese poetry kick. (We’ve all been there, amiright?) Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching has given me a lot of comfort in this post-fact world. Since the election, have you found yourself leaning on any particular book or storyline or piece of art?

TM: YES. More generally, I have found that art suddenly seems vital to me in a way that it never has before (and I have two degrees in art!). I am holding it so close—as an escape and as a reminder that humans can be magical little creatures capable of truly wonderful stuff. In December I read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and formed what some (my husband) would call an unhealthy attachment to it. You know when you get the right book at the right time? This was the epitome of that. It is such an escape and felt like the only safe space for me for a while. I never wanted it to end. It is this massive text that is a parody of Victorian novels and also a mystery and also about astrology and also about the New Zealand gold rush and maybe my favorite love story ever. It is bonkers. It is the only book I can remember reading that made me gasp out loud at the cleverness of the author. It is just so fucking cool, Amelia. Stop reading this and go read that.

AM: I recently flipped through People magazine and was rather deflated by their description of Glennon Doyle Melton, who is someone I’ve come to know and appreciate solely through her Instagram feed. People tagged her as a: “Christian mom blogger.” Though I guess she is all of these things, the description feels wrong. If People magazine were reporting on you, what would your ideal three-word description be of yourself—knowing that, of course, the whole three-word limitation is the whole problem. Also, speaking of People, who is your celebrity crush? (Also, sorry?)

TM: "Feminist uncle blogger"? Or maybe "feminist uncle gadfly"? I actually like this exercise.

But what I like even more is talking about celebrity crushes. How have we never discussed this before? I don't know how to narrow this down. A perennial favorite is Michiel Huisman, which hopefully requires no explanation. I am deeply into Andrew Scott's performance of Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series. His energy is so attractive. That one is perhaps connected to a larger theme in my life where many of my celebrity crushes are actors in British murder mysteries. I started a zine in like 2007 called: "Men of Marple" (as in, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple) that was basically me obsessing over the babes on the ITV series that was airing at the time. It was not a widely read zine.

Also, I have a crush on the entire cast of Riverdale on the CW. Literally the entire cast. That casting director deserves an Emmy.
In case the name doesn't ring a bell, that striped babe on the left is Michiel Huisman
AM: Maybe it’s all this talk of nuclear bombs, but I keep thinking about dishes/recipes that I want to make before dying. It’s weirdly motivating. Some of them are quite simple, like this recipe for Green Chutney in Madhur Jaffrey’s latest cookbook. Do you have any bucket-list dishes like that?

TM: I don't think I can relate to wanting to cook in the face of impending death. I'd rather have someone else cook for me in that situation. But I hope to someday make mole and a proper croissant.

AM: I recently read the rules to a 30-day detox touted by Goop. Here are the first seven of fifteen: “1. No alcohol. 2. No caffeine. 3. No dairy. 4. No eggs. 5. No beef, no pork. 6. No shellfish, no raw fish. 7. No gluten.” What are your thoughts on detoxing? Have you ever tried one?

TM: I hate it. The language around this sort of pseudo-science bullshit is intolerable to me. I am happy for you, as an individual, to do whatever stupid thing you want to do. I am not okay when you start telling other people about it and claiming there is science or truth behind it. Nutritional science is incredibly complicated stuff and not easily applicable to general audiences. "Healthy" to one person may not be "healthy" to another. And fuck anyone who calls dairy a toxin.

As for my own experience, once I didn't drink any Coca Cola for a month and that was pretty terrible. I wouldn't recommend it.

AM: Do you think that in order to run for president, you should have to be able to make one really good meal from scratch? Or maybe be able to fry an egg with a runny yolk?

TM: Not at all. Do you? Why would this be important? I'd rather they be good at crying.

AM: Since you asked... Yes, I DO wish presidential candidates could cook. I'm pretty sure this notion is wrapped up in my perpetual naiveté about the world and people. Basically: I see cooking as a form of nurturing—both for the cook and the ones eating the meal. Just imagining either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in a kitchen, apron-clad, making a thoughtful meal, relaxes me. The image also reminds me of this line I came across (via Glennon Doyle Melton's Instagram) about peacemaking, which ends with: "[peacemaking] is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free." I believe that Trump is oppressed by his compulsion to appear hyper-masculine as was Hillary by her need to appear masculine enough. I think they might both benefit by some time in the kitchen. I also believe that caring about making good food leads to caring about where good food comes from which typically leads to caring about mother earth. So yeah, maybe instead of a third debate, there should be a cook-off?

TM: I am less convinced that cooking is always a form of nurturing. I don't think what is happening in restaurants is necessarily nurturing, though sometimes it is. I watched my grandma cook her whole life, more often than not it seemed like a burden. I suspect cooking can be nurturing in the hands of nurturing people, and not in the hands of others. But I think we agree that we would love a nurturing president. Bring her on!

AM: If you could cook for any politician/public servant, who would it be and what do you think you would make?

Is this a trap, Amelia? I refuse to admit to wanting to poison anyone.

I don't have much interest in cooking for a politician. I am skeptical of most of them, especially at the national level. Even the love for Obama that many of my friends seem to feel will always be a bit of a mystery to me. He didn't support marriage equality until it was politically safe for him to do so. I am not naive, I get how politics work, but I don't know how to love a president who spent years telling me he wasn't sure I deserved the same rights he benefited from. Sure, by comparison he was pretty good and I am grateful to have had him as a president. I like leaders who read books and can articulate ideas and appear empathetic. But I don't need to cook for them. They should cook for me.
I would cook this (green chutney grilled cheese) for you, Tim. 


Matthew said...

I would love to read Tim's weirdo gadfly cookbook.

Jennifer said...

Oh, I love Tim's response to Whole 30, I was cracking up,
Another great conversation! Thank you!

Tim Mazurek said...

Matt-I will write it just for you.
Amelia- You're the best. Thanks for including me in this series, I can't wait to read more. (And I am sorry in advance for offending the toxic dairy lobby.)

jjk84 said...

Amelia, I love this series, keep it coming! Food is totally political.

Also, Tim, you are so great. I MISS GOOGLE READER TOO!

Kara said...

I echo everyone's sentiments, this is a terrific series!! Your questions are the best and Tim Mazurek always makes me laugh out loud. Hurray for you both and the internets that introduced you. Xx

Unknown said...

Great interview. And Amelia, I'm with you on the world leader who can thoughtfully fry an egg thing. 100%.

Jodi Drennan said...

Thank God you didn't list the last 8 of the Goop detox list, I don't think I could've taken it. I am going to have a milkshake in rebellion, and then get drunk. You and Tim were a riot otherwise. Thanks Amelia!

sg said...

BEST morning reading this from two favorites. I would most definitely buy and read your book Tim! x

HAILEY said...

I love this series and enjoyed this conversation so much! Keep this up!

andrea said...

Tim has great taste in restaurants (Oleana), introduced me to the deliciousness that is baked feta before it was a thing (2009),gave me my FAVORITE EVER tofu recipe (black pepper tofu), and I would absolutely buy his weirdo cookbook!

Amelia Morris said...

Thanks so much, guys. Really glad you're enjoying these.

Also, so far, no pro-dairy haters!! :) :)

Rosie P said...

I will buy Tim's cookbook. I would also subscribe to the thought-provoking and unboring magazine that Tim and Amelia could edit. It'd be great!

charlotte said...

You two are the best. I think you should collaborate more. I'd read/listen/watch.

amanda a. said...

I'm fairly new to your blog, Amelia, and I love this series! (And the Cooking with Teddy videos - my three-year-old son is my stirrer and taste-tester, too)

Mary Anne said...

Ha! I loved every word of this and want Tim to do a cookbook!!!!!!!! I'm already imagining the cool photos!!!

smoothness said...

i love tim. this conversation is really inspiring. i could probably listen to you two talk for 8 hours a day. I wish you could do a "beavis and butthead"-like (weekly? monthly?) podcast where you openly criticise stuff.

Unknown said...

"I'd rather they be good at crying." HAHAHAHAHAH!!! LOVE.

susanr said...

Thanks for the interview. I loved L+D's "You're boring" post, have turned all my bougie friends on to roasted feta and yes, "fuck lemon zest". There is a lot to criticize in food blogs (lack of diversity, narrow age/demographic focus, etc...) but Lottie and Doof and Bon Appetempt work so well because they seems grounded in a real place and real time with real people who have real (and sometimes contradictory) opinions. Plus you both make me laugh! Of course, nothing like the fall over snorting peals of laughter I have when reading "Manger"....