World-Traveling Food Writer Jeff Gordinier Talks Prose and Pampers
This globetrotting journalist does daytime double duty as the father of four.
Gordinier in his frequent place of work, the Tiffany Reading Room in Irvington Town Hall.
photo by andre baranowski
Stay-at-home dad of four kids by day and globetrotting journalist by night, Irvington-based Jeff Gordinier leads a bifurcated existence. “Most people see this glamorous life on Instagram, but they don’t see me changing diapers,” says the self-described “regular, hands-on suburban dad,” who also happens to be the food-and-drinks editor of Esquire and a contributor to The New York Times, among other elite publications. “A fraction of what I do is writing. Most of my life is parenting.”
Once the nanny arrives to take care of his one-year-old twins, Gordinier will head to the Irvington Public Library or Town Hall, where he’ll write for a few hours — all in longhand. Later, he will give his older children, 17 and 13, an afternoon snack and dinner and take them to appointments, from the orthodontist to ball practice. At night, he will often head into the city to visit a hot new dining spot.
Sounds exhausting — but doable. Yet, Gordinier, who has lived in the county for nearly 20 years, also travels frequently, sometimes to far-flung destinations, such as Norway and Korea. On work trips, he’ll visit an average of eight bars and/or restaurants per day. After all, he alone is responsible for Esquire’s annual Best New Restaurants in America and, in tandem with another editor, in charge of the publication’s Best Bars in America lists.
Gordinier with wife Lauren Fonda, a publicist, whom he married in January 2018.
photo by andre baranowski
In fact, Gordinier spent four years accompanying the chef of the world-renowned, Copenhagen-based Noma, René Redzepi, on international trips — experiences he chronicles in his new book, Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World (Tim Duggan Books, Crown Publishing Group, 2019). In this memoir-cum-travelogue, Gordinier provides front-row access to the motivations and work habits of a culinary icon, considered by many to be the world’s best chef.
Balance — or the lack thereof — happens to be a primary theme in Hungry. As Gordinier shows, Redzepi constantly challenges himself to raise the bar and break new ground in the culinary realm. In particular, “the period of time chronicled in the book was a very stressful, intense period in his life, where he blew up his original restaurant,” Gordinier explains. “He took on too much.” That tendency Redzepi has to push himself to the limit has been a source of inspiration for Gordinier, who admits he’s had times in his life when he was tempted by complacency. In fact, one the the reasons he so values his journalism career is because of how it forces him to explore the world and learn.
Throughout his life, Gordinier has pushed himself to seek out the unfamiliar. After all, he experienced a comfortable childhood, with a corporate-executive father and painter mother. He describes the community in which he lived during his early years as “conservative,” “very Christian,” and “Leave It to Beaver-like” as he recalls venturing from his house in California’s suburban San Marino to LA to discover new bands and restaurants. After studying English and creative writing at Princeton (class of ’88), Gordinier began a successful career
Gordiner's new book.
After serving as a city-government reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, he became a culture writer/rock critic at the Santa Barbara News-Press; editor-at-large at both Entertainment Weekly and the now-defunct Details magazine; and staff writer for the Food section of The New York Times.
As for how he segued from culture writing to food writing, Gordinier explains: “One of my editors at Details was Pete Wells, who began to notice that all I wanted to talk about was food. At one point, I visited Jerusalem to report a political piece, and when I got back to New York, I told Pete, ‘You would not believe the hummus at the American Colony Hotel!’ The same thing happened when I was in the American Southwest, reporting on Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Pete asked me how Utah had been, and I said something like, ‘It was really interesting; they have this Mormon version of fresh mozzarella!’” When Wells became the editor of the dining section of The New York Times, he assigned Gordinier food articles and later offered him a full-time job at the paper.
Local Food Writer Jeff Gordinier’s Westchester Favorites
In addition to his staff jobs, Gordinier authored X Saves the World (Viking, 2008), about Generation X; and co-edited Here She Comes Now, a collection of essays about women in music. He also contributed essays to the anthologies Yes Is the Answer; The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage; Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005; and various editions of Best Food Writing. Yet, Gordinier admits the reason he is occasionally recognized on the street is for his appearance in a 2017 episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, about Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist nun in South Korea. In the episode, Gordinier, along with acclaimed chef Eric Ripert, describe the vegan meals she prepares at a temple.
Being around creative people, such as Redzepi and Kwan, not only inspires Gordinier but also offers a counterpoint to his domestic life. “After changing diapers, suddenly, I’m on a flight, then in the middle of another country,” he says. “It’s intoxicating to be around people who are on a mission every day to create something meaningful. It’s like hanging out with superheroes, palling around with Avengers as they fight crimes. I love to escape.” Although, he does admit one downside to his split-personality life: When he arrives home, sometimes “the ego gets in the way, and it can be a shock to have to take out the recycling.”
Still, the bipolar nature of his routine calls. After all, Gordinier admits that he “gets bored” if he stops learning. “If I stop learning, I stop writing — and there is always something to learn. Every experience changes me. That’s probably why I keep doing this line of work. It’s an ongoing education.”
Dina Cheney is the author of six books, plus a food and health writer for numerous publications.