Some of you may find this shocking, but there was a time when people looked to actual professional writers to figure out which new restaurants to try. We’re talking as far back as three or four years ago. And now that there’s officially one old-school food critic still standing in a town of 4.5 million people, we thought we’d dig up this Q&A with longtime local food critic, Nikki Buchanan.
Best known for her nearly two decades at Phoenix Magazine, Buchanan’s recent career is a perfect snapshot of the demise of this once prestigious profession. After dabbling in food blogging, and a brief stint at the AZ Republic, she jumped ship to co-found a PR/Marketing agency.
(Click here to learn why the Phoenix New Times‘ longtime critic just walked away. Hint: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.)
When we broke bread with Buchanan, she spoke candidly about her messy exit from Phoenix Magazine, which places in town she’d actually pay to eat at, and the drawbacks of eating out for a living. Hint: she calls her fridge (pictured) the International House of Leftovers.
How did you start your career as a food reviewer?
It was in 1984, and I applied at the Phoenix New Times after I heard a radio ad looking for food critics. I was there until 1989, when I went to work for Phoenix Magazine, where I worked until 2008, except for a few years I spent in Japan.
What exactly happened at Phoenix Magazine, word is you were fired because you wrote a scorching review of a prominent advertiser?
I was a perfect storm. I had quit briefly in 2006 after getting burned out, and when I was rehired I negotiated a pay raise. That really didn’t sit well with (the owner), and then when I wrote the story “Luc’s Sucks,” I’d never seen someone I’d written about get that mad before. The owner called it a cheap shot, and I think several ad contracts were canceled, but it really boiled down to money.
So what [was] it like sharing a table with longtime Republic food reviewer, Howard Seftel. Was he miffed about you horning in on his territory?
He’s been fantastic, very generous. After two years as a freelance contributor, it [was] actually been much easier because we [had] defined dining beats, mine is the SE Valley.
Being paid to eat sounds like a dream job, what’s it really like?
I’m away too much, I eat too much. But interestingly, I still get excited to try new places, to research new cuisines, such as the Peruvian place I recently wrote about.
So what are the Valley restaurants where you’d pay to eat?
Rancho Pinot, Binkley’s, Quiescence, and especially FnB. Chef Charlene Badman’s food is not fussy, maybe 4-5 ingredients per dish. Comfort food is such an overused term, but that’s what she’s doing, letting the ingredients speak for themselves.
Image via EATERAZ