Severson’s bio reads like the classic tale of someone who has worked very hard, in between stints of being in the right place at the right time: covering gang drama for the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune; restaurant critic in Alaska; food writer and editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; and food writer for the New York Times. Most recently, she and her family left Brooklyn so that she could take on the challenge of Atlanta Bureau Chief for the New York Times.
Along the way, she met a series of women who shared themselves—through their own hard work, struggles and ideals. A keen interviewer, Severson was able to take these stories and use their truths in her own life. In the book she explores the lessons that she learned about tenacity, fidelity to one’s true self and authenticity.
In anticipation of the author’s upcoming appearance in Birmingham at Little Professor Bookstore in Homewood, I sat down with her to talk about Spoon Fed. I should mention that the hardback version of the book has been out for a little while now; the paperback version was released March 1, prompting another book tour. Knowing she has probably been asked every question there is about Rachel Ray’s ebullience and Ruth Reichl’s expense account at Conde Nast, I struggled to find something unique to discuss. I began with, “What is life like on the other side of the tape recorder?”
Severson took a moment to ponder before answering, “I think it’s made me a better interviewer. It has let me be in the world in a little different way.” Being the subject of articles and stories has affected the way she approaches subjects herself; there’s no more hiding behind the notebook. In publishing an autobiography, you are putting your life out there, for review, warts and all. I wondered if there was something that came from that process that she did not expect. Severson recounted the story of a Seattle couple who approached her at a book signing. Teary, they thanked her for sharing her story of finding sobriety, which spoke to them. As parents of a daughter in rehab, they took comfort in reading about her journey. She adds, “I forget that people know a whole lot more about me than I know about them. Everyone is fighting their own battle.” That type of raw exposure is bound to change a person.
Her chapter on New Orleans’ Leah Chase was included in last year’s annual collection The Best Food Writing of 2010. Severson was especially proud that Chase’s story was selected because it exemplifies “faith and communion, and the gratitude we all share over food.” After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her restaurant, Dooky Chase, it was unwavering faith that brought Chase back to rebuild. It was that desire to feed people through the soul of her cooking that buoyed her spirit, getting her through each day.
But it is the subject of her own faith and prayer that Severson found most difficult to put out there. In the book, she writes, “Of all the potentially embarrassing things I’ve told you so far in this book, the fact that I pray every day is the one I used to be the most sheepish about. All that drinking until I passed out? No problem. Pull up a chair and let me tell you some war stories. But confessing that I believed in God? That’s much harder for me to talk about.”
But of course, it is this type of revelation that can turn a good story into a great memoir. You find yourself reading certain passages, relating completely to both the author and the subject. Severson becomes so relatable that you want to sit down and have a conversation with her. And that is how she approaches her book appearances. “I want to have fun and I want to relate the book to the audience,” she says.
As the keynote speaker of January’s FoodBlogSouth event in Woodlawn, Severson showed how deft she is at engaging the crowd. She was able to take questions from the participants, teach us a thing or two about writing and make us laugh—all at the same time. Her humor is completely self-effacing. I am sure we’ll see more of that at The Little Professor event.
Aside from touring the country, promoting her book and pursuing world domination, what’s next for Severson? She says she is looking forward to discovering the stories of the South and writing about them for the New York Times. In fact, if you have an idea for a story in Birmingham, she’ d love to hear it. As for other projects, she adds, “I’m writing a cookbook with my buddy Julia Moskin (New York Times Dining section writer). We’re doing something called Cook Fight. She and I sort of take on different topics, from our different cooking opinions and backgrounds.” I recall a piece the two writers did a few years ago at Thanksgiving; one argued that the side dishes were what the meal was about while the other said you didn’t have anything without a great turkey. If the cookbook is anything like that piece, we’re all in for a treat. And maybe even another book tour—if we’re lucky.
Kim Severson will be signing books at Little Professor Book Center in Homewood on Monday, March 14, at 5 p.m.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. If you want to know what Severson and I ate that day at lunch, go on-line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).