Food columnist Rick Nichols began his talk yesterday at the Kelly Writers House by pulling out two bags of gourmet biscotti and a celery root, a lumpy version of potato that smells like celery.
"I brought my props," the Philadelphia Inquirer writer said, beginning his introduction to the art of telling accessible and detailed stories about food.
Nichols spoke to a crowd of almost 40 yesterday, mostly students from two sections of "Food for Thought," an English class, as well as University President Amy Gutmann and Writers House staff. Kelly Writers House Director Al Filreis attributed the large crowd to the accessibility of Nichols' subject.
"Writers should focus on the practical, and there's nothing more practical than food," Filreis said, adding that, in a rare occurrence, the event drew many attendees who had never been to the Writers House before.
Over the course of his hour-and-a-half talk, Nichols impressed upon students that writing about food can be practical.
"Good writing will look through the prism of food at a more universal experience," Nichols said. "With every encounter you have with food, there are all kinds of directions you can explore."
Along with sharing many other anecdotes, Nichols told of a time he used his food column to argue for banning soft-drink vending machines in schools.
"I had a little crusade going in the paper," he said, adding that he offered one local school a check for $25 -- the amount the school would get per student for installing a Coca-Cola vending machine -- to "sponsor one Coke-free kid."
Writing should emerge through a series of steps, Nichols said, and one part of this process should be the careful assembly of a story. Writers need to find the "oddball connection" or "chewy subject," Nichols said. For his column on vending machines, writing about the check was such a connection.
"That was accessible," Nichols said. "It was saving one kid from the clutches of Coca-Cola."
For much of his presentation, Nichols fielded questions from students, and the discussion received a warm reception from those in attendance.
"I've wanted to be a food critic all my life, so I thought it'd be great to meet him," said College freshman Julie Johnson.
Also complimenting Nichols, Engineering freshman Alyssa Rosenzweig said, "I wanted to hear about all the places he's been."
Rosenzweig asked Nichols for suggestions on what restaurants near campus she could explore.
Nichols recommended many of the ethnic restaurants on Baltimore Avenue, as well as 40th and Chestnut streets.Comments powered by Disqus
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