Nora Ephron's Edge

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She was smart—scary smart.

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From the time I started writing about food—the time I started writing, really—Nora Ephron was my ideal reader, the audience of one I hoped would somehow see my stuff and think the voice worth listening to. Her pieces in Esquire and New York were always smarter and sharper than anyone else's—and funnier, yes, but in a way, like her friend Calvin Trillin, that earned its humor from dogged reporting, and that slipped in punchlines with devastating slyness.

That meant an edge. In pieces like the 1976 "The Bennington Affair," about the scandal around a young college president, nobody looked good; she never lost that edge, however veiled in humor, as when in 2005 she called out Bill Clinton's charismatic but unrelenting hypocrisy. When she came to my college to speak at an afternoon gathering, she had a reputation for being scary-smart, with a cautionary emphasis on the "scary": if you said something clueless or otherwise unsophisticated, she would wave you away with a look or a literal wave of the arm. When I was first writing for magazines and asked her advice about finding sources for a story, she started by saying, "I shouldn't have to tell you this."

But then—the key fact—she told me. She made time for young people, always. When I was working at my first jobs, she would take me to Harman's, on East 49th Street, her favorite lunch counter, for BLTs and advice; later, during the life of The Food Channel on TheAtlantic.com, she would recommend young writers to me and watch and cheer their progress. The scary part of her that had once led a friend to say to me "I keep waiting for her to let me have it" seemed to evaporate, and leave in its stead distilled, pure generosity. Kurt Andersen, another friend, got that distillation in a tweet: "Every time I saw Nora Ephron, I felt like I'd lucked out. So smart, so funny, so wise, so clear-eyed, so kind, so incandescent and *good.*"

And, of course, she mapped out the food world as we know and work in it. Her 1968 piece on the warring camps of the Food Establishment made food seem gossipy, fun, and worth a smart, ambitious journalist's time, something it certainly hadn't before (David Kamp gave new life to that era in his 2006 book The United States of Arugula; Thomas McNamee's recent biography of the figure she called "the most powerful man in the Food Establishment" shows Craig Claiborne to have been a tireless, adventurous, but pretty unhappy fellow, as I wrote in a recent review of the book).

She never lost her love for food, as this compilation of her pieces on the Huffington Post shows. As she became more and more successful she became less and less jaded. She loved the new. She loved adventures. She was very good at saying yes, as this typically big-hearted tribute by Ed Levine demonstrates—just look at her tasting pastrami for a Serious Eats taste-off. (See also Sam Sifton's piece about daring to make Nora Ephron's meat loaf for Nora Ephron; her measured but encouraged reaction leads him to conclude, "Sometimes New York is the greatest city in the world.") When she came to the James Beard Restaurant Awards ceremony at Lincoln Center, (accompanied by the writer Ariel Levy, whose New Yorker profile bears re-reading), she said, wide-eyed, "Oh my G d, it's as if every chef you ever wanted to meet was putting wonderful things for you to eat right in front of you all at the same time! I've never seen anything like it!"

And of course she turned that love of food into what I hope will be remembered as her best movie, Julie & Julia, with typical generosity sweeping her friends up into it. I was one of the many, like Ed Levine, who got to be an extra (unlike Ed, it was a complete surprise to me—she'd invited me to watch Meryl Streep become Julia, and it was more than enough for me to watch three successive takes of a late-'40s Paris scene of Child meeting her future collaborators, in each one of which Streep became more and more recognizably, caricature-free Child). Taking an unjaded leaf from Ephron's book: It was one of the most fun and exciting days of my life.

It's her voice I'll remember. A number of her relatively recent pieces are, simply, structured perfectly, like this 2006 New Yorker piece on her falling in and out of love with an apartment, or these two 2007 New York Times op-ed pieces about not recognizing people at parties and getting over email, both of which I pretty much memorized as soon as I read them. Realizing what we've lost by reading them is even sadder than the list of things she will and won't miss that ends her most recent book, I Remember Nothing, which we now know she wrote while facing mortality.

And her example. Here's what her close friend Arianna Huffington had to say on Morning Joe this morning, with bonus video clips of funny Ephron interviews. Read the tribute she posted last night, but watch to hear her summarize a life: After noting that Ephron was nominated for three Oscars, she says, "If there were an Oscar for friendship, she would have had a shelffull."

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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