It was a tough call to make: a perfect panna cotta with a ricotta base, some gastrique action and an ingenious ham cookie, or the Old World crumbcake, hard as a true shortbread, with ricotta cheesecake ice cream and hickory-smoked syrup.

I try not to rely too heavily on the desserts at Competition Dining dinners, but competing chefs noted years ago that a strong final course could undo lots of mistakes in the first two. And maybe because I was in dire need of a sugar rush, or maybe because I hadn’t had this kind of dining experience in a while, but just like all the other hooples I scored the desserts highest on my card.

I’ve been off the food beat for a couple years now, but I worked it from the beginning, when I started taking freelance assignments for the Gambit in New Orleans and parlayed that into a restaurant-critic gig for a new monthly called Where Y’At?

It’s the most marketable skill in a feature-writer’s trick bag; food writers have survived the newspaper apocalypse when foreign bureaus, dedicated copy desks and film critics did not. Every publication — monthly, weekly, daily, whatever — has a food section, even the Wall Street Journal and High Times. At Triad City Beat, our food and drink coverage (helmed magnificently by Eric Ginsburg, who assumed the mantle when I stepped down) regularly outranks everything else we do, sometimes to our dismay.

But even when there’s a crazy election going on, people still gotta eat.

I loved the food beat because writing about food is writing about history, art, family, agriculture, business, chemistry, etiquette, personalities, trends, government… sometimes all in the same story.

I loved it because of the opportunities it afforded — and sometimes still affords — me: sneak peaks at new restaurants, access to special menu items, perks like my seat at Competition Dining on Monday.

Years ago I stood in the kitchen of Emeril’s shortly after it opened and watched Chef Emeril Lagasse preside from atop a folding chair over the meticulous breaking down of his kitchen, organized and precise as a military operation.

And just last week, I got to eat hot dogs for an entire day — see this week’s cover story, “Weiner wars of Winston-Salem,” beginning on page 16 for the result. In both cases, I felt pretty lucky just to be doing my job.

Nothing beats the food beat. The whole thing is dessert.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡