Interview with Gary Alan Fine

    So why’d you study restaurants?

    The reason I chose restaurants was that I was interested in looking at and hearing how workers talked about aesthetic issues. Issues of sensory concerns, issues of beauty, issues of taste.

    You spent more than a year doing research, and then you had to sit down and write. What’s your writing process like?

    What I do with many of my books is I rent a house in the mountains, and I have all my notes, and I write 15 pages a day. So in the course of a month I can write 450 pages. And then the next summer I will go back and I will take those 450 pages and boil them down maybe into 350 pages. And then the next summer I go up again and then I boil it down to a point that I’m happy with and then send it to a publisher. So beginning to end, it’s a little over 2 years.

    Are you alone up there?

    Typically I’m isolated. The more I can be isolated the better it is. Sometimes I’ll take breaks—it won’t necessarily be all 31 days. I start at 9 o’clock and I work until 3. Then I will go for a walk and do whatever errands I need to do until 5. And then I come back and I work from 5 to 9 or so. And that’s about out 10 hours, I guess, of writing. You do get exhausted towards the end, towards day 27 or day 28 it can be a little—it can make you a little stir crazy. But for the most part I enjoy it.

    What is something you’ve never studied, but would like to?

    I’ve thought about studying a public relations firm. I’m interested in reputation, and I’m interested in cultural occupations. And being in public relations is clearly being part of the cultural world—creating images for other people or companies.

    You’ve studied a lot of what you call leisure activities: high school debate teams, Little League, dining. Now you’re working on a book about tournament chess. What do you like about leisure activities?
    The reason I’m fascinated by leisure activities in general is their ability to create culture. The way that chess players, or bridge players, or baseball players, or art collectors create a set of trends—jargon that they use, nicknames within the community—I think is really fascinating and important.

    Any favorite activities of your own?

    Reading sociology. [laughs] I’m part of a food community, a foodie community.

    Foodie community?

    It’s people who go out to eat at restaurants—both gourmet restaurants and ethnic restaurants. People who see food as being culinary art and strive for new interesting tastes.

    So where are the good eats in Evanston?
    I like Al’s Deli [on Noyes]. I’ll give Al’s a shout-out. There’s a hot dog stand, Wiener and Still Champion, which is on Dempster. There’s the Montenegrin restaurant, if you like food from the Balkans: Deta’s Café, just south of the Evanston border on Ridge Street. There are various kinds of stews, lamb dishes, burek. There’s a great African restaurant down on North Clark, just into Chicago. Many of them very exotic, and most of them quite inexpensive. There’s a Thai place called Sticky Rice [near Ravenswood], if anyone wants to try Thai insects.

    I want to become a foodie. How do I start?

    First thing you should do is go out to eat. And cook. Look at cookbooks, try things out, go to a number of places, and think about what you’re eating. Think about what you like and think about what you don’t like. Second thing you can do is find friends who share that interest and go out to eat with them. Talk with them about food.

    Check out North by Northwestern’s review of Kitchenshere.


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