Keeping up with this Incredible Woman
A Conversation with lyz pfister
I have known Lyz for over a decade (something I can start to say with my nearest and dearest friends) and no two weeks have been alike. We sit together and talk about literature she knows back to front and I barely know the first page. We go out and dance on table tops and get home at 4am. We think about what casserole we might make for her work's potluck-Thursday. We binge watch Stranger Things 2 instead of going to a birthday party. We bicker. We have heart to hearts that make me cry.
And all of this – every moment – makes me a better person.
Lyz has this ability to make anyone around her feel both proud of what they already know and excited about what they might learn soon. She has simultaneously a calming presence and one that lights a fire in you to do more, see more, be more.
I had the pleasure, as we all know by now, to spend a month with Lyz in Berlin. We decided to formally, with the voice recorder on my iPhone, catch up and talk outside of her favorite little cafe just a few minutes' walk from her flat.
Josh Hamlet: So why don’t we just hop right into it. You and I started Eat Me. Drink Me. with Gail Gibson and Fuji Lozada back in my junior and your senior year of college — is that right? What was it back then that inspired you to start this blog?
Lyz Pfister: Actually, it was Dr. Gibson who suggested it as a way to document the progress we were making in our independent study [in food writing at Davidson College]. So the idea of a blog wasn’t even mine, and I think because of that, there were moments when we had trouble getting it off the ground. I don’t know if this was your experience too, but finding my voice and figuring out what that was… I mean, I was totally new to the idea of blogging, so my early posts were really stilted. Like: “500 Words You Should Know about Wine” — when I didn’t know anything about wine. I Googled everything.
Those first posts were exploratory. It was an entirely new genre for me and a kind of writing I’d never done before. I don’t think it was really until I moved to New York after graduation that I realized the blog was more than just a class project, but a way for me to reflect on these new experiences I was having and this new place I was living in and how food was this lens through which I could write about my life. It became personal.
JH: You’re kind of touching on my next question — What do you think the more prominent evolutions have been in the span of EMDM? For example, if there were chapters in the book, the first chapter’s title would be “Introduction and 500 Words on What to Know about Wine,” and then you’re moving to New York — do you think there are large jumps from those first months or years in New York to where you are now — and where do you think those jumps stand?
LP: New York was definitely the first big shift, and moving to Berlin was another — and I think it’s not just because I was suddenly living in another country. The blog has always been a reflection of where I am in life, both physically and emotionally. So of course any time there’s a big life shift, there’s going to be a shift in the blog as well, both in terms of what I’m writing and what I’m thinking about.
It wasn’t really until Berlin, though, that I started critically thinking about what I wanted the blog to be and why, so many years later, I was still writing it.
Because the things I was writing in Berlin — I embraced them as stories, which is what they are. They’re stories.
I stopped trying to produce that kind of typical food blog content that’s like, “Here’s me writing about making spinach queso, and it’s really amazing, and I chopped… cheese.” Cool. That’s really cool. But I’m not interested in walking someone through a recipe.
There are recipes on the blog, and I do think they’re an important part of Eat Me. Drink Me., but what interests me about food writing is really the way food is an absolutely integral part of all the stories we tell — it’s a part of all the stories I tell, anyway.
We started the blog together in 2009. It’s now 2018. My math’s not great, but I think that ends up being nine years ago. And in those nine years, I’ve become more confident about the stories I’m telling.
JH: Do you think living in Berlin in particular has shifted how you write and how you cook? Not in an “Oh I’ve changed where I live” way, but like the actual interactions you have with Berlin.
LP: Looking back on my older posts, I definitely see a change in my writing style. I used to think food writing needed to have a certain amount of glitter that I don’t think needs to be there anymore. And I’ve solidified what’s maybe a more literary approach to food writing. I started writing poetry at around the same time I got serious about the blog, and I think you can see a conscious (or maybe it’s subconscious) nod to tight, elided lines and sensory imagery.
Also, the day-to-day English I speak here is different from how I used to speak in the US. Berlin is in an international city, and the English spoken here is a really fascinating blend — blend isn’t the right word — it’s a different kind of English, and I think that’s snuck into my writing style as well, in a way that I like. It feels less caught up in itself.
JH: Are there any blogs out there right now that you’re taking visual and aesthetic cues from, or are you trying to carve your own path? For example, are you looking at Smitten Kitchen or Orangette, or are you just thinking, this is what EMDM’s visual identity is, and I just want to move forward with that?
LP: I actually really love both those blogs you just mentioned. As a storyteller, Molly Wizenberg was a huge inspiration in just figuring out what a blog can and should be. I love Smitten Kitchen’s accessibility, and Joy the Baker has a fantastic visual aesthetic.
Old-school, long-form food journalism, like the kind that used to be featured in Saveur, has always been an inspiration. As a kid, I actually enjoyed reading about food more than eating it.
But I really think a lot of my inspiration comes from travel. When I look back at what I’ve written this year, you could technically call a lot of it travel writing.
JH: I think the word “blog” gets tossed around a lot. It “blew up” in like 2002 when everyone had a Myspace and turned that into a blog, and everyone was recording their personal details. I remember as a college student, people would be like “Oh, are you blogging?” like it was a weird “action.” What are you trying to get out of having a blog? What’s the next step?
LP: Blogging can seem self-indulgent: I’m writing about my life, my feelings, the things I’m doing…
But my hope, anyway, is that in writing about my life so openly and personally, I’m striking a chord somewhere with someone else. I want what I write to be more than just a record of my own selfish experience, but for it to resonate with other people as well.
If it’s not that, you’re just writing a diary. And I’m not interested in publishing my diary.
JH: As a follow up question — where is EMDM going to go in the next year/five years?
LP:I’d really love to get more people involved, especially in Berlin.
One of the things I loved about having you here was the way it got me away from my laptop and little kitchen and actually out cooking and writing with other people. So I’d love to broaden EMDM’s horizons, doing more pop-ups, writing workshops, and collaborations. I’d like to take it to a more community-based place.
JH: So let’s stop talking about the blog for a second and talk about Berlin — because that is where you live! What do you find super exciting in Berlin right now? I was just there, and we ate and drank and talked about this a bunch — but what is exciting in terms of the food scene, the art scene, or just the community in general? Where are you drawing a lot of your inspiration from for some of the writing that you’re doing?
LP: What I love about being in Berlin is that it’s a city where the trends haven’t happened yet. And so everything is still fresh and new. I remember when I moved here six years ago, no one knew what craft beer was — it wasn’t a thing.
There are only so many times you can go out and drink one of the standard array of Späti beers before you’re like, I never want to drink another Tyskie in my life. And I remember, about five or six years ago, reading in some newsletter that a group of guys from the US wanted to open a brewery and brew craft beers. There was a link to a Kickstarter campaign, and I was like “Please take my money.” Now there isn’t bar or restaurant that opens that doesn’t have craft beers. And that’s just one example. I mean, we’re also still excited about food trucks, street food, hand-crafted cocktails, natural wines, artisanal ice cream… Burgers had a big moment.
JH: What do you think is next?
LP:I think the better question is: “What do I hope doesn’t disappear?”, and what I don’t want to lose are those Späti beers I just put down, or cheap, late-night street food, like döner or half a grilled chicken straight from the spit.
The quintessential Berlin summer means going to the Späti, picking up a beer for a euro twenty and sitting along the canal, watching the sunset and watching the swans bite each other in the butt. For me, that’s the city — it’s a little bit dirty, a little bit cheap — and I think that’s a special thing.
JH: Enough theoretical nonsense — you have a blog. I love it. It’s awesome. The photography is stellar considering you have an iPhone 2 [Editorial note: This is an exaggeration… mostly]. IF you could backup dance for anyone… who would it be?
LP:Robyn. Definitely. In the “Dancing on my Own” music video. Actually, can I just be Robyn in that video? She’s a little person with a lot of power… And that’s the vibe I’m going for.
JH:What are you reading right now?
LP:Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets… I was reading book one while you were here, and I’m on book two now. I know it seems like it took me a long time to read book one, but I snuck in some William S. Burroughs between one and two.
JH: What album is playing as you find out about the Chamber of Secrets? What are you snacking on?
LP:I’ve been in a popcorn phase, so I’ve got a big bowl of that with nori flakes and sesame.
What I’m listening to? Um. I live in silence… so that’s probably what I’m listening to.
JH: To circle back, I guess the last thing with EMDM is, IF someone walked up to you right now and was like “You can have anything you want with this blog,” what would it be?
LP:I’d love for it to also be a physical space that could be something of a home for people… like a co-working cooking space. A space where people could come and host workshops and events and cooking classes. But also just a space for writers and readers — not necessarily even food writers — to come and exchange work, to be inspired. That’s what I’d love it to be.