A few months ago I went to a talk at Black Sesame Kitchen by Sandra Huang, a food blogger whose blog, Savourasia.com I read regularly for restaurant recommendations in Beijing. Her talk was attended mostly by friends of mine from work, so we got to chat with Sandra quite a lot, and she and I arranged to go to J2's and my little dumpy Sichuan restaurant a few weeks afterwards. Not long after that dinner (which went very well), Sandra arranged to introduce me to Lillian Chou, a former food editor with Gourmet magazine who moved to Beijing earlier in the year to learn Chinese (so she left the magazine before it closed down), since Lillian was looking for people to revitalize the food section of Time Out Beijing, a local events magazine catering to the expatriate population, of which she is also the food editor.
Lillian and I hit it off right away. She is a fast talking New Yorker like me, full of interesting stories (read: gossip) about the food industry, which she has been involved in for 20 years or so, both as a chef in places like Paris, Seoul, and New York and as a writer. After our conversation, I managed to angle myself into a role as a restaurant reviewer for the magazine! The very next night Lillian and I went to a newly opened restaurant near my apartment (I'm being vague since the review has not yet come out) so that she and I could experience the food together and then she could look at my review knowing what the food was actually like. I had to keep to within 400 words, which was a real challenge, but I managed to do it and stay within the magazine's style manual, which is a bit odd. She had a very quick deadline for this particular review, so we really churned it on through, but we did it. And I guess it was OK, since last night we went to another restaurant (this time with J2 tagging along) that I'll review for a later issue. Lucky for me, both restaurants were actually very good, too, though she assures me that this will not always be the case.
As it turns out Lillian also worked on Jim Lahey's book My Bread, from which I have been baking ever since I returned from my last US trip. The day we met I was actually in the midst of preparing a new recipe from that book, so I asked her for some pointers. In the course of this I learned that she has no oven in her apartment, so I shared my loaf with her (it turned out pretty well).
It's great to have a new friend in town, especially one who is as interested in food issues as I am. I have offered her the use of my oven and kitchen if she needs a larger place to prepare recipes in, and she has invited me to all sorts of culinary and social events around town. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!