5 Minutes with Cincinnati Enquirer Food Writer, Polly Campbell

January 5, 2012

You have one day left to live. Where do you eat tonight?

Well, not in a restaurant, that’s for sure. I’d be with my family and I would hope someone I love would cook me something. I’ve never been a sheer sensation-seeker; my peak food experiences have always been about the context in which I’m eating: when it’s a surprise, an adventure, a tradition, a shared experience, or cooked by my mother or my daughters or my best friend.

You’re about to get surgery and it’s possible that you’ll come out with no ability to taste anything. Where do you eat out?

I’d want to exercise my ability to taste to the fullest, and indulge in a wide variety of exquisite tastes. I think I’d go to Jean-Robert’s Table, because of his generosity and the charm of his food. Over the years I’ve come to really like him as a person and a chef, just as so many others in Cincinnati have, and food from someone you like is always best, right? Especially when it’s as graceful and delicious as his.

Worst reaction from a chef and/or reader about an article you’ve written?

It’s surprising how seldom I get a bad reaction. Probably the worst was on the first day I worked at The Enquirer, though it wasn’t about an article I wrote. I was taking over the restaurant reviewing from Chuck Martin, who was staying on as the food writer. He played a message from his phone for me; someone saying “Chuck Martin, I hope you choke on a chicken bone and die.” I had to wonder what I was getting into.

Then there was my favorite letter to the editor shortly after I started, berating me for calling a steak “beefy.” What next? he asked. “Chicken-y chicken?” I took that advice to heart. I was freaked out a little early on by positive reactions, too. The first restaurant I reviewed for the Enquirer was Riverside Korean. There was a line around the block the night my positive review was published, so I knew right away how seriously I had to take this job.

Favorite disguise?

I don’t really do disguises, and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you!

Most underappreciated chef in the city?

I admire the chef/owner of The Brandywine Inn in Monroe, George Bernas, so much. He does things the old-fashioned way, his way and he sticks to that. He struggles in his location a little, I think, so he doesn’t always get a chance to stretch, but he does things right.

I think Toon Yongkanaysin at Beluga should have been more celebrated for how good the food was there. She’s now got her own Thai place, Zab Thai, with Cindy Yantarasri, who was one of the owners of Beluga.

I think Laszlo Molnar at The Iron Skillet is quite talented. He can do a lot more than schnitzel; I wish he got more positive feedback for it.

I feel like I never give enough credit to the chefs at Boca, like Jono Fries, who are overshadowed in the public eye by their boss, David Falk.

Other than eating out at a ton of great places, what’s the best part about food writing?

I love, love, love meeting people who are totally into what they do, whatever it is: Renee Koerner and her local caviar; Chuck Pfahler and his coffee, home brewers, the Fab Ferments folks, Sarah and Mark from Blue Oven and just about any organizer of a farmers market. Also the chefs and cooks who work so hard with some kind of ideal beyond making money in mind. Their passion, which sometimes can seem crazy, makes everyone’s life richer. I love to follow them down their path in the process of writing a story. They awe me.

Thing that most people don’t know about you?

Oh, I don’t know, I’m an open book. Maybe that I like to get down to funky music?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark January 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Wow, the iron skillet? that’s surprising to me. i have not been there before. i’d like to hear more about jono fries too and what he’s all about.

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Jenn Finkins January 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I wonder why she doesn’t wear a disguise?

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Jenny R January 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Fascinating to peer inside Polly’s mind and see the kinds of things she sees as important. Now I have several new places to go to dine out. Not sure about my last meal. Just might be baby food. Thanks for the article.

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