Quantcast

Valerie Phillips: A decade of deliciousness comes to an end

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 4 2011 4:16 p.m. MST

I've never considered myself a great cook. I'm too practical to be an enthusiastic foodie who swoons over truffles or halibut cheeks. I'm just too practical.

Seventeen years ago, I couldn't tell the difference between a portobello or porcini mushroom. I'd never tried squid ink or quinoa, much less knew how to prepare them.

So it was a giant leap of faith for the Standard-Examiner features editor to name me the paper's first food editor. She assured me that although I wasn't a culinary whiz, I was a good reporter, and would ask experts the questions that readers want to know. I wouldn't assume that everyone already knew how to make a roux or tapenade, or what gluten intolerance or genetically modified means. Thus, the readers would learn along with me.

So, for the past 17 years, every week has been a crash course in some new food topic. I've had to figure out how to share all that information with you, "the readers."

After seven years of learning from my mistakes at the Standard-Examiner, I scored my dream job at the Deseret News, starting on Aug. 31, 2000.

I was well aware of the long legacy of excellence left by people like Winnifred Jardine, Anne Whiting Orton and Barbara Goldman (who went on to Better Homes & Gardens).

My first week on the job, cookware store owners asked me to warn them when I was working on a story on a gadget or appliance. "As soon as a story comes out, there's a run on them, so we like to be prepared."

How I appreciate the many chefs, home cooks, dietitians and so on who have shared their expertise with me these past 10 years. Some memories:

Catching, cleaning and cooking crawdads with the late, great outdoorsman Doug Miller.

Making sauerkraut for the annual Sauerkraut Dinner in Providence.

Walking through watermelon fields in Green River, corn fields in Layton, peach orchards in Willard and raspberry fields in Santaquin.

Sampling spa cuisine at Southern Utah's fitness resorts such as the Biggest Loser Resort.

Making beef borscht with Masha Kirilenko, as a comfort food for Utah Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko the day after he broke his wrist.

Hanging out with Food Network star Bobby Flay at a DOG (Dutch Oven Gathering) for his TV show, FoodNation.

Toffee-making with master chocolatier Ruth Kendrick.

Making the ultimate omelet with Little America's chef Bernhard Gotz.

Learning how to cook Thanksgiving turkey from a completely frozen state, in a deep-fryer, a Dutch oven and roasted upside down.

Making fish and shrimp tacos with Costa Vida chef Dave Prows.

Crab College and Shrimp School with the Market Street Grill chefs.

Making "good gravy!" with chef Dave Jones of Log Haven.

Keeping seagulls from swooping off with the sandwiches during a photo shoot at Liberty Park.

Driving home through Parleys Canyon in a blizzard at 1 a.m., after fancy schmancy Sundance dinners with the likes of Adrian Grenier and Paris Hilton.

Trying to stay objective while covering the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the National Chicken Cooking Contest, while really hoping a Utah contestant takes home the big bucks.

And speaking of contests, I've enjoyed criss-crossing the state to donate whatever judging expertise people assume I have. It was a great way to connect with readers, and nearly always yielded new story ideas. There were numerous chef show-downs and throw-downs, the Dutch Oven World Championships, the Scandinavian Bread Contest in Ephraim, Build A Better Burger in Tooele, the Interior Design Association's Edible Chair Contest (a seat you can eat!), Riverview Junior High's annual Dutch oven cook-off, Rhodes Bake-n-Serv Recipe Contest, Utah Beef cook-off, the Governor's Pie Contest with Jon Huntsman Jr., Little Miss Cherry Days in North Ogden, a Hardee's Biscuit Contest with Karl Malone and his mother, Miss Shirley; the International Chocolate Salon and even the 4-H Green Food Contest.

Sadly, my last charity judging event was a dessert contest held at LaCaille Restaurant, just a few weeks before the untimely deaths of owners Steve and Lisa Runolfson. My heart goes out to their family and hard-working staff.

Some people ask about the most unusual thing I've tasted. It was camel's milk, squirted into my mouth straight from the camel, by a bedouin in Saudi Arabia. You can't get much closer to nature than that.

Through it all, I can't think of a minute when I was ever bored in this job.

So why am I waxing nostalgic?

Well, you're probably aware that the Deseret News has undergone some changes. One of them concerns the Food section. I'll continue writing this column, and occasional stories through a new system of freelance writers called Deseret Connect. But, I won't be part of the Deseret News staff. (So, don't try to call me to look up those lost recipes. I won't be there.)

I'm grateful to former Features editor Chris Hicks, who gave me this opportunity. He used to say I was the best hire he ever made — and then joke that I was the ONLY hire he ever made.

Many people can't say they've ever had a job they even liked, much less loved, and for 10 years. That's pretty good.

I'll enjoy waking up on a stormy winter morning to realize I don't have to commute through the icy roads. And since I've put on 40 pounds during my tenure as a food editor, I'm planning to spend more time at the gym and less sitting in front of a computer. But, I'll still be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I don't want to forget all that I've learned through these years.

So, let's keep on cooking!

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS