Portrait of a Gourmand: Michael Procopio
Portrait of a Gourmand – A gourmand is simply, someone who takes pleasure in food and eating. This is a continuing photographic series of gourmands, from all walks of life. There are many gourmands that inspire us in profound ways that make us experience and think about food differently. These portraits essays share their amazing stories.
Please welcome writer Michael Procopio, author of the witty food blog: Food for The Thoughtless.
There are those who write, and there are writers. It only takes a moment of delving into Michael’s blog to understand where his craft lies. His charisma and savvy flow across the pages, pulling the reader into his world. Irresistible. His site is a food blog, but more importantly – a food blog of a writer. The recipes have meaning… relation to the words written above. Enjoy his interview. Photography by Todd & Diane, White On Rice Couple.
–What is the story behind your blog?
I never had any intention of becoming a food blogger.
My best friend from college blurted out my name one day over lunch with the editor of KQED’s food page, Wendy Goodfriend, when she mentioned she was looking for another writer.
He thought I’d be great at it. I thought he was crazy and told him “I didn’t know how to blog” or something equally stupid. Since I had absolutely no clue at the time as to what I should be doing with my life, I decided to give it a try.
I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say about food but, as a result of taking that job, I had to say something every Friday morning, come rain or come shine. It was just a little something to do that would keep me occupied.
That was four years ago and I’m still doing it.
I started the Food for the Thoughtless blog in March 2008 simply as a place to wrap up all of my posts from KQED in one, neat little package. I chose the name because I couldn’t think of anything better at the time, but have since come to enjoy the sound of it. It’s just subversive enough to make things interesting. At least to me.
When I started writing, I thought I was supposed to cover things like restaurants, food trends, store openings—all those things I thought other people wanted to read about. The problem was that those topics tend to bore me—I’m not the type who cares about celebrity chefs, I’m not haunted by the beauty of macarons, and you’ll never find me waiting in an hour-long queue for a food truck.
So I started writing for myself, just to keep myself interested. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In my experience, the most wonderful thing about writing is that I never know where the process is going to take me. I start out with a little germ of an idea– like why I really don’t feel like baking several dozen batches of Christmas cookies—and just run with it. I don’t censor myself when I’m writing; I just let myself go. So in my reluctance to bake a million cookies over the Holidays, I discover that I really do want to bake, but don’t have the time. If I don’t have the time to bake a lot of cookies, I’ll just bake one. If I’m only going to bake only one, it’s got to be something really spectacular to justify my time.
And then I wind up with a giant drag queen cookie, complete with accessories. And I get to name her, which makes me unspeakably happy.
For me, writing is therapy. It’s the best way I have found to process information and emotion. By allowing myself to let go and just type away anything that comes into my mind on any given subject—death, cocktails, Christmas cookies, you-name-it—I gain a better understanding of not only the topic at hand, but of myself.
Writing allows me to think and feel things I would have otherwise never allowed myself to think and feel. It keeps me sane. I take whatever is going on in my life and channel it into a plausible, related recipe. Then I eat it. It’s my own way of digesting those feelings and information I’ve just processed in the most literal sense possible.
–What is your profession and how does it intersect with your blog?
I am a professional waiter by trade. I’ve been at it for twenty years, but I have had a number of other jobs over the years—all of them related to food.
My first job was squeezing orange juice and wearing a citrus-colored Polynesian shirt at the Sunkist, I Presume concession stand across from the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland. Being from Anaheim and having worked at the Happiest Place on Earth has given me a skewed sense of reality that I think only my fellow Anaheimers might share.
I’ve been an assistant pastry chef, an assistant food stylist, an assistant recipe developer. I’ve been working for others my entire life.
I think what I have discovered through food blogging is that I have finally found a little place of my own; a place where I can speak my own mind and do my own work.
Waiting tables has sustained me over the years, financially-speaking. It allows me my days free to cook and to write. More importantly, it has allowed me to observe how people from all walks of life—from Midwestern tourists to members of government to temperamental, ketchup bottle-hurling actresses—approach food.
I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from these people over the past two decades.
–Any major obstacles to overcome as a writer?
I think one of the most difficult things for any writer is finding your voice. What is it you want to say? How do you want to say it? I’ve heard some people talk of using their “fun” voice. What does that even mean?
The best advice I can offer—and it’s what I’ve tried to adhere to in my own writing—is to simply be yourself. Nothing more, nothing less.
Form your own opinions. Write what you want to write about. If you find yourself only writing about what’s popular or what you think is going to garner you the most traffic, you’re not doing anyone any favors.
If you have a genuine enthusiasm for a given topic, it will be evident to your readers. If your passion is cupcakes, then write about cupcakes. Or if you really, really hate cupcakes like I do, write about that. Just write about what interests you. Just make sure what you’re saying is interesting—and that can only be achieved by bringing your own, unique perspective to the topic at hand.
And never be afraid of being unpopular because of it. Remind me to tell you about the time I decided to criticize that reviewing skills of Yelpers. That was fun.
–Any memorable moments you’ve had within the food blogging community?
Oh lord. So many.
Meeting fellow bloggers in real life is fascinating. It’s almost like online dating but with people who, for the most part, don’t expect you to sleep with them.
If I had to pick just one moment, I’m going to go with the moment I stepped into a Blogher Food conference hall crowded with people I’d been reading and reading about for years. I was going to have to speak on a panel in front of many of them in less than three hours and I was overcome with a combined sense of dread, intimidation, and shyness. I wanted to turn around, run back home, and hide under the covers.
The next moment, however, I heard a big, booming voice yell, “Michael!” It was David Leite. I’d never met him in person, so I was shocked that he called out my name. He moved towards me, gave me a big bear hug, and dragged me into the room, introducing me to everyone in the surrounding area. All of my nervousness evaporated at that moment. He immediately made me feel at home; as though I belonged right where I was—among them.
That’s how most of the people I’ve met in the food blogging community make me feel. It’s really astounding. And comforting and wonderful.
–Is there intelligent life in outer space?
After reading the news headlines, I often wonder of there is intelligent life on Earth. Then I go read something by Saki or watch Jon Stewart or listen to a little David Grey and I calm down.
As for intelligent life in outer space, I have high hopes, but I am not holding my breath. I have other things to do, like crossword puzzles and paying my electric bill.
–You’re a savvy cocktail man. What’s your favorite drink?
As boring as it may sound, I am a martini man. And by martini, I mean gin. I have neither the time nor the patience for vodka. And I say that with the full understanding that I have just destroyed my chances of becoming a spokesmodel for several high end liquor brands.
I like to keep my other cocktails simple and to the point, too: Negronis, kirs, Manhattans.
However, if I’m in the mood to make those around me either curious or uncomfortable, I just might shake myself up a Martuna-on-Rye.
What’s up next on your agenda?
What’s next? That’s rather hard to say. Instead, I’ll just go with what I wish were on my agenda:
- That publishers will soon enter into a bidding war for the privilege of printing their name on my first book.
- Then Matthew Broderick will fall in love with me while location-scouting for his next great film in Alto Adige where Saveur magazine has just sent me to cover the greatest food fair in the world—Speckfest.
- After that, he will stop at nothing until he secures the film rights to my story so that he might finally win a coveted Oscar playing a sarcastic-yet-optimistic waiter who dreams of one day supporting himself entirely by his writing skills. When he accepts his award, he will speak my name and shed real tears.
- After the ceremony, we’ll get a little something to eat, fall into conversation about World War I, which will lead him to write a treatment for a screenplay that takes him to even greater heights as an actor/producer and – more importantly—give me an idea for a really great blog post.