Each day, I’m going to post an article on food that I published elsewhere (that I own rights to). Today, an interview with my friend the late Bob Mervine, author of Orlando Chow, that was published in the Fall 2005 issue of The Square Table, my now-defunct litzine.
For people who are not obsessed with food, would you explain what is the difference between a “foodie” and a “chow hound”?
While those who believe that they fall into one category or the other constantly berate the other group, I believe there is room for all — and I believe a person can fit into both descriptions. Foodies are more upscale and into the whole mystique and experience of food. Price is no object; how attractive the kitchen is becomes as important as the menu. Plating and presentation are just as importance as what’s on the plate. Chow hounds want to discover the ultimate in any kind of cuisine. We tend to favor restaurants that are off the beaten path and ingredients which, while exotic, aren’t always found in the pantry — or the lexicon — of the average eater. The thrill in dining for a foodie is a sublime experience that brings all the elements together in perfect harmony, while the chow hound just wants good eats.
There are many Orlando tour books on the market, many of which list restaurants. What’s different about your guide book?
Chow Orlando is designed to give the reader, be they a first time visitor or a local, a detailed list of restaurants that I describe as “don’t miss” in Central Florida. The selections generally avoid chains — with a couple of exceptions — and focus on a wide variety of styles and types of food. Each of the 90-plus listings has all the details about the restaurant, from hours and contact information to what to wear, where to park and how to get there. A short review with my particular take on the restaurant is included. The introduction covers the food scene here in a general way and notes that I don’t rank or rate the restaurants. If they are included, I think they are good. I’ve treated the subject with a bit of humor, as well. It’s easy reading and I promise you’ll be hungry by the last page. It is small enough to carry in the glove box of your car, purse or briefcase or even a jacket pocket. I’ve even spoken with one reader who bought four copies: one for the car, for the office and one each in his briefcase and at home so he never has to go far to decide what to eat tonight.
How did you get into food writing?
During a long career with Disney doing media relations, I discovered that one of the benefits of my job, which included entertaining travel writers, editors, and broadcasters all over the country and internationally, was food and wine. Disney expected us to entertain these folks at a level to impress them and I soon became quite good at finding places to do that. I also wrote about much of Disney’s culinary activities and learned from the inside out. My mom was a terrible cook so my sister and I both learned to cook in self-defense, something I continue to do today. When I took my job at the Orlando Business Journal four years ago, writing about the industry and, eventually, writing critically about food and wine, became part of my job. When my publisher, Intrepid Traveler, invited me to write the book, it was a natural extension of everything that had come before.
If you could have a fantasy dinner party, who would you invite and what would you serve?
Well, Dina, you would have to be one of my guests! The concept could go in a number of different directions — but perhaps it would be fun to pair four or five really legendary names in the culinary arts such as, say Brillat-Savarin and Escoffier with modern day critics and writers who cook, like James Beard and Ruth Reichl. It would also be fun to put Paul Bocuse, Julia Child, Ferran Adria, (El Bulli), Gordon Ramsey and Emeril Lagasse at the same table! But who would cook for them?