Tampa Bay Times Food Critic Helen Freund; and a Florida Mom's Sunday Supper Movement
Oh i think food has always been the thing in my life that sort of been like the thing that the most passionate about i started reading cookbooks when i was probably like four i'm robin sesing ham and this is the zest citrus seafood spanish flavor and southern charm arm. The zest celebrates cuisine and community in the sunshine state. Hey if you're listening on your computer or you've clicked link from social media. Thank you so much for being here here. Thank you for listening. We are so glad you're here and we'd love for you to subscribe. It is absolutely free and that way each episode. We'll download automatically to your phone or your other mobile devices. Just go to the zest podcast dot com and click on how to listen to who a podcast today we're talking to some of tampa bay's favorite food personalities meet. Helen freund the new restaurant critic for the tampa tampa bay times. What's it like to eat out. Nearly every day of the week sounds fantastic plus blogger and social media sensation and sation isabelle lace ig. Aka family foodie offers advice for making family dinnertime the highlight of your week. Helen freund has some big shoes to fill but she's ready. Helens the new food critic for the tampa bay times replacing the newspapers longtime food writer laura riley after lara took a job with the washington post host. Helen recently stopped by our studio to talk with me about how she got her start the stories that she hopes to tell and the one thing that that she could never eat helen freund. Thank you so much for being here. Yeah excited to be here. Thanks for having me so. Let's talk about your background ground a little bit. You just arrived here from new orleans where you were the food critic for a alternative weekly yep yeah i was the <hes> restaurant writer and food critic there for the last four years <hes> they're called gambit weekly and then i was also a contributing features writer for the new orleans advocate which is sort of like the the daily newspaper newspaper there and you had been a reporter at the times picayune before that ride a general assignment reporter yeah yeah i moved to new orleans from new york in two thousand in twelve to join the times picayune <hes>. I did a lot of like i started out doing general's general simon in new orleans tends to be crime crime so i quickly sort of got into no criminal justice and then i was the courts reporter for about two and a half years so you are there long enough to really fall in love with new orleans. Oh yeah it's it's still feels like like home and food. There is carrying. Oh yeah i mean i was. I was the restaurant editor at the weekly but we had several other restaurant writers for other papers there. It was an incredibly incredibly competitive beat more so i think that in most other cities because food news there was i mean that was like the biggest news news. I was hop- news yeah you also did did a stint at the court on bleu cooking school in paris did young yes sort of even though you went into reporting general reporting and crime crime reporter. You always sort of knew that you had this love of interest in food. Yeah definitely i think food has always been the thing in my life that sort of been like the most the thing that the most passionate what about <hes> i knew that i i started reading cookbooks when i was probably like four <hes> really yeah i remember. I actually remember my first cookbook. It was <hes> i was living in in the bay area and <hes> you know alice water. Has this restaurant there called shape unease. That's kind of this iconic restaurant in the area <hes> and she wrote a cookbook <hes> about her daughter kind of kids. This cookbook called fannie at shape unease and my parents got that book for me and i think i remember them. Getting maybe a whisk or a kitchen gadget of some kind and i think i was five tops. Maybe four at the time and since then i mean that was it. When you thought magic yeah i spent the rest of my sort of like adolescents like pouring being over cookbooks and gourmet <unk> t- magazines <hes>. I didn't know that i wanted to be a food writer necessarily but i also think that at that time you know food writing didn't really to become as big of a thing until like probably about ten years ago right. It was it didn't it. Wasn't that cool yet <hes> so. I never thought that that was really something that i had the chance to go into regional to you have rightful <hes> you know but you just had like new york or l._a. Didn't have them it it more smaller all our towns or regional or do now definitely not <hes> so yeah so i i went to liquid on blue <hes> i was. I took a break between my went to the university of washington for school school. In seattle. I took a break between my sophomore and junior year and i think i realized when i was in culinary school that i wasn't one hundred percent that i wanted to be a chef. I loved it. I i've never enjoyed school more than i did during those months there <hes> but i knew i wanted to go back and finish my journalism degree <hes> sometimes so you don't actually wanna do the thing you want to write about the thing yeah. They're two very different sides. I worked as a chef for a couple of years in new york city but at that point i was already in my late twenties twenties and i i realized that it was taking a real toll on my body and i really i mean you know i worked as a catering schrafft's so we would do these like huge. <unk> events like weddings in the hudson valley or the hamptons and i leave in the morning i'd be on my feet all day long and then i'd take the train home at night. You know to get home at like two o'clock in the morning and i and i just realized like my back started hurting and my legs her and i felt like i was also like twenty eight twenty nine and i think that at that point i realized like i love doing this but i can't make a living doing this and it was a crazy schedule. It was a crazy schedule. Yeah definitely and you like to cook. I love to cook yeah yeah. Do you get a chance to as much now. Because you know email all the time i mean and i've been doing this job now for four and a half years going on five <hes> mm-hmm i know i don't cook as much as i'd like to. I try to make a point of cooking least once a week something new and trying 'cause i love kitchen projects <hes>. I also think there's something very cathartic about like following a recipe for some reason. It's like that structure that kind of like. I don't know the long day if i'm having if i'm exhausted like for for me like instead of going out i would like to go home and like bake a cake or like he no so. I do try to do that but yeah with my job. I'm going out to eat a lot. What set makes it tricky. How how much what's what's a food critics lifeline you know when i was in new orleans because i'd been there for longer and more established i was probably doing maybe like i take twice two or three times a week here because i've got so much catching up to do because i'm really not only reviewing a restaurant each week but also trying to get a grasp on tampa bay culinary scene as a whole. I'm probably going closer to like five times a week. Maybe sex so what's your russian. You haven't been here that long. But what are your impression so far. You're i mean it's completely different than new orleans for one. I think what's really exciting for me is that it's the tampa bay. Area is a much larger metro area than the market. I'm used to covering so so that means more restaurants just the sheer physical number right <hes> it also means that there there's a lot more diversity i think even just driving through like pinellas park like the other day i'm driving by filipino restaurants and korean and polish and indian and thai and vietnamese and so that to me is very exciting <hes> <hes> yeah because i don't think people necessarily think tampa bay and thank huge diversity i know and when i was moving here i didn't hear that from anyone either but i it is it's true. It's there <hes> so that's very exciting. I think i'm really i think the i love the cuban food ways. I love like a to me. That's really exciting to that feels like a really important part of tampa bay's history to <hes> as far as regional foods. Go like maybe it's not you know the cajun of new orleans but i think cuban food and tampa is is is a real important and special thing oh it is so what are the five restaurants that you're itching to get to write gosh. That's a good question <hes> that i haven't been to yet rate okay so haven't been burns so that's right. You'll love it. <hes> <hes> let's see <hes> ted peters the smoked fish house in which is actually very close to where i live so that i need to go there soon. Let's see three other places that i'm super excited about. I have already in there because then you probably were got there right away. Yeah <hes> you know the one of the first places that i reviewed was oh canola which i know you guys talked to and as well and <hes> that for me was really exciting fighting because she you know she had such a huge impact on the new orleans restaurants and current incarnation executive chef from canola who also moved here from new orleans exactly exactly yeah <hes> well actually she was in ohio right <hes> so she mentored a lot of the chefs <hes> one in particular that i've christian esa asa. Who's a chef in new orleans <hes> that i've always really admired so for me coming into town like i knew the one thing i wanted to do is eat at her restaurant because i was. I wasn't there when she had a restaurant in new orleans like. I never got to down there you. I'm michigan okay. She left by time. You were yeah exactly okay well. Did you have the horseradish dressed crabs. <hes> yep yeah so. What did you think about that all the time. I love that endive salad. Yes that was good. That one's delicious. She's the dish with artichokes. That is just with this like tarragon. Lemon ailey didn't do <hes> what else take a love and that's gluten free. Oh yeah it was good in the short ribs. Oh we didn't have that was delicious with melted off. Go back was delicious. Okay so osceola anywhere else. I went to la teresita. <hes> had a cuban sandwich there <hes> and i had accumulate lhasa kunda which was out of this world yeah so good and then i've had some really good guava pastries and yeah that's that's. I know it's fun. Yapping having culture is something special early is yeah. I wanna talk about your life a little bit as a critic so you said you're going out a lot right now. 'cause you try and get the lay of land like so. Do you take people with you. Hint hint yeah anytime you want an invite. Just let me know now. I need people deal with me. <hes> that's probably you know when i think about the most challenging thing about my job right now. One is just being new to a place and trying to drive as much as they possibly can all over the area and get to. I know the different restaurants and the people <hes> the other is is i'm new i don't have you know a ton of friends yet. I will say everyone at the paper has been so wonderful and i feel like i've made <hes> a bunch of really good friends really quickly here which has been nice but i always need people to eat with me and i do my usually what i do what i review restaurant. I go twice nice. I like to go once on my own. <hes> i feel that that gives me a little bit of time and like sort of the i don't know gives me a little bit of peace when i'm sitting there and i kind of feel like i have a better chance of really taking the atmosphere. It can be a lot to go with a big group of people because everyone's talking and we're you know we're having a good time and so i d like to do that as well as special because i need you know i need to order as many things on the menu as i possibly can <hes> to get the best sense of restaurant so i love to go the second time with with the group so are you taking notes. I take notes on my phone. Yeah okay so. I think i read that. You're not anonymous. I'm not no and how how did you make that decision so i've i've never been anonymous because <hes> when i was that you know the working at the weekly new orleans i was kind of wearing all the hats right so i i was doing features. I was doing some investigations. I was doing daily news so like openings closings. I was going to a lot of these events. I was judging events. <hes> there was never i mean because i had to do everything as well as review a restaurant there was there was no chance of being anonymous. New orleans is also a lot of a smaller city and at that point i had been already in the media as <hes> someone who was covering crime so like my face was already out there there. It felt kind of silly we to pretend like it wasn't so when i was moving here they asked me while i was interviewing. You know whether i planned anonymous and high felt about that and i <unk>. I told them sort of just what i had done so far and they seemed i think the idea is that that's a good way of approaching a beat so that i can still do other stories stories that are not just criticism if that makes sense and i wonder how much difference it makes i could see the service being better. Oh my gosh. The restaurant critics is here. Let's make sure we are are perfect but the food. How can the food be changed that much. It really can't and i mean to be honest. It's not like i'm walking in and announcing to everyone like oh. Oh i'm here. I always make reservations. Are you know a different name. Do you have fun picking names. I i kind of. I'm not that great at that. I picked. I i think if whoever i'm going out to eat with that night and i use their okay yeah <hes> what kind of stories besides reviewing restaurants <unk> i've rented. You're interested in like other kinds of enterprise stories. Yeah what interests you besides the restaurants. I'm always interested in the people behind the restaurants so so <hes> for me. Labor has always been a really big topic that i've i've tried to tackle here and there and you know in other articles that i've written for other publications <hes> and i think here here especially to it's it's interesting like i think i think wage and like how people are paid. I think i think there's always an like a topic to discuss us surrounding lake tips and how you know service industry workers are treated. I think health care for service. Industry worker is a really interesting topic <hes> and i think now i think with immigration gratien too. I think that you know that is going to we're going to be seeing a lot more stories that look at what the makeup of back of the house labor looks like aac. It's always it's always amazing to me. How many topics food touches on oh yeah because i'm thinking agriculture biology science and you're thinking labor immigration. It's just across the board so much you can do with that. Definitely agriculture is i mean. That's definitely something that i'm excited about exploring too especially in florida. Do you ever get get nervous about eating like do you ever think i really don't want to eat that. I'm a food critic and i have to eat it. I have to be open to it so no i don't because i mean i. I pretty much everything <hes> really. There's nothing that that i think if anything like you know i've had the duck embryo oh egg and vietnam right. I've had like i've eaten like did. I enjoy it no not necessarily but i still was going to try it well. Maybe you were media was a a little squeamish about that but i was never. I never thought oh. I'm definitely not going to try this. Maybe if we're talking about like live insects or or something along those lines that might give me pause so there's no doubt in tampa bay. I don't think that's the thing i think i'm pretty safe. So oh i saw on your instagram. Follow you on instagram dancing in the street so i am in a murdy gras dance. That's group <hes> so in new orleans. There are probably. I don't know the exact number but i'm gonna guess probably around like fifty to sixty different dance groups. <hes> men women mixed it. You know take your pick and there's a there's a tryout process like it's not like you can just get into one immediately but they've they've gotten a lot more. <hes> and there's so many more than there used to be so i'm in one of the more <hes> i guess old school groups were called the organ grinders gonna do it though because what about practicing with them and so the good thing is because i i did an entire season last year. That was my first year. I know most of the dances all of the new dances they teach us they do upload on youtube <hes> so i'm i'm just gonna have to practice at home by myself so you dancer no not at all so much fun. I don't think we have that here no. I'm not sure that you do eat it. Maybe you'll have start dancing around yeah. Well helen freund. Thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for being here. You say thank you for being. Oh yeah i did do that again. I'm always here. I am like that's like me being the reporter. I'm just like helen freund. Find the new food critic for the tampa bay times helen. Thanks so much for being here. Thank you so much for having me. It's been great. There's a lot of talk about the importance of family meal time but getting everyone around the table at the same time. It's more easily said than done. That's where isabel lacey comes in the done. Eating mother of four is the force behind hashtag sunday supper a weekly weekly virtual dinner party where share recipes and inspiration for family meals a lot's changed since isabel posted her first recipe in two thousand eleven her sunday supper movement has expanded to include a network of food bloggers and brands for instagram account at family foodie has is more than fifty thousand followers now and our children are all grown up in high school college or married with homes of their own but they still gather for meals eales when they can isabel spoke with our producer delete cologne. About how do you get everyone from toddlers and teenagers involved in family dinners. She also offered ideas for what to serve. That will keep them coming back. So what exactly is the sunday supper movement. And how did it get started. Did you know what it's such a great story because it really came together without me realizing that it was going to be a new career so i love telling the story and the day that my oldest left for college so eight years ago gosh almost nine years ago now i asked her. What are you going to miss most most about home and her answer had a really profound effect on me. I have four children were a large family and you know we always try to make a point to to gather together on sunday shop together cook together and her answer to me was i can't imagine not being home for dinner on sunday and it was that a ha moment of well the things that are the most important to you as a parent. You know here's my eighteen year old now saying how much that meant to her. What were you expecting her to say. I was gonna miss my pet or something you know how it is right teenagers eighteen year old i definitely did did not expect that answer and i wrote my first blog post the day after she left for college believe it or not and it was just i went online. I did a little research which i realized that wordpress so i knew nothing about this industry or this business relies that you know wordpress out there and just okay. I'm just going to start. Are you know just keep recipes together for my family and it was the most simple recipe you could imagine so my kids looked pancakes and i make homemade pancakes for for every celebration so whether it's winning a football game your birthday or so i posted that recipe for simple pancakes and had no idea what was ahead so you were just posting the recipe for your daughter yeah family. I just thought i'm going to start almost like a little online recipe box that our family could start. You know going back to every time that they're looking for a recipe. How did you go from posting a pancake recipe. If your family to like mogul status and sunday supper movements how bad even evolve people wish that would happen to them. Well interesting really really. I'm self taught just started learning learning how to market through online and social media and one of the things that i quickly realized while doing that was wow. It's kind of lonely. You know when you're writing a blog and you know you're on your own. You're not getting much feedback. It's hard to stay motivated so i just started out of the blue reaching out to a couple different bloggers at the time and i said to them you know i have this great idea. I'm i'm a big believer in getting families together on sunday. Would you wanna like collaborate with me and let's do you know almost like a potluck kinda sunday where somebody does the salad. Someone does the drinks. Someone else does the main course. Someone does the desert so eight of us. This is back in twenty eleven decided to to do the first hashtag sunday supper and we've realized was it was so much fun to do it together and to promote mode each other at the heart of it all is our mission is to bring families together around the sunday supper table and we feel that if you start off as one day a week it quickly becomes a way of life because you start seeing the benefits not just in the food that you eat but how your family's interacting and how it's fun to spend time time together why sunday dinner well sunday just seems to be the perfect day. It's a great start to the week. You have a little bit more time. I think the kids are almost always home. You're not running off to football practice soccer practice so i just really felt that. Sunday is the perfect day. <hes> you know to have the family come together. What was your childhood like. Did you have those sunday dinners. What memories do you have okay so. I am an only child and not only only am i an only child i am an immigrant and my parents had no one else in this country so it was really just the three of us the entire your time growing up. All my cousins were back in portugal. My childhood was very different than my children's childhood but i so wanted that sense of family and everyone being home because you know listen. My parents came here as immigrants. They were here at work so again. We did have have our meals. Always my mom cooked dinner just about every night but it was a very different environment. I have no regrets. I mean it was a great childhood but very very different. I was a latchkey kid. You know so i think at the heart of it all i really wanted that for my family and then and so i think it became because i was so passionate about it. It became so easy for me to share that part of me with my followers as we grew now. What does your for sunday supper at home. Look like these days so my sunday supper at home. I have to say our family were huge. Carnivores okay so we love growing of course living in florida <hes> so typically. We do a lot of stake a lot of steak on the grill. Oh and you know what's great about steak and i always say to people once you find a good piece of meat. All you need salt and pepper and it's amazing thing so we're big. We love certified angus beef. We grill it all the time. <hes> you know when i think maybe i bring a little bit of my roots back because we almost always combine minded some type of seafood so crab legs may crab legs all the time salmon make it meaningful make it not about the food but at the talk about what you're doing together and that family time and there's nothing better than you finishing dinner and your kids sit and we talk and you know they're not rushing out the door so one of the things that i would do is and they loved this was probably their favorite homemade mac and cheese and you could double those recipes over and over over and then a pulled pork so that was a huge favor of course. We have to get some veggies and fruit in there but i would say that was probably the number one dish. I'm i'm another one that i do is mashed potatoes but then on top you do like delicious ground beef seasoned. They love that too so you have to think about those those you know it's nutritious economical and also really really delicious before we let you go. I have have two little kids at home and stepdaughter away at college and it is really tough for our family to eat together part of it. I'll be honest. I don't always enjoy eating with a three year old. I don't enjoy getting up from my seat ten times because somebody wants this and somebody wants that and somebody wants their food too hot too cold <hes> <hes> so a lot of times. I just eat dinner by myself me and netflix after they're in bed what's some advice you can offer for families looking to take the first step up so i would say the main thing is going to be start off slow. Don't plan this five course dinner which i think so many people i i think that is why it's overwhelming. Is they start to think they have to do this and they have to do that and if you look my recipes are all really easy really simple and start with things that you could do like pizza twists. I mean that is so easy and even little ones could get in on that and one of the things that i would say hey that always worked for my kids is no matter what i served. I always had some type of dip- like kids love to dip at it keeps them busy and then for little ones think about don't think about an entire meal but think about finger foods right they love sitting up there high chair and picking up you know little finger finger foods and it takes them a while to do all that so my best recommendation is keep it simple nutritious and get them to have fun with it and they will even if the first couple of times. You're struggling a little bit if you're keeping it simple and it's fun for them. They're going to want to try more and more and more so maybe you start with their favorite dip or sauce and build on that. Oh that's good and here's where we are full full confession. I guess here's where we are. We do friday night movie movie night on the couch and we made popcorn on the stove and everybody can put the seasonings that they want so. You've got me thinking that maybe we can just start with something. That's not not even supper and just build on that well. I say that all the time so the family table could be anywhere. It does not have to be at your kitchen table if you really think about that were huge football family during football season. It's rare that on a sunday we will sit at the kitchen table because we are in front of that t._v. But but one of our absolute favorites probably the number one that all my kids and their friends will say is pepperoni pizza dip so we make you know pepperoni oni pizza dip. We know that it's football sunday. We just really enjoy that well isabelle lasix. Thank you so much for all these great ideas and i can't wait to try some of your recipes. Thanks so much for for having me. This has been such a pleasure that was our producer delete cologne and speaking with isabelle lace ig that are known on social media as the family foodie just in time for football season isabel shared her family's favorite game aimed a recipe easy pepperoni pizza dip. You can find it on our website. Zest podcast dot com well. Thank you so much for listening it. It is so hot in florida right now but mint is still growing strong even in this heat so get the columbia restaurants moheda recipe at our website invest fide cast dot com. I'm robin sensing him. Delete cologne and i produced zest with help from megan trimble mark as i am craig. George possessed is the production of w usa public media.