Adam Goldberg, a software engineer based in New York since his college days at Columbia, is also the blogger behind A Life Worth Eating. That site, much like Ulterior Epicure and Chuck Eats, has gone from being a personal restaurant blog to becoming a resource for chefs and a delightful tease for enthusiasts eager to try the world's great restaurants. In the following interview, Goldberg talks about the genesis of the site, the restaurants and countries he's most excited about devouring, and the tricky questions of Michelin and photographing everything you eat.
There's plenty of information on your site about your background and love for food — time spent in China, stints at the French Culinary Institute in New York — but I'm interested in knowing when you figured out that you were going to go all-in on this site.
I don't consider A Life Worth Eating a full-time profession. It's not something I make money from. It's just a fun website where I can share my eating experiences, post pictures, and reflect on the meals.
When I graduated college, I wanted to learn languages. Not just to say a few words, but to actually hold conversations. I had studied French, Japanese, and Spanish in addition to engineering management, and I never had the chance to study abroad. So I made plans to stay with guest families abroad. So, when I graduated, I declined offers from Google and Facebook and made plans to live in different countries — Buenos Aires for three months, Paris for three years. I never made it to Japan, but I hoped to go there at some point.
These experiences exposed me to international food and showed me that New York, and not even the U.S., was by any means the capital of gastronomy. It may very well be for coffee at this point, but those experiences just gave me perspective.
When you talk to chefs about websites like yours and Ulterior Epicure's, they often mention that these blogs are an amazing service to cooks who can't get out and see what's going on in kitchens around the world. Did you ever intend for it to serve that purpose?
Not at all. I first started to take pictures of food at restaurants so I could collect the experiences. I didn't like the idea that I couldn't recall what I had eaten in a restaurant several years back. So I started doing that to catalog it. Being a nerd, I liked to be able to know the progression of the meal, what I ate, and who I was with. At some point, I realized that I had a really nice collection of photos — I had been to about 450 restaurants, and it would be valuable to share that with people and to start conversations.
What other things have shocked you about its success?
I started it in 2007, when I was living with a guest family in Buenos Aires. When I first started the blog, I was only focusing on that city. The traffic was pretty low. Now, the most surprising thing is the growth factor. I have over 100,000 Twitter followers, and I'm seeing a lot of that interest carry over to traffic on the website.
I'm not an anonymous blog, really, so once in a while I'll make a reservation under my name, and a chef will come out and say hello, which can be uncomfortable.
What do you think of the criticism that food bloggers who take pictures of their meals aren't in the moment?
That's a good question. I think I'm willing to sacrifice one or two per cent of the experience so I can have a permanent memory of the meal, the dishes, the ingredients. Sure, I give up ten or fifteen seconds to take a picture of a dish, but the value that gives me is the ability to remember forever what the experience was.
I'm very discreet about it, so I don't think it's disturbing to anyone else. It's about giving up a little bit in the moment and getting a whole lot indefinitely.
Does it ever feel like a chore, taking photos of every single dish?
It's become a bit of a routine, so it's not a chore. I also think that doing this five years ago was a little more awkward, since cameras weren't so ubiquitous. I really haven't had anyone in the U.S. give me strange looks if they even notice. People seem to be much more comfortable with it. I mean, a lot of cameras now have a food photography mode because it's become so common.
Is this your real passion? In other words, is this an outlet for something you don't get from your day job?
It's definitely a passion. I think people can have many passions. Professionally, I'm working on a start-up, and running this website hasn't been too difficult.
I love what I do, so I'm definitely not trying to escape anything. I love food and doing computers.
Now let's talk about the restaurants you're excited about these days.
I can say that over the past years I've had my greatest culinary experiences at Husk and Saison. They're doing really interesting things.
What did you find compelling about them?
Husk is taking traditional southern food and digging into its roots in ways that are really unfamiliar to most people in the country. It's uniquely American and local. Husk also has some of the best pork in my life.
Saison is taking really simple cooking methods — which in many ways are the hardest to pull off — and applying to foods in unique and compelling ways.
As a whole, though, Mexico has completely fascinated me.
That's the other thing I wanted to talk to you about — seems like you've been going to Mexico plenty. Can you reflect on that?
It's amazing to me that so many of these incredible Mexican dishes are so difficult to find in the U.S. Tacos, tortas, and antojitos are relatively east to find in the U.S., but getting higher end preparations like chiles en nogadas or good molé is way more difficult. These are very nuanced and carefully constructed dishes that are beautiful and have flavor combinations so difficult to find elsewhere. It's amazing to me that this country is so close yet it remains largely undiscovered. Every time I travel there, I feel like I'm making a bunch of new discoveries. People have this conception that they understand it, but I do believe that it remains overlooked.
Why do you think that's the case?
I think Tex-Mex probably distracted a lot from Mexican cuisine. I think it can be equally delicious, but it's just a very different cuisine. I think a lot of times that's conflated with actual Mexican cuisine. We'll probably be seeing more Mexican restaurants opening in the U.S. that strive toward authenticity.
Finally, as someone who's been to a ton of three-stars, what are your thoughts on the Michelin Guide?
I don't only eat in high-end restaurants. I'm equally comfortable eating street food as I am at a three-star Michelin restaurant, especially in places like Mexico, where not eating the street food is insane.
I think the Michelin Guide is still probably the best out of the food guides. I disagree with a lot of the rankings, but I think that the reviewers are generally anonymous and fair. I would like to see them cover the huge gaps that exist — especially in the U.S. I'd like to see them do a guide for the whole country that could include places like Husk and Town House.