How a Food Writer Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil? 


Favorite word?


Favorite place to write? 

This little hermitage I rented from some Franciscan nuns in Wisconsin.


Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A.

Professor of English, Director of the Writing Studies Program 


SJU Writes: What kind of writing are you doing right now? 

TD: I’m near the end of this book I’m writing called The Cheese Lover’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a draft. One half of that draft is finished and submitted, and the other half of that draft is still under construction. I do a lot of writing for a restaurant group—all of their menu notes and their cheese training information—so I’m always thinking about the next cheese I need to write about for them.

SJU Writes: What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever written?

TD: This book called Movie Night Menus, which my brother and I wrote together. It involved watching hundreds of classic movies, looking for the cocktails in people’s hands, determining what the cocktail was, creating the recipe and providing a whole meal around it. It was difficult [because] there were so many movies to watch. Literally, I would leave class, go home, put my laptop on the toaster oven and start making dinner, and I would be watching a movie non stop. We only had nine months to write it. At the same time, my brother was opening a restaurant, so his life was haywire and I was trying to hold down this book project.

SJU Writes: What’s your writing process like?

TD: I’ve written three books with my brother, and our process would always be to hop on a Google document, open a Google hangout, and we would write together. His cursor would be moving over my cursor. Now, I’ve been working on a book of my own, and the process has been very scattered. Mostly I wake up, open a new document, and just go. 

SJU Writes: How did you get into food writing?

TD: Accidentally. I grew up in a family where we cooked every night together. We loved to cook our way through cookbooks. That’s what we did for entertainment. I went on and got a degree in English, then got a degree in fiction writing, and when I graduated, I [did] some work for a newspaper as a book reviewer. I started reading the food section and getting excited about that, so I asked to do a profile on a chef. From there, I decided I loved being around food, going into kitchens and restaurants, and it came really naturally. I told the publisher of the newspaper that one day I wanted to be the food editor at the newspaper, and he looked at me and laughed. Two years later, the food editor left and I applied for the job. The publisher went to bat for me [and] gave me my first break. I did that for five years and ended up coming to St. Joe’s, [thinking] I was going to leave that life behind and that I’d return to writing novels, reading stories and poetry. When I moved to Philly, the food world here was really interesting, and that’s how I ended up writing this blog, Madame Fromage, going where food seemed accessible. 

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students interested in food writing?

TD: Become passionate about some niche in the world of food. It’s a vast world, but there are so many communities within that community. Get to know people, develop a curiosity, hop around from thing to thing for a little bit, but then become known as the person who writes about agriculture or eggs or fermentation. I’m a big believer that when you get really passionate about something and you stick to it, doors will naturally open and the path will become clear. Don’t panic. Just dive in.

 -Alexandria Hargrave ’20