An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

Contact Information
Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
1401 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

[email protected]

Alumni Spotlight: Texas Monthly Food Editor Patricia Sharpe

Patricia SharpeTexas Monthly Food Editor Patricia Sharpe has worked at the magazine since 1974, when she started out editing the cultural and restaurant listings. She eventually focused exclusively on food, and her writing has won numerous awards, including a James Beard Foundation award for magazine food writing for her story “Confessions of a Skinny Bitch,” about her career as a restaurant critic. Her humorous story “War Fare,” an account of living for 48 hours on military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), was included in the anthology Best Food Writing 2002. Many of her stories appear in the 2008 collection Texas Monthly on Food (UT Press). Sharpe has contributed to Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Saveur and the New York Times. She writes a regular restaurant column, “Pat’s Pick,” for Texas Monthly. An Austin native, Sharpe holds a master’s degree in English from The University of Texas at Austin. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her career and thoughts on food in Texas.

Were you always interested in writing about food?

It was completely by accident. I saw a new magazine, Texas Monthly, that was about two years old and really wanted to work at it. I left résumés until I finally managed to finagle an interview. I got on staff, and the first day I was there was Dec. 1, 1974. They brought all the galley proofs in for the restaurant listings and the cultural listings for the calendar of events because, of course, nothing online existed. And they said, here, proof these. So I read about all the restaurants of Texas, and I just thought it was a wonderful window into the cultural activities of the state. Without knowing anything about food, I just backed into it, and then as various people who were editing that section left and moved on to write other things that weren’t in six-point type, they gave that section to me. I was thrilled, and the editor of the magazine said, “Why don’t you make this your specialty? We’ll pay for you to take cooking classes. Just learn everything that you can about it.” One year, my former partner and I went to France, and the magazine paid for me to eat at a lot of Michelin two- and three-star restaurants, and that’s how it all began. I was in the right place at the right time. People come into food writing now with so much more experience than I had, but that was 1974, and Texas was just on the verge of becoming a more sophisticated place than it had been.

What was your role when you were at The Daily Texan?

I was special features editor. I might have been amusements editor at one time. I wrote some movie reviews. I don’t think I wrote anything on food. Whatever they needed done. And editing. I would go in every Wednesday. We put it out at night. At 2 a.m. in the morning, we’d go over to the printing press and then the whole staff would go have breakfast at Uncle Ben’s Pancake House.

You’ve been at Texas Monthly for 42 years. What’s it been like watching the magazine evolve? You’ve been here almost since the beginning.

Yeah, the magazine was almost two years old when I started, and yes, I have watched the magazine go from completely hot type to completely analog to completely digital.

What would you say has stayed the same throughout those four decades?

Incredibly talented writers. The thing that astounds me the most is the vision of Bill Broyles, who founded the magazine, because they were making it up from scratch. Yes, there were city magazines like New York and Philadelphia that were in existence. In fact, the founding publisher, Mike Levy, had worked for Philadelphia magazine, and it was his idea to publish a city magazine on a statewide basis. He had a huge talent search — Mike was about 26 — to find an editor and interviewed something like 100 or 150 people. He found Bill, who didn’t have a background in journalism, but he was really smart. He’d been a Rhodes scholar. Everybody recommended him. Bill’s genius was knowing what Texans wanted to read. That’s a rare thing.

What do you think defines Texas cuisine?

Well, it has three basic parts. The two most fundamental influences are Mexico and the Deep South, with its strong African-American component. And then there is the thing that makes it the most Texan: a sort of ranch-y, steak-y, cattle-drive-oriented, barbecue culture that comes from the West.

How much are you on the road for your job, traveling around the state to eat?

Not as much as everybody thinks. I do a trip of maybe two or three days once a month to find the restaurant that I write my column on. In two days, for instance, I’m going to San Antonio. I spent three or four days in Houston last month. The month before that, I was in Dallas. But Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Austin — those are my go-to cities because that’s where the interesting restaurants are opening. And then, when we do one of our big stories about barbecue, I might be on the road a lot, eating barbecue five times a day.

Do you eat out incognito?

I try. I always make reservations under an assumed name. I have at least four or five different names that I use, although unfortunately they’re all linked to the same phone number because I haven’t figured out a way to have multiple personal numbers on my iPhone. Most of the smart restaurants in the large cities know who I am, in fact, they know all the critics, not just me. They or their PR agents have gotten our pictures off social media. So, they may know who we are, but they don’t know what we will order. There is still that element of surprise.

What advice would you have for a young reporter at, say, The Daily Texan, who is interested in pursuing food writing or food journalism as a career?

I would say read the really good critics. Read Pete Wells, and read Bill Addison, who writes for national Eater. Read Alison Cook in Houston — she’s great. As much as your budget allows, go to eat at the good places. I think it’s also important to eat at bad places so you know the bottom as well as the top, but most of us end up eating at bad places without even trying. Be the sort of eater who analyzes and notices details, as opposed to one who only gets a vague overall impression. Because if you can’t analyze what you’re eating and tasting, then you can’t really write about it.

Alicia Dietrich is the director of public affairs in the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. She serves as an officer on the board of The Friends of The Daily Texan. She worked at The Daily Texan from 2002 to 2004 as an associate managing editor, copy desk chief, copy editor, wire editor and features writer.