Will Write for Food: Grub Street LA’s Hadley Tomicki

A look at the local writers that cover the L.A. food and drink scene

Photograph courtesy Hadley Tomicki

We’re food writers… a dedicated group of hungry souls that have the right balance of passion, drive, culinary know-how, and sometimes even a bit of wit to boot.  Oh, and did I mention luck? Yes, we’ve all worked hard to weasel our way into our gigs, but we’ll all be quick to admit, we’re lucky to have them.

While we’ve taken the time to introduce ourselves here at LAmag Digest, we thought we’d highlight some of the other fine folks that cover the awesome food and drink that fuel our mighty city. (Tough gig, but someone’s gotta do it.)

We’ve tackled Eater LA’s Kat Odell, then Josh Lurie of FoodGPS.com, and LAist’s Krista Simmons, and Zagat/Angeleno’s Lesley Balla, but now we turn our sights to Hadley Tomicki of Grub Street LA

Full name (including middle), work title, and age?
Hadley Tomicki, editor at Grub Street Los Angeles, 36.

Hidden talents or superpowers?
I was into Twin Peaks as a kid and thanks to my seventh grade fixation on Sherilyn Fenn, I still have the cherry stem knot-trick to lean on.

How long have you lived in L.A.? (If non-native, where’d you live before?)
I was born in Florida and moved to California at the age of five, so I feel like a native. I grew up in Santa Barbara for the next 13 years, and moved to Manhattan when I was 18. I moved straight to L.A. after ten years in New York.

What path led you to what you’re doing now?
In 1981, my dad began publishing his own monthly newsletter on restaurants, travel, and hotels called Entrée. The whole brood helped to get it out and I was no older than six when I started putting in work, initially just licking stamps and sealing envelopes and stuff. I have some very cool childhood memories of meeting Wolfgang Puck at the original Spago and bringing Goldfish crackers to Julia Child at our house. Eventually, I moved on to things like answering the phone and taking out the trash. Then as a teenager, I was taking on little writing assignments until I was old enough to actually travel on my own and write my own reports. My dad taught me everything I know about making a story sing off the page. But I never wanted to be a writer myself, this just happened to be the family business.

In my early twenties, I started covering dancehall and reggae for a website called JahWorks.org, as Jamaican music was something I was immersed in in New York and long a love of mine. In between odd jobs and acting auditions, my friends and girlfriend at the time brought me into a project for Black Book Magazine where they were working, knowing I knew the hotel scene well. We produced the magazine’s first guide book to New York and the bug really bit me by the end of that project. My friends were really encouraging about me continuing to write, which just revealed itself as something that I felt compelled to do every day. I moved back to Cali in 2003, got a few short articles published in L.A. Weekly, which was encouraging, and continued doing L.A. guidebooks and interview features for Black Book. In New York, I worked at Martha Stewart Living for five years as a temp and freelancer, everything from the company’s office services to executive assisting to subbing for Martha’s own assistant. My friend Adam Kuban worked there and brought me into A Hamburger Today when he launched it. Then I started L.A. Taco with a few of my old California friends, which became my real passion. So after years of freelancing and a lot of free work, fortune brought me the opportunity to submit my resume and an editorial test for Grub Street. After an interview at New York Magazine, I was hired to launch Grub Street L.A. as editor. Now I’ve been there for over three years and 7,500 posts.

Plenty of writers cover multiple beats, or write in addition to holding down a “day job.” Is this your only squeeze or do you have other work-related things that also occupy your time?
I have a couple of little side-hustles and things on my off-hours, but I write full-time for New York Magazine Online and not for anyone else. For about seven years, I’ve also been a teaching artist with a great non-profit program called Inside Out Community Arts that teaches performing arts to middle school kids within LAUSD. I still contribute photos to L.A. Taco, too, which feels like my baby, and am always there to help at Entrée.

What about when you’re not eating and/or drinking? What are some of your hobbies or favorite activities?
It’s not uncommon for me to be working six or seven days a week a lot of the time. Funnily enough, I still spend a lot of my free time stuffing my face and trying to catch up with new restaurants and old favorites. In my free time, I like cruising around L.A. listening to K-Day, going to art shows, and taking shots of great or interesting graffiti. I like eating backyard barbacoa and dropping in on friends for a couple of beers. Love exploring L.A., which just keeps giving and getting bigger and more interesting as you branch out of your comfort zones. Closer to home, I like brewing beer, watching Friday Night Fights and old films, hiking in the mountains, listening to Classical KUSC 91.5 FM while reading, and I love to dance. I love spending time by, and in, the ocean and checking out the freaks on Venice Beach. That kind of thing.

Favorite part of your job?
I feel very fortunate to have a job where I learn something new every day. It’s like a school dedicated to the senses. Cuisine is art, cooking is science, food is culture, history and agriculture, biology, anthropology, and even fashion. All these things. Food is a subject that just pulls in you deeper and deeper. Once you think you’ve learned something, you only realize just how much more you have to learn.

This job completely changed my life. Four years ago, I had about seven jobs and had lived in 20 places in five years. I spent my weekends in a suit standing outside of a club, having spoiled drunk people slur things to me like, “I bet your mom is really proud that you’re a bouncer” and calling me stupid to my face. And that’s really just the printable stuff. Today, I am surrounded by some of the most inspired and intelligent people I’ve ever met. My editors in New York are brilliant, with great ideas and hilarious, unexpected material pouring out of them all day, really inspiring and never critical. All the city editors in the Grub Street network are really sharp; everyone brings completely different and tremendous skill-sets to the party. Locally, I get to work with unbelievably talented freelancers like Tatiana Arbogast, Josh Lurie, and Javier Cabral, who are all writers and photographers at the top of their games. I couldn’t do the site without peers like that and they motivate me, as do so many of the bloggers and restaurateurs around L.A. who really care about forwarding the city’s dining scene.

I’ve worked so many mind-numbing jobs over the years from bussing tables and moving furniture to filing papers in offices where people listened to The Wave all day. I went from that kind of work to a job that has me sitting between Jon Shook and Ludo at a dinner for Ruth Reichl at Mozza, eating Grant Achatz’s dessert off a table with my bare hands, having Thomas Keller chuck beach balls at my head at Wolfgang Puck’s food and wine event, cooking under William Bradley’s direction in San Diego, you know, eating Marc Vetri’s pizzas in a Hollywood Hills backyard and hanging around while the chef jams on a guitar for Russ Parsons and Joel Stein. Those are things straight out of dreams for me. I worked really hard to get here, and feel incredibly fortunate every day that this is my life and I’m surrounded by such intelligent, passionate people.

Least favorite part of your job?
I write eight to ten posts every day, while also working on longer ranging local features and national group features, in addition to juggling emails from every direction. This is like food-blogging as an extreme sport. Naturally, as in any sport, I have my injuries. So sometimes I have to fight with things like sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, blurry eyesight, and zombie brain. I’ll call it a day after writing for eight or nine hours straight sometimes and my brain just turns off. That’s usually when I have to go to a dinner party and attempt to summon some wit.

How are you in the kitchen? Anything you’re particularly good (or bad) at making?
I am proud of my omelets and my egg-work in general, though I’m sure Jacques Pépin would take issue with everything I do. I’m pretty competent in the kitchen and people always compliment my cooking, but I’ve never really had a kitchen bigger than my own forearm to work in with much consistency. I tend to veer towards simple pasta and grain dishes, because that’s what I grew up on, and Japanese recipes because I live right above Mitsuwa Marketplace.

What are some of your favorite places to eat around town?
Providence if you’re paying. But my favorite go-to restaurants include Pitfire Pizza, A-Frame, Tacos Leo, Sushi Karen, Sunnin, Soban, Ramen Yamadaya, Elite Chinese, Annapurna, Rocio’s Moles del Dioses, Quan Hy if I’m down in Westminster, Guelaguetza, JiRaffe, Gusto, Bäco Mercat, Flossie’s, MexiCali, Huarache Azteca, Mo-Chica, and Animal. And I’m always blown away by N/Naka, Red Medicine, and Rivera, again if you’re paying.

How about places to drink? Cocktails, beer, wine, coffee, tea… pick your poison(s).
If there’s one thing I miss about New York, it’s all the dark, old-school bars that you can comfortably just disappear in and feel like you’re in another time. I’m haunted by dreams of perfect bars like this that may or may not exist. My favorite bars in L.A. include Tiki Ti, Chez Jay, The Daily Pint, Smog Cutter, Frank and Hank’s, Oldfield’s, Caña Rum Bar, Ye Rustic Inn, Cat & Fiddle, Freddy Smalls for the music, Surly Goat for the beer selection, Eveleigh, The Gold Room, Las Perlas, and Harvelle’s. Matt Biancaniello is killing it Wednesday nights at Ciff’s Edge, he’s a favorite of mine. Beau Du Bois is making great drinks at Corner Door, where I like the food a lot too. I had an excellent mescal and gin cocktail called The Jalisco Honey at the new Bludso’s BBQ recently that I can’t wait to go back for. I tend to like smoky drinks with a little hit of bitter in them, tequila straight, and big floral, hoppy IPAs.

Any favorite markets?
I live in Mar Vista and hit the Sunday farmers’ market whenever I can, nursing hangovers on the free fruit, buying my eggs for the week, and usually a nice wedge of cheese and some nuts. I love being introduced to unique vendors like Hepp’s Salt Barrel and Sno:LA. I love the markets in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Hollywood, when I can get to them. I like Yamashiro’s market for the setting, but it’s kind of a pain to get to.

What do you feel is the most exciting thing happening in the local food scene right now?
It’s incredible to see chefs unshackle themselves from the traditional patronage of owners, freeing themselves from the need to cook towards trends and economics through the pop-up movement. It’s really paying off in some incredible experiences like Allumette, Alma, and Wolvesmouth that may never have come to fruition without this huge step being taken revolving around food trucks, guest-chef stints, and pop-ups. You really don’t know where your next great dining experience is coming from it feels like, which is exciting.

For me, I’m interested in dining trends and how they reflect who we are as a culture or individuals, but I’m not into what’s trendy necessarily. What I really love to see is chefs communicate their personalities, passions, personal histories, heritage, heroes, and interests onto the plate and make it all engaging, thrilling, and even educational for the eater. I think L.A. has a great tradition of this when you look at what Puck, Nobu Matsuhisa, John Sedlar, and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have done in the past. It’s a tradition that’s upheld really beautifully by the city’s best chefs. I see it in what chefs like Ricardo Zarate, Roy Choi, Jordan Kahn, Brendan Collins, Giselle Wellman, Bryant Ng, Ludo Lefebvre, Sang Yoon, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, and even guys like Ilan Hall are doing every day, driving what really speaks to them to a higher level, pushing the envelope and taking risks, but really cohesively communicating what things drive and interest them to the rest of us where it makes sense and sings.

What would you want your final meal to be? And what would you want to drink along with it? Any music playing in the background?
Every time I experience Niki Nakayama’s stunning kaiseki at N/Naka, I’m convinced I could die happily right there on the spot. I’d probably want a final taste of a great IPA before croaking, maybe Cigar City’s Jai Alai from Florida, which I like but seldom get over here. Picking the last music I’d want to hear is a whole other tricky question. I’d be happy with a mix of Sam Cooke and Otis, with maybe a final tour through Ready to Die, Zeppelin I, and Neko Cases’ Blacklisted before I sign off.