By the time Priscilla Martel took Anne Greene’s “Portraits of People,” a creative nonfiction course taught at Wesleyan University in the 1980s, she was already deep into a love affair with food. Now, after decades of mixing that culinary fondness with an appreciation for the written word, she’s spreading the love in a downtown New Haven classroom.
Caught up in an economic slump in 1979, the Brown graduate (pictured) had bought and opened a restaurant with little previous experience, bringing farm-to-table methods of French cooking to Connecticut residents before it was the in-vogue thing to do. By 1990, when she and her husband Charles Van Over sold the place, she’d mastered slow-cooking feats like boeuf bourgeon, fire-kissed pheasant and venison, and endeared to the American palette ratatouille and niçoise salads, starting with a group of young friends. Never missing a gastronomic beat, she’d also begun to find her center in bread baking, turning out loaves that rivaled her husband’s, famous for their technique and caliber. The writing course, she reasoned, would be for fun.
And it was. The teacher was pushed the students to describe things — faces, places, moments — that Martel had never expressed in such detail. Every finished assignment, written to transport the reader into her world of characters, made her feel liberated. She had a realization: Her relationship with food didn’t need to be limited to a kitchen, or a cookbook. With the right descriptive tools, she could take it anywhere.
She has done just that. Now the author of over 150 “All About Food” columns in Connecticut papers, as well as several restaurant reviews and recipes in magazines and food journals across the country, Martel will teach Food Writing (HSP249) on Tuesday afternoons at Gateway Community College for the second time in two years. Enrollment information for the course, which runs from Jan. 26 through May, can be accessed here.
The only prerequisite, she says, is enthusiasm and curiosity.”
“There are so many kinds of food writing, which I think is really exciting,” she said on a recent episode of WNHH radio’s “Kitchen Sync.” “I think that everyone has a food story to tell … every single person on this earth has experience as an eater, or they wouldn’t be there. ”
Every Tuesday throughout Gateway’s spring semester, she’ll bring that approach to the classroom, in hopes of showing her students that writing about food can happen at any time in life, however sudden or unexpected. She and Van Over “leapt off a cliff,” she said. “It was not exactly the career path that you would expect from what I had done, and it wasn’t proven … But it was exciting. It was some place to really feel like home.” She’s hoping to empower students young and old, traditional and non, seasoned and green, to tell their own with enough language and verve to seek out new professional opportunities, form blogs, or leap into some aspect of food production.
“Whenever you teach something to someone, you yourself benefit,” she said. “But also, you’re building a community, which is super. We all have this food story in us, and you can take it to the extent that you want.”
“I do have a memoir in me,” she added. “But it hasn’t come out yet.”
To listen to the full interview, click on or download the audio above. You can also subscribe to WNHH’s new podcast “WNHH Arts Mix,” where this and other episodes of “Kitchen Sync” will be downloaded directly to your phone.