As we count down to the 2019 Food & Wine Awards, in association with Rémy Martin, and the launch of our rebrand, we are taking a moment to reflect. Here, former F&W Editor, and current F&W contributor, Ernie Whalley looks back on his days as Editor.
"The day Norah Casey decided I was a fit and proper person to occupy the editorial chair of Food & Wine Magazine was one of unremitting joy. Although I held the position of Deputy Editor I was by no means a shoe-in for the green eye shield and the big fluffy chair. For a fortnight or so previous, a procession of applicants had arrived for interview. I had my spies at the reception desk well bribed and found I knew most of the names. Some were contributors, others journalists I respected from other publications, not necessarily food or drink ones. There were a few wild cards in the pack and at least one candidate from Mars.
When Vincent deVeau, the group’s Editorial Director whom I greatly admired, told me “You are the only one who looked like the editor of a food and drink magazine” I was greatly chuffed. Then I came to the conclusion he was maybe talking about my ample girth!
More wine than food
Anyhow, I celebrated that night by taking The Dark Lady of My Sonnets to Chapter One for dinner (telling her in advance that we were dining at a cheapo Chinese in Parnell Street).
My first day in office was spent in persuading Lizzie Meagher to become my deputy (she had also applied for the editor’s job); also in reaching an accommodation with Naomi, our newly-appointed designer, over a revamp of the mag. The conversation went like this: “Do you like this typeface?” “No, I hate it.” “Good”. Together we reduced the multiplicity of fonts, character styles and point sizes that made the original a bitch to sub. Then I had to get an early grip on the contributory budget. After analysis, I found that wine writing took up 67% of the allotted spend, food a mere 33%. This had to be reversed, I decided and in doing so I lost a few friends, albeit temporarily.
The magazine was a joy to produce and edit. It was our time. Irish food had emerged from its cocoon of austerity. Artisan producers beavering away, awaited discovery and we were delighted to showcase them. Chefs and restaurateurs, looking to Europe, America and Asia for inspiration, were rapidly gaining in confidence; a new genus, the ‘Irish foodie’ was eager for any inside track we could give them. Along with a trio of brilliant deputies and aided by talented contributors, I stuck to the task of investing Food & Wine Magazine with a crusading spirit, exalting the good and, occasionally, excoriating those products or services we felt did not come up to scratch.
There were some hairy moments; like when we decided one province had let standards slip so we only gave out two awards noted of the usual three. A local radio producer, employing low cunning, lured me into a confrontation with restaurateurs from the region. Or when I discovered we were publishing on April 1st and wrote a spoof feature called “How to Cook Your Pet”. Alas, quite a few did not see the joke. But these were exceptions and I will end by saying the years I spent an Editor of Food & Wine Magazine were among the best of my working life.
Ernie Whalley, Restaurant Critic for The Sunday Times and former editor of Food & Wine Magazine, grew up working in his aunts’ hotel kitchens. He wrote on food, wine and travel in the UK before settling in Ireland in 1987. In the 1990s, he ran his own Dublin café before joining Food & Wine in 1999. In 2002, he launched www.forkncork.com, Ireland’s first food and drink website. In a long career, Ernie has given cookery lessons as “One Man & his Hob”; written for innumerable publications worldwide and appeared on radio and TV food & drink programmes. Judging stints include The Cordon Bleu World Food and Drink Media Awards, the Bocuse d’Or and wine competitions in five countries. In 2018, he was inducted into the Food & Wine Magazine Hall of Fame.