13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask restaurant insiders 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Kim Severson is an Atlanta-based food correspondent for the New York Times.
What’s one thing you wish you knew how to cook?
I wish I could nail a perfect coconut cake. There’s that really tricky balance of fluffy frosting, perfect cake texture, and coconut flavor. I am so impatient with baking; I don’t know if I have enough trust.
What do you do for fun?
I’ve been playing softball since I was about eight years old. Raising my kid, Sammy, who’s eight. Walking my dogs, mutts Oliver and Peter Jenkins. I actually really like to try to get people together and feed them. I am always trying to find the perfect mix of people. I am jealous of Gertrude Stein and her salons.
What was the last TV show you bingewatched?
American Crime and Catastrophe
What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?
I have a real thing for Jack in the Box tacos.
What’s been your biggest culture shock since moving to the South from New York and the West Coast?
Nobody walks here in Atlanta. Somebody actually asked me if I needed some help when I was walking to a store on foot. And being clever and talking fast was not going to get me what I needed; one needed to slow down and spend a minute before getting anything done. Also the nuances of food and culture from state to state in the South were much more distinct than I thought.
What’s one ingredient you can’t stand?
I detest yellow mustard, like French’s yellow mustard. Deviled eggs are problematic for me. But I like Dijon mustard. I am pretty challenged with commercial mayo, but I like homemade mayo, and I think tartar sauce is okay. One time I had to report at the Duke’s factory, and I was sick; it was the worst day.
You reported in Alaska for seven years. Any crazy stories?
I had to go chase around Sarah Palin for the Times when she got the Republican nomination because they knew I had lived there. It was pretty challenging because she had gotten wise to media. But I knew there was a little place called the Beehive, where Palin gets her hair cut. So I made an appointment, because who knows her better than the woman who cuts her hair? I got my hair cut by the woman who cuts Sarah Palin’s hair, and it was one of the worst haircuts I’ve ever gotten.
You live in Midtown. What’s its best-kept secret?
The New York Butcher. They’ll get you whatever you want to get. It’s not like deeply artisan, but I can get my tri-tip there.
What was the last great book you read?
Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World. I cannot recommend that book enough. She wrote about grieving and losing her husband, who was a chef. It’s about love, grieving, all wrapped into the daily food rituals in their house. Because she’s a poet wiring prose, the sentences are so beautiful, but it’s simple and restrained.
What’s your favorite city to travel to for food?
In the U.S. I would pick the Bay Area because that’s where I developed my palate. I love that fresh vegetable-driven, of-the-moment cooking. I believe olive oil can be a sauce. Or any town in Italy—my mother was Italian, and it’s the same style of “of-the-moment” eating.
If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be?
I would be a good pair of tongs: helpful, utilitarian, you do a lot of things with it.
You grew up in the Midwest. What do you miss most about it?
I think people are really glad to just help out without any strings attached, and they don’t hang out around to talk about it after. There’s also just a mentality of pretty good is good enough, which is nice.
If you weren’t a journalist, what would you be?
I always secretly wanted to be a police officer, not one now, but this great friendly neighborhood beat patrol officer.