My name is Katherine Chew Hamilton, and I’m excited to introduce myself as Portland Monthly’s new food editor. I’m passionate about covering restaurants, pop-ups, neighborhoods, and food entrepreneurs that, at least historically, wouldn’t otherwise receive much press attention, and I can’t wait to bring those kinds of stories to the PoMo.
I got my start as a food writer two years ago when I was hired as the restaurant critic at the East Bay Express, an alt-weekly newspaper in Oakland, California. But my love for food is nothing new. My first job in high school was at a bean-to-bar chocolate shop in Oakland, where I made truffles, drinking chocolate, and marshmallows; in college, I was a food buyer and head cook at Third World Co-Op, a dining cooperative for students of color where I sourced vegetables, eggs, and milk from Ohio farms. I studied abroad in Florence, where I spent months learning to make gelato from an Italian artisan using ingredients from all over Italy. Since then, I’ve traveled to Mexico City, Chicago, Madrid, Bologna, Budapest, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles, meticulously scheduling out four or five meals a day. Some might call it excessive; I call it food research.
Despite the fact that I’m pretty much always eating, I think good food writing isn’t just about food, but the people behind the food. As a mixed-race, Chinese-American journalist, I’m particularly interested in stories about food made by Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. At the Express, I wrote about two Dreamers who were unable to obtain legal employment after the Trump administration suspended DACA; in response, they opened a quesabirria truck that became a hub for people with roots in Jalisco longing for a taste of home. I also wrote about a Senegalese-Brazilian-Argentinian restaurant started by a former professional soccer player from Senegal who wanted to highlight West Africa’s culinary influence on the world.
I’ll be moving from the Bay Area to Portland in August. It’s definitely a strange time to immerse myself in a new-to-me food scene, which I’ll be exploring entirely through takeout for the time being. Though many restaurant owners have come up with creative ways to adapt, there have already been many heartbreaking restaurant layoffs and closures.
One thing’s for sure: The restaurant industry is going to look a lot different on the other side of this pandemic. Restaurants are going to have to figure out how to bring back customers, many of whom will be struggling financially themselves. Maybe, as restaurants rebuild, they’ll address some of the inequities in race and gender, the pay discrepancies between front and back of house, the problem of pervasive sexual harassment, and the frequent lack of health care and sick time for food service workers. Maybe we’ll see more chefs of color opening up shop as rent prices (hopefully) go down. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway, and I’m looking forward to writing about it all as it happens.