An award-winning food and wine journalist and author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to San Diego, Maria Desiderata Montana is more than your average foodie. A long-time food blogger at San Diego Food Finds, she regularly contributes her food and entertainment stories to local and national publications and is currently the Food and Wine Editor of FINE Magazine. A master of crafting her own recipes, she has appeared on locally televised cooking segments to share her knowledge and culinary creations.
In her latest food writing adventure, Maria culled recipes from local chefs and shared them in her cookbook, San Diego Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from America’s Finest City. With over 60 recipes from the area’s celebrated restaurant chefs, home cooks can whip up prize-worthy meals that are full of color, local flavor and imagination.
We chatted with Maria about her successful blog and recently-released cookbook. In our brief interview, Maria reveals how her familial roots cultivated her career as a food critic, what it takes to transition from blogger to cookbook author, and what it was like collaborating with San Diego chefs.
TriMark R.W. Smith: Born and raised in Calabria, Italy, your parents taught you to cook European cuisines using fresh ingredients from their garden. How did this upbringing shape your writing career?
Maria Desiderata Montana: Although I began writing at a very young age, it wasn’t until a decade ago that I began concentrating on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As a child and teenager, my inspiration was music and romance, and I always spent a part of my day writing poems and other proses about my life and dreams. As I became a professional journalist, the writing began to follow whatever opportunity existed, whether it was general news, legal topics, real estate or lifestyle. But more recently, I have begun to focus my energy on a lifelong passion for planting, cultivating and preparing the products of nature into something wonderful to share as a meal between friends and family. I often wonder what took me so long, as I’ve spent half a lifetime in the kitchen mastering classic favorites and creating new dishes. My Mom has maintained such a traditional role model for mother and wife, spending her entire life taking care of the family, and I followed that role, even though my kids are now independent young adults. I truly attained my dream: writing about what I love, and loving to write!
RWS: You operate a successful blog, San Diego Food Finds. How did you get started as a food and wine blogger?
MDM: Once my career began to focus entirely on the culinary topic, I thought it was only logical to share my experiences in a medium that was so much broader than print. I have a good eye for design, and the thought of creating my own website to share everything from the latest news, to insider chef interviews, to my own personal recipes was extremely appealing. I was really surprised at how much effort was necessary to develop and maintain a website, but it’s the only way to ensure the content is current and interesting to readers. Photography became my most recent passion, as I love to showcase the exquisite detail of food and its preparations. I believe that’s what sets successful websites from those that fail. You need a dedicated publisher, willing to spend the many hours perfecting each page. Otherwise, no one will have interest in following your work, as it quickly outdates itself.
RWS: Tell us about your latest publication, San Diego Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from America’s Finest City. What inspired you to compile these wonderful recipes?
MDM: Over the years, I met some of the finest chefs in town, many of whom have been recognized in local and national venues. They all have unique histories and stories, as well as favorite recipes. After completing the Food Lovers’ Guide to San Diego last year, my publisher and I agreed it was time for my city to showcase the deep talent in our kitchens. I know “farm to table” has become a somewhat over-used term, but it really best describes the local focus and trend towards sustainable and healthier practices. It’s so wonderful to have a keepsake of their favorite creations available to their patrons, and others who appreciate great cuisine.
RWS: Please share with readers your experience working with local chefs.
MDM: These men and women are true artists and in love with their craft! When they speak about ingredients and food preparation, it’s like talking to Romeo about his feelings for Juliet. Each recipe is carefully crafted to maximize individual ingredients and excite your eyes and taste buds. Although some of the chefs are naturals for the spotlight, many are most comfortable in the confines of their own kitchen. It was fun to pull them out of their daily routine and converse about their own paths to culinary stardom. Many have stories similar to mine, with deep family roots in the kitchen and one family member who inspired them to begin a culinary journey.
RWS: What did it take to successfully transition from writing a blog to authoring a cookbook?
MDM: Really, the most critical component is a reliable publisher. No book is successful without the brainpower and experience to deliver a manuscript to the public in a form that is enticing to the senses and visually attractive. In my example, it was from my various published stories online and my San Diego Food Finds website that attracted Globe Pequot Press to contact me regarding a new book idea. They were impressed with my depth of knowledge and penchant for remaining current on all local news. Honestly, it would have been very difficult to write this book on an aggressive deadline without deep knowledge of the local culinary landscape and plenty of influence to keep the chefs on track.
RWS: Your future plans—are there more cookbooks in the works?
MDM: I have been talking to several publishers about other trends and ideas worthy of consideration for a book. It’s a real thrill to be involved in writing a book, especially when you see the fruits of your labors on the bookstore shelves and online. I am excited to continue the journey!
Head over to Maria’s author page on Amazon.com to learn more about the author and snag your copy of San Diego Chef’s Table and The Food Lovers’ Guide to San Diego.
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