Michael Procopio talks writing, eating and his stance on pumpkin spice lattes

Sep 24, 2015 at 2:13 p.m. ET
Image: Julie Michelle Sparenberg

Michael Procopio, writer and blogger at Food for the Thoughtless, shares some great advice on blogging in the very competitive food space (along with some advice you probably shouldn’t follow), real insight into what to expect if you dream of being a writer and spills his true feelings on kale, pumpkin spice lattes and Sriracha sauce.

With BlogHer Food '15 just around the corner, we're giving you a sneak peek at what to expect this year in a fun interview series with some of our conference speakers. Kicking off the series is this must-read Q-and-A with Michael Procopio, someone who knows how to make your usual foodie interview a virtual page-turner. Trust us — there are some gems here that will make you camp out for a front row seat at the keynote he's moderating, Achieving Long-Term Blogger Happiness.

Michael Procopio
Image: Julie Michelle Sparenberg

Your biggest influences in writing and cooking?

My biggest influences in writing are probably the authors I enjoy reading the most — the ones I go back to again and again. Saki is number one. But Muriel Spark and James Thurber are up there. And Billy Wilder, of all people — he had a brilliant way of setting up a scene in one sentence of dialogue.

In terms of cooking, I’ve developed a rather Greek sensibility from working in a Greek restaurant for several years — simple is better, cinnamon in savory dishes is nothing to be afraid of, etc. If there are any cookbook authors who have shaped the way I cook, the only one who comes to mind is Vincent Price.

The piece of food writing you're most proud of?

If I had to choose just one, it would have to be one called "On Toast." A friend of mine at work told me I should write about toast because it was sometimes the only thing he could keep down when he was going through chemotherapy. So I told him I would think about toast and see what I could come up with. I wrote it in about an hour — it just sort of flowed out. It was the first essay of mine to be published in the Best Food Writing anthology and the first to be taught in university English courses. I’m very proud of that. But I am even prouder that it made my friend happy.

The best piece of food writing advice you've ever received?

This may sound awful, but I can’t think of any. In my opinion, the only thing that makes food writing "food writing" is that it is writing with food stains. The best bit of writing advice I’ve ever received was from my high school AP English teacher, Stan Douglas. I’d written some meandering essay about a doll’s house or something. He gave me a C- with a note scribbled at the end in red ink, which read (I paraphrase here), "What in God’s name are you trying to say? Please get to the point! State your thesis at the beginning so I know where you’re going."

Sometimes I still ignore his advice, but it’s stayed with me all these years.

The three things you wish you'd known before you started writing?

  1. It’s a very lonely business being inside one’s own head all day.
  2. You have to be writing for yourself, not for others.
  3. The pay is excrementally terrible.

The five most important things to being a successful food blogger?

  1. Be yourself. Trying to be the next Pioneer Woman is foolish. Ree Drummond is The Pioneer Woman. That space is filled.
  2. Have a damned opinion about something.
  3. Get creative. It’s your blog — have fun with it. If you want to be boring by chasing trends and copying other people, that’s fine. As long as being tedious and repetitive is a genuine part of who you are.
  4. Sleep with brand ambassadors.
  5. Don’t listen to anything I have to say.

Now that we've gotten the serious questions out of the way...

The five most surprising things in your fridge?

  1. There’s a bottle of Fentimans Dandelion & Burdock carbonated beverage that’s been in there for 11 years. At first I didn’t have the heart to drink it. Now I simply don’t have the nerve.
  2. Normally there’s always a good bottle of Champagne on hand in there in case of emergency, but I’ve recently had an emergency, so there isn’t.
  3. A half-eaten portion of cookie dough left over from my last blog post.
  4. A vegetable drawer filled with little bottles of tonic.
  5. A bottle of sherry, in case I suddenly have to entertain a post-menopausal Englishwoman from the 1930s.

Your current favorite...

  • Cocktail: Boulevardier
  • Wine: Moschofilero (white), Cornas (red), Bandol (rosé), Pol Roger (Champagne)
  • Fast food: In-N-Out Double Double Cheeseburger
  • Comfort food: Rigatoni suffocated in red sauce, buried under an avalanche of pecorino
  • Dessert: Galaktoboureko

The dish that’s given you the most trouble?

I once tried to make candies I was going to call "Caramel-ite Nuns" — balls of caramel with chocolate wimples, white chocolate piping and vaguely disappointed expressions. It was a total disaster.

Also, I really suck at pot pies.

The three biggest food-centric benefits to living in San Francisco?

  1. San Franciscans are basically adventurous eaters.
  2. Obscure ingredients are generally easy to source.
  3. The dim sum is pretty damned good.

Your stance on…

  • Pumpkin Spice Lattes: NO.
  • Sriracha sauce: It has killed my desire for culinary subtlety.
  • Truffle oil: A few drops in the bath will give you silky smooth skin. Bonus: Will drive men and rutting pigs mad with desire.
  • Ramen as a bun, pizza crust, etc.: NO.
  • Cookie butter: Silly but delicious.
  • Nutella: I ate nothing but Nutella and Wasa wafers on my first solo trip to Europe, so we’re done.
  • Kale: If you need to know my feelings about kale, please read this poem I wrote about it.

What did we tell you?

Check back for interviews each week as we lead up to #BlogHerFood15, and head over to BlogHer to get all the information you need. Register here, see the agenda and speakers, and sign up for the newsletter for announcements and opportunities.