Pretty sure I met Susie Davidson Powell while enjoying a glass of wine at The Confectionary in Troy a few years ago. Since then, I have had opportunity to hit the road with her and get a front row seat on what its like to enjoy the food life from the drivers seat…and also the passenger seat – in her Porche 911 Targa 4S. Yup, she rolls in style!
Many would think that you have a dream job! What is it exactly that you do and for how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been writing about food and drink in the Hudson Valley for close to a decade, first when I moved to Columbia County after living in the city, and then in the Capital Region. I’ve been the Times Union dining critic since 2014, so I write weekly restaurant reviews, critic’s notebook features, The Food Life (a trend-focused digital subscriber newsletter) and a monthly cocktail column. I also co-founded thefoodlife.co for Hearst and wrote and filmed Kitchen Raid, a 6-week armchair travel, cooking and recipe subscription focused on pro tips and kitchen ingredients to make fast plates and amazing cocktails. But it’s not as glamorous as people think…
How did you end up getting into this business? Was this part of your original career path or did you develop this over time?
Not at all! I grew up outside London, England, and was always traveling through Europe, later working in Poland and on a Greek Island. Throughout uni and grad school, I worked as a bartender and cocktail waitress, server and occasional kitchen help. This was a great eye opener in terms of the industry and chef and customer behavior.
I came to Albany, New York to attend grad school. I worked as a research program director and stayed in publishing/curricula development for several years. I’m so grateful for that experience. I’d be out on the road for weeks, eating my way from L.A. to El Paso or D.C. to Roswell, NM. A real culinary education. After moving with my family to Columbia County, NY, I wrote a weekly newspaper column about country life and started covering the growing farm-to-table scene around 2003 just as Swoon opened on Warren Street, Hudson, and not long after the 9/11 exodus Upstate. The rest is history.
What does your job look like on a daily basis? I mean, from a practical perspective beyond all the glamour parts! Ok, maybe some glamour stuff also…
I’m constantly tracking new openings, following chef moves between restaurants, and driving – anywhere from Hudson or Woodstock to the Adirondacks – in search of food. I visit new restaurants once or twice each week and circle back for breakfast, lunch or take out a few times a week. I spend a lot of time on background research too, reviewing current and past menus, and setting up interviews. All this before I get to write. One review with travel, eating, and writing time can take 10 to 15 hours. But I do get invited to talk about food-and-drink on radio and TV and I’m often sent wines and spirits to try. That’s the only glamour part!
How has your job changed in the last couple of years with the complications of the pandemic? Any specific examples to share?
I pivoted my coverage, writing about take out, drinks to-go, Black-owned eateries following the BLM protests, staff funds, and a series of behind-the-scenes Shutdown Dairies with restaurateurs and chefs. It felt important to show the struggle faced by industry people. Also, I rapidly compiled the first 50 restaurants that switched to take out in the initial lock down, which became the basis of a Times Union take out database. I’m proud of that.
I also ditched my anonymity and hosted online Food Life Lives, chatting with restaurateurs, sommeliers, farmers, even a DJ. We wanted to touch on what we were missing, what we could plate or pour at home, and how to recreate that feeling of being looked after that you have when you dine out. Before the pandemic, I used to host a lot of dinner parties and private wine or whiskey tasting events, so during the lock down I was asked to do a few via Zoom for the Times Union.
What are your goals for 2022? Anything additional that you would like to mention?
All the Covid delays have made me a little gun shy of setting timed goals but I have a drinks, dining and travel hospitality guide in the works called thedishing.com. You can sign up online for details about its launch!
EDITORS NOTE: Corey here, with a shameless plug. Susie with be bringing a non-alcoholic cocktail series to Arts Bar at the Arts Center of the Capital Region for the first quarter of 2022. The events, are held on Troy Night Out in downtown Troy on the 4th Friday of each month. The first will be on 01.28 from 6:00 to 8:00 at 265 River Street Troy. Come join us for art and a variety of non- and-alcohol based cocktails!