Debut Author Spotlight: Jessica Tom

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, so naturally food is top of mind. Imagine our delight when we were offered an opportunity to get to know debut author Jessica Tom, the culinary mind behind Food Whore. The story follows a Food Studies graduate who misses out on an internship only to receive a more prestigious, yet devious, offer. The whole debacle makes us wonder, when one kitchen door closes, does another truly open? We needed to find out! Luckily, Jessica was more than happy to answer all of our questions...

Name: Jessica Tom

Book: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit

Genre: Mainstream Fiction

Series: N/A

Current Home: Brooklyn, NY

Author Icon & Culinary Icon:

I admire Donna Tartt and Jennifer Egan: two women who write smart, ambitious books that are also page-turners. I almost never re-read books, but I've returned to their books time and time again.

In the culinary world, of course I have a girl crush on Ruth Reichl, who's had such a dynamic career across home cooking, fine dining, cookbook writing and even food fiction writing.

Favorite Word & Favorite Dish:

Great question. I love the word “toothsome“ since it captures an essential, but overlooked taste experience. Think of a juicy peach or a plush focaccia — that pleasing pressure of food against your teeth.

It's so hard for me to pick a favorite dish. But if I'm at a restaurant and it's on the menu, I will always order braised rabbit, baked Alaska and anything with eggplant or cauliflower.

Was this the first full-length novel you ever wrote?

Yes. After I graduated college, I tried to extend my 80-page senior project into a novel, but it was a disaster. I injected it with new characters and motivations — even a magic potion — but the plot wasn't meant to stretch beyond its original scope. I abandoned it at around 200 pages.

Tell us about your day job (current or former).

I've spent my career doing marketing, business development and creative direction, with a special focus on food. I've developed restaurant spaces with food trucks and local chefs, worked at a web startup that helped enhance hospitality at fine dining establishments and marketed food and wine products. 

But I really set the stage for my current career in college when I interned for two publishing houses and Zagat Survey, served as an incognito corporate cafeteria critic, wrote four children's books that were sold at exclusively at FAO Schwarz and wrote restaurant reviews for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Those four years mish-mashed publishing and food criticism and I've been trying to keep that mix since then.

How did you start writing and cooking?

I've always loved working with my hands and am a tinkerer at heart. Growing up I was always creating: jewelry making, sewing, collaging, flower arranging, origami … I've dabbled in so many things (and have the overflowing craft supply closet to prove it).

Cooking has always been a constant. When I eat something, I want to know: How was it made? What is this ingredient? How can I put my spin on it?

I've been cooking since I was 8, but probably didn't get proficient until I was 14 or so. I never considered myself a writer until I went to college. I wanted to create things at a high level, but didn't want to be an architect or artist, other majors where you making things from scratch. So I thought—writing! 

What was it like when you got "The Call"?

I started writing Food Whore in 2009 — six years before publication. Much of that time, I didn't know what would come of this. Getting the call was a huge feeling of validation. You spend so many years clawing in the dark, not knowing if this path is right. And then the door opens and someone says, “Welcome, we've been expecting you!" and you can finally see that all that work was worth it. 

What's your favorite paragraph in Food Whore?

This is toward the end, so I won't contextualize too much and spoil anything…

“I could gulp the [redacted] until that point where consumption was no longer about pleasure but about filling your belly and thumbing your nose at hunger, as if it was some childhood lisp, some mean friend, some sadness that thought it could get the best of you." 

What are your favorite NYC restaurants?

For high-end, I love Jean-Georges. It's elegant and a little cheeky, French and a little Asian. The first time I went there, I was eating with Tim Zagat and other interns and Jean-Georges Vongerichten gave us the warmest greeting (and tons of desserts). That memory has just seared in my memory. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is just outside of NYC (and 10 minutes from my hometown) and is farm-to-table nirvana. 

What’s your favorite piece of food writing – fiction or non-fiction?

The New York Times restaurant review is a must-read every week. I've been obsessed with it since middle school (and of course made it the central node of Food Whore). Every critic has his or her own voice: snarky, sensual, street. I care about their judgment calls, but I enjoy each critic's personality and flair the most.  

Food Whore will be available in print and digital on October 27. Preorder a copy: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooksIndieBound. And to meet other debut authors, click here.