Steven Shaw, the proto-blogger and founder of several websites, including eGullet, is touching on his abilities as a food writer. And that is certainly true. Shaw, who died unexpectedly Tuesday, reportedly of a heart attack, was indeed a strong and thoughful writer.
But I keep thinking of Steven as a teacher.
In its heyday, eGullet, the web-thread site he founded with Jason Perlow at the beginning of the blogging boom, was like hanging around the classroom of that really cool teacher in high school. Even if you weren't taking the guy's class, you would go over there before school because some of your friends said it was fun. And you'd meet people who weren't in your usual circle. The football jock might find something in common with the science nerd, and the girls who wanted life to be about more than being girls would find people who took them seriously.
That's what Shaw's eGullet was in the beginning: The place where all kinds of people -- professional writers and beginning writers, interested amateurs and people who just loved arguing about food -- would stop by and toss out ideas, grabbing threads from the different boards to weigh in or disagree.
I was already a newspaper food writer in the 2002-2004 years when eGullet was cranking up. Some of my print-journalism colleagues avoided the online sites because the debate was so unbridled and occasionally hostile. But I liked eGullet from the beginning. It was a place to see new thoughts crinkling up and catching fire. It was also the place I met special people like Dean McCord of Raleigh, still the best cooking-lawyer I know, and David Leite, who later created the visionary website Leite's Culinaria. There was even some crazy guy named Bourdain who had just written a book about working in restaurant kitchens.
On a trip to New York in those years, Steven picked me up in his SUV, his big bulldog Momo panting in the backseat, and took me across the George Washington Bridge on a terrific food tour of New Jersey, from a Hong Kong-style dim sum palace to the White Manna and the biggest Asian superstore I have ever seen. Before we parted back in New York, he insisted on driving me up to the Cloisters to see where Manhattan narrows to the tip of an actual island, a view he wanted me to see just because he thought it was neat.
And that was really Steven: He wrote about restaurants and food as a way of teaching, I think. He liked to find ways to show people the world because he thought it was a fascinating place. The last time I saw him a couple of years ago, he actually was teaching, leading a class on food blogging at the French Culinary Institute. I stopped by for lunch, and we talked about how online food writing had evolved so quickly.
I'm sorry he's left the world so darn early, and I'm crushed for his wife, Ellen, and their young son P.J. And I thank him, for teaching me to think about food writing, all writing, as more than just print stamped on paper.