Special Sauce: Osayi Endolyn on Nigerian Food, Writing, and Identity [1/2]

On this week’s episode of Special Sauce, Ed speaks to Osayi Endolyn, a Florida-based food writer whose work regularly appears in major food publications across the country, and whose column in Gravy, the journal published by the Southern Foodways Alliance, earned a James Beard Award in 2018.

Ed and Endolyn’s conversation starts off exactly where most Special Sauce conversations start off, namely with Endolyn talking about her family and the food they used to eat when she was growing up. But Ed wasn’t prepared for just how fascinating Endolyn’s family history is. For example, her grandmother, Ruth Harris Rushen, was something of a trailblazer, as she was the first woman and first African-American to sit on California’s parole board.

Endolyn’s family table had a mix of what she calls “California working mom cuisine” – tofu and noodles, roasted chicken and vegetables- and Nigerian dishes prepared by her father, who immigrated to the United States in his early 20s. Endolyn describes her father as somewhat mercurial, but a talented cook. “The food was glorious,” she says. “Dinner was sometimes fraught and tense, but the food was really good.” The quality of the food was somewhat surprising, particularly since her father, like many immigrants, had to figure out by himself how to prepare the familiar foods from home. And, of course, her father’s cooking left its mark on her. “So,” Endolyn says, “I think a lot about migration now and what people bring with them and what they leave behind.”

Endolyn’s current focus on the intersection of food and identity is something of a happy accident. She was living in Atlanta and looking into the roots of Southern cuisine, and saw parallels between food in the South and the food her father would make at home. The realization seemed to expose how writing about food could be about so much more than writing about what’s on a plate. “Food can actually be this lens from which we can explore so many different things,” Endolyn says. “Why certainly it can be something that I can use to talk about my experiences as a child of an immigrant, or as the descendant of someone who was in the Great Migration, or as a descendant of enslaved people or all of these other historic and personal experiences.”

To hear more from Endolyn, tune into this both this week’s and next week’s episode. We guarantee it’ll be well worth your time.


Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and nonfood folks alike.

Osayi Endolyn: You know, I was living in Atlanta. I was thinking a lot about the roots of southern cuisine in ways that had never been talked about in my family. And I was like, well geez, like this seems like a lot of the same ingredients or cooking practices that I saw my dad do, or that I remember some of these flavors. And so in an effort to do that, I was thinking about West African chefs, and could I find Nigerian food in Atlanta? And so that essay kind of explored that.

EL: This week, sitting across the table from me in CDM studios is none other than the brilliant young writer, Osayi Endolyn. Her writing about food and identity in Southern Foodways Quarterly “Gravy” has earned her the James Beard Journalism Award. You’ll find her work north and south from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post and the Atlanta Magazine. And most important to my heart, is her contribution to an anthology entitled You and I Eat The Same, on the countless ways food and cooking connect us to one another. That’s where she wrote an important, evocative, and should I say fattening piece on fried chicken? Welcome, Osayi to Special Sauce. We feel privileged to have gotten you here on one of your infrequent trips to the Big Apple.

OE: Oh, I am so happy to be here.

EL: It was such a pleasure to read everything I could before seeing you, ’cause .. wow man, you just keep going to write your ass off. So good. So good for you to be here.

OE: Well, I’m going to download this when it airs and like just keep that on a loop somewhere when I’m feeling all the pangs of a first draft. Thank you so much.

EL: Sure. So since you write so frequently about food and identity, our usual first riff on Special Sauce is particularly pertinent. And that riff is, “Tell us about life at the Endolyn family table.”

OE: Well, gosh, growing up … so I was born and raised in California. And I spent some time in the Bay and then appeared in the Central Valley, and then the rest of my childhood was in the Inland Empire. And I went to college in Los Angeles.

EL: I love the Inland Empire. I noticed that, like what area is the Inland Empire? Is that like Sacramento …?

OE: I don’t know Sacramento that well as an adult. I would say maybe … you’re going to have all of your various ethnic groups without all the like glitz and shine of Los Angeles, to a certain degree. So that’s where you’ve got like, Riverside, Moreno Valley.

EL: Got it.

OE: I went to high school, San Bernardino. I don’t know if Pomona quite counts, but going out toward like Claremont.

EL: Yeah, yeah. Pomona counts. Like San Gabriel Valley? Like the other side of the mountains?

OE: That’s on the other side.

EL: Got It.

OE: So we’re going a little further east and it’s an area where I think a lot of people don’t realize California has places like that.

EL: Yeah, for sure because everyone goes to Los Angeles and San Francisco, maybe Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz.

OE: And then when they go to those places, they go to the ones that become those destination spots on all the movies and shows and things like that. So for the early part of my childhood, I would say what I remember most is, my mom’s cooking was, I would call it like maybe California working mom cuisine. Where you know, you’ve got- sometimes you had like noodles and tofu, sometimes you had roast chicken and roasted vegetables. Sometimes it was just, one pot spaghetti with the sauce from the jar, a lot of frozen veggies with the medley. I always remembered like the lima beans—

EL: The medley. I just love the medley. The idea of the vegetable medley is something we don’t talk enough about on Special Sauce.

OE: Yeah. I mean, I don’t miss it. We had really balanced meals. There wasn’t—I totally appreciate that picky eaters is a thing and that it’s hard for a lot of parents, but in my household that just wasn’t—It just never came up. It wasn’t an option.

EL: Got it.

OE: So we just ate everything. My father cooked sometimes and when he cooked, he made Nigerian dishes. He was from Benin city. And so there were a lot of dishes that I don’t really have names for now, but they were essentially stews or depending on your household, you might call them curries. Right? But you had your base, you had a meat, it sat for a while and he would serve it with eba, steamed yams that have been kind of been pounded. So kind of like pounded yam, but it’s a little darker variety. Rice a lot. Sometimes we had boiled plantain. I preferred the sweet plantain fried rather than like the less ripe of plantain that was kind of more like almost—and sometimes he would roast it. And then I remember a lot of social events that were hosted by either my father or people that he knew in kind of a very close knit Nigerian community, both in the Bay Area and in Clovis where we were living, which is next to Fresno.

OE: So if you’re familiar with Cal State Fresno. And so, those events would have dishes that he never made, that had a lot of preparation to them, like moin moin. Which is, like black eyed peas grinded down and kind of mashed in with peppers and onions. They are steamed sometimes in foil or banana leaves. When you take it out, it kind of looks like a little mold. So I kind of call it like a Nigerian Tamale. Sometimes you have like hard boiled egg pieces in there, meat chunks in there. I remember egusi soup, which is a favorite of mine and you’ll see that on a lot of menus of African restaurants that might be labeled as such. And that’s a stew that I think you’d find in other cultures along the same regional area as well, but it’s bitter melon seed and you’ve got like crayfish in the base and usually had like stewed chicken or goat in there too. We’d have akara, which is also made out of shelled black eyed peas, seasoned with maybe some onion, salt, and pepper and fried. So it essentially, it looks like a, like a hush puppy or a fritter. And so I really loved all that food. And when my parents divorced, when I was a teenager, we moved further south to Moreno Valley, so from Clovis to Moreno Valley. My grandmother was across the street. That was delightful, because for so much of my childhood she was always like returning home or we were always like leaving her and all of a sudden now she was like right there. So we would have a lot of Sunday dinners at her place and, she’d bake your typical baked fish and, sometimes she’d make, maybe like a roast and some kind of cornbread dressing.

EL: And this was your mother’s mother?

OE: My mother’s mother. Yeah. Yeah.

EL: And she was from the south?

OE: Yeah. So her name was Ruth Rushen and—Ruth Harris Rushen. And she was born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi. Her father was a Methodist preacher and her mother basically took care of—I Think there were five of them. They had a small farm and some animals. And she went onto college, Clark College at the time in Atlanta. And then worked for a little while in DC. And she was at the Labor Department kind of right after the war, and learned on her first day… She was sitting next to a young white woman and she was so excited. This is the first day on the job and she’s asks what job the woman has and whatever the woman tells her. My grandmother realizes in that moment that when they came to her school to give like the aptitude test and the interviews, the job this woman had wasn’t even something she had to, eligible to apply for. And so that kind of begins to like set her in the sense of like being in a small town in Laurel kind of insulated. She didn’t really have a lot of day to day experiences with Jim Crow and racism. Of course, looking at from a more-

EL: Ten thousand feet.

OE: Yeah. From like the forest view, you could see the divisions, but in her life experience as a child, she didn’t necessarily have that othering feeling. And that became very present for her in DC. Shopping for hats and people wouldn’t wait on her and things like that. So she’s been only a couple of years in DC before she decided to move to Los Angeles. I think she already had a cousin that was out there and that’s how it went. You know, right? You heard somebody else had kind of made their way. So you went. And she worked in the Methodist Church as a receptionist for a little while. She had a brief period cleaning homes. She had this great anecdote of being asked to look at the- Please address the dust pearls underneath the bed. And she was like, “I don’t know- you’re gonna have to tell me what do you mean by that?” Cause she had never heard that phrasing before. It wasn’t long before she got a referral to a job in social work. And it was from there that she really kind of found her vibe. And she went from social work to a probation. She was appointed first woman, I think and definitely first African American to sit on California’s parole board. And then she went on to serve as the Director of Corrections under Jerry Brown’s first turnout.

EL: You really got to write a book about that.

OE: Yeah.

EL: Can we just stop the whole thing? And we’re just gonna spend the rest of the time talking about your grandmother.

OE: Well, so she didn’t cook a lot for my mom and my aunt ’cause she was up and down from LA, where my aunt and mother were born to Sacramento and all that. They had an extended family … they had a relative who came up with, they call her Amy. And that’s spelled actually Auntie, but they pronounce it Amy. And I think she was, I always get this wrong, she was on my maternal grandfather’s side. So she did a lot of the house kind of care for them. But so when I was a teenager living across the street from her, that kind of like day to day cooking, dining opportunities, we could go over and hang out with her.

EL: You come from a remarkable family of women-

OE: I do.

EL: Between your mom and your grandmother … I can’t imagine all the things … like when she got that job for the government that there were too many other African American women that had similar positions.

OE: No. And she was, I think, very early on got a reputation for being really fair, but being really straightforward. Later in her career, she was getting a lot of awards and I was younger, and I just remember people always kind of saying, “Oh, you know, that Rushen. She’s-” We’d always has some like kind of shaking their head. Like, “She checked me that one time, but it was important that she did that.”

EL: She was a bad ass before women were called bad ass.

OE: Yeah. I actually found, on Google Books- and gosh, I hope maybe one day I can get like a digitized version. But Ebony had done a profile of her. Ebony Magazine.

EL: Wow.

OE: Maybe this was like 1980 or ’81, something like that. And it was this full spread, and they had photographs of her. I think there were a couple of her walking the yard, maybe it like one of the state prisons- it might’ve been San Quentin. Those guys had a lot of respect for her because she listened. And she was interested in corrections, not necessarily as a place solely to punish, but as a place to really give people resources because they’re going to reenter the vast majority of people. It’s an idea we still haven’t quite caught onto yet.

EL: Yeah.

OE: But, I remember this quote that I’m going to have to paraphrase, but you know, she was basically like, “You know, if you’re lookin’ for the pushers, that’s fine. But if you want to stop, you know, drugs being sold, you really have to go to Beverly Hills where the people are buying most of the things that are being-” So, I thought that was really … I mean it doesn’t sound revolutionary, but to kind of call that out-

EL: Yeah, back then.

OE: To say that back then-

EL: Yeah, that’s amazing.

OE: … speaks volumes.

EL: You mentioned your dad did a bunch of the cooking before your folks divorced. And you wrote this extraordinarily powerful and honest piece about your dad and going to his funeral in Nigeria. Tell us about his relationship to cooking and how it affected you. And I was just so struck by when you said he didn’t want anyone in the kitchen … and was obviously afraid of relationships.

OE: Yeah. I mean, my dad had- so his name was Lucky Ehigiator. And people are always like, “No, what was his real name?” I was like, no, his first name was Lucky. And, he had this really like, magnanimous personality. I mean, he was just, big smile, like very handsome. He walked in the room, you would know he was there. Just amazing laugh. But he had this really awful temper, and I don’t know where that all came from. I know that growing up his grandfather was very hard on him. He, like a lot of kids do in his home country, he went off to boarding school very early. He was a youngster during the civil war, the Biafran war in Nigeria. And that wasn’t stuff that he talked about very much, but there was always this underlying tension, you know? But the food was great. The food was, was glorious. Dinner was sometimes fraught and tense, but the food was really good. And when he cooked … I mean I don’t remember him ever cooking what we might consider your typical kind of west coast, California fare. So like stuff that you would find like Marie Calendars or the Sizzler or things like that. That wasn’t stuff that he was turning out.

EL: Right. Yeah he was cooking Nigerian food like you described.

OE: Yeah, right. I hear from some folks that he immigrated to San Diego, barely out of his teens. He attended UC San Diego. That’s where my parents met. And I hear that a lot of those guys have to kind of figure out how to cook when they come because it’s not necessarily something they were tasked with doing always. And so that’s kind of like grappling the recipe. So, I think a lot about migration now and what people bring with them and what they leave behind. And how tough it must be to try to recreate something that, felt maybe so inherent to your day to day, and now you’re just barely able to source the ingredients. And maybe you don’t even know what they’re called in this other language. I mean English is a native language for many people in Nigeria, including my father. But it’s still, I think, challenging. So, I didn’t get to like really observe him cook or sort of sit off to the side and chat with him. We were always kind of- and this might have to do with just being a kid and anytime you’re around it’s like, “Get out of the way. Your underfoot.” But I enjoyed the food, the flavors. I wasn’t always interested in some of the … I guess what you’d say is that sometimes I think my dad really did not understand how it was he would happen to be raising American kids. Right?

EL: Right.

OE: Like, just the things that would come out of our mouths. It would just- he would sometimes find them so disrespectful, maybe unknowingly. Or even just customs that he was used to, like not eating food with your left hands. That is- you know, your left hand isn’t not considered- And this is true in a lot of African countries, a lot of the Middle East too. You eat with your right hand.

EL: Wow, I didn’t know that.

OE: Yeah. The left hand is kind of perceived culturally that that’s where you do business. It’s not what you bring to the table. Especially in- we think about a lot of communal dining, these customs are important. And stuff like that, he would get really turned around by. That just didn’t make sense to me.

EL: Sure.

OE: And then- he was my only brother at the time, we have a younger brother. But it was hard to balance and kind of work out as a kid.

EL: It sounds like also he didn’t equate food to love. I once had the late, great Nora Ephron on our radio show and I asked her what food meant to her and she laughed and she said, “You mean besides love and family?” But it sounds like for your dad it was … it might have been some of that, but it must have been other things too.

OE: You know, when I would sometimes express to him that I felt like- I was an affectionate kid and my mom was very affectionate with us. She told us she loved us, and there was always this sense of we knew where we stood. With my father being such a unpredictable figure … he’d lash out and next thing you know, you’d be getting whipped about something that you didn’t even know what you did wrong. It was hard to not always have the other side of it from him. And so, he felt like, “Hey, you have a bed to sleep in. You have this nice house at the end of a cul-de-sac. You go to a good school, and you’ve got clothes that fit. What’s your problem?”

EL: Wow.

OE: Right? You know?

EL: Sure.

OE: I mean that is where I think- I mean a lot of people were kind of raised that way. I think he was certainly raised that way.

EL: Yeah.

OE: But sometimes I think he would vacillate because he can be very tender but … I don’t know if sometimes he felt like that was allowing too much leniency-

EL: Yeah. Somehow he was-

OE: Spare the Rod-

EL: Yeah.

OE: Sort of thing.

EL: That’s weird. You also wrote a beautiful piece about your mom in the Washington Post. Which actually I want to show my wife because you talk about, that you have to sort of reluctantly conclude that you’re like her, and that she’s like you and that she gets you. You know? And that you did it with using food as the metaphor was really beautiful.

OE: Thank you so much.

EL: Connecting food to love and family … you do it in a way that reflects the complexities contained in the relationships between food and love and family. So talk a little bit about that relationship because it’s- I think it’s closely tied to a lot of your writing, which is about food and identity. But you know, you got to throw love and culture in there too.

OE: Yeah. That piece was a little hard for me to get started, but once I did, it kind of came like A to Z pretty quickly. And it was really nice working with Joe Yonan, the editor of the food section with the Washington Post’s cause-

EL: I know Joe. He’s a good man.

OE: He is a good man. And I turned it in and he was like, “Okay. Well that’s a wrap.” I was like, “Wait, you don’t have like … comments? You don’t want to revise something?” And so I haven’t actually read it again cause I’m afraid I’m going to find something that I wish I had changed. Sometimes, and I think a lot of kids who emerged from households that experience divorce in some way, sometimes the parent who’s always there sometimes gets a bad rap because they have to withstand all of it. And there’s not really the same tag team.

EL: They have a hard time reconciling the good cop, bad cop thing.

OE: Yeah. Yeah. And so, my mom had a lot of help with my mom’s side of the family, but for sure coming into my teens, it’s just a difficult time, right? I’m trying to figure out who I am and she’s trying to figure out, “Who the hell is that?” And through my college years, I actually- I went to high school in Moreno Valley. I went to college at UCLA. Now it’s probably about an hour and a half, but at the time you could get door to door, at least the way I drove, 60 minutes.

EL: Right.

OE: But I didn’t visit home that often.

EL: ‘Cause you wanted to separate.

OE: Yeah. I had always been- I was one of these teenagers that had always been complimented for being mature.

EL: Right.

OE: Which is kind of a dangerous thing, because when you do act age appropriately, people think you’re regressing. Which is kind of really hard.

EL: Right. Right. Right. And also the mature thing implies respectful and you don’t want as a teenager to be identified as someone too respectful.

OE: Yeah. And being mature in the sense of like being polite isn’t necessarily the same as like having financial maturity or an emotional maturity in some areas. So, there was just, I think a lot of … there was friction. I think that a lot of it was normal, but it made our differences stand out to me.

EL: Yeah.

OE: If you hear my mom speak, you can tell I’m my mother’s child. From nine years old, if I answered the phone, back when everyone had landlines. If I said, “Hello.” People would start talking to me like I was Angela. And so, I’d have to say- because I have the same diction as her-

EL: My wife has that with her late mother, too.

OE: Yeah.

EL: She had it. It was like, they both had these two octave, “Hello’s.” And they were indistinguishable. Hello.

OE: And the more that I … sort of charted off this … kind of adult life or myself, the more I realized I was doing things that reminded me of my mom. From the way I organize paperwork, how I handled like household chores, the way I conducted myself sometimes professionally, even like the way I would get if I was upset in some situations. Where my mom can get like- she gets upset, she can get very quiet and very pronounced in her words are very annunciated. I tend to do that. So it’s kind of weird to kind of see this coming back around. And I looked in the mirror one day and I was like, “Wow.” I have this prominent forehead and this facial structure and my face has changed- Like the shape of my face had kind of changed a lot as I’ve aged. And I look more like my mom now and then maybe I did ten, fifteen years ago.

OE: That’s a bell ringer, because I think it starts to, like you said, signify other areas in our lives where we overlap. And I’ve always been proud of my mother. I’ve always loved her fiercely, but I’ve always- I’ve also sometimes felt like, “We’re very different.” But sort of accepting that similarity, was kind of cool. I think it was refreshing for her, too.

EL: Yeah.

OE: She was like, “Well, finally. It only took 30 some odd years.” Yeah.

EL: And was she a good cook or just a productive cook?

OE: She was a good cook. I always remember enjoying her food, but I just remember … time was a challenge. My mom always worked. She was a journalist in the early part of her career. She actually was pregnant with my brother when she was at Stanford getting her master’s in journalism. She was a reporter. And then she-

EL: It’s too bad you come from such a lively family here. I mean, what’s goin’ on here, man? Oh yeah, and my brother became president. You know? It’s like, “What’s up with this?”

OE: You never know.

OE: Yeah. So she moved into like media affairs, public affairs and things like that. But, that work schedule, that intensity of- So she leaned on me a lot when I was a little older. Which at times was challenging for me. But-

EL: To get food on the table?

OE: To help out.

EL: Yeah.

OE: It wasn’t anything crazy that she was asking like, “Hey, start the oven at this temperature and do these three things and I’ll be home.”

EL: Right, it wasn’t reduce the sauce by-

OE: So I remember sometimes wanting to do two things on the weekends, like make cakes and things like that. And those were always like the one box. You know, add an egg, add a little oil kind of things. Sometimes pancakes on the weekends, that kind of thing. I think as her schedule started to open up as we became a little bit more self sufficient … there were three of us, she could start to be kind of more exploratory and reflective in her cooking and not so what’s like, “Okay, I got to get these three food groups on the table.”

EL: Yeah. Yeah. You are often, as I’ve said, describe to someone who writes about food and an identity. How did you come to that topic? How did you arrive at like, “Wow, that’s the area of the food culture that I want to explore.” Was it by accident? Were you inspired by something you read of someone else’s?

OE: Some that first started when one of my good friends, Evan Ma was editing Atlanta Magazine. We were both mentees of Bill Addison, who had left that position to go onto Eater.

EL: That’s right. And now is onto the LA Times. I Love Bill Addison.

OE: I do too.

EL: He and I have talked for hours about Aretha Franklin besides.

OE: Oh my gosh. I’m sure that was delightful conversation, and I hope he busted out into song from time to time. But, I had pitched him like three or four story ideas, and Evan came back and said, “Want you to do this one.” And one of those pieces was kind of exploring Nigerian food in the Atlanta area. Which by that time, I had started- When my parents divorced, there wasn’t a continuation, the Nigerian cooking in my house. I think mostly just out of a lack of skill.

EL: Right.

OE: And then, in the IE, the Inland Empire, there wasn’t places that I knew about, at least, that we’re cooking-

EL: Nigerian food.

OE: Or even though what you might consider just West African dishes for a long time. And that’s changed a lot now. I think that that’s on the forefront of the next American cuisine.

EL: Yeah.

OE: But at the time, those were very home based experiences.

EL: Yeah.

OE: And so I was living in Atlanta, and I was thinking a lot about the roots of southern cuisine in ways that had never been talked about or really referenced in my family. And I was like, “Well, geez, this seems like a lot of the same ingredients or cooking practices that I saw my dad do, or that I remember, some of these flavors.” And so in an effort to do that, I was thinking about West Africans, chefs. And could I find Nigerian food in Atlanta? And so that essay kind of explored that. And I was surprised that Evan had gone for it because I remember suggesting things that were a little bit more on trend and kind of like, “Eh, this little personal story over here.”

EL: Right.

OE: “You don’t want that.” And that ended up being something that caught the attention of the Southern Foodways Alliance. And then from there, I wrote for them, and then I came on as an editor and started writing a column for Gravy.

EL: We should say it’s Southern Foodways Alliance Quarterly.

OE: Right.

EL: And that’s where I presume you got to know my friend John T. Edge.

OE: You know, we met in Atlanta around 2014, 2013 I think. But yeah, working on- So just to clarify it is Gravy. That’s the name of the publication, but sometimes they have to say Gravy, print versus Gravy, podcast.

EL: Got it. Yeah. Right.

OE: Between that essay for Atlanta Magazine, and started the work I was doing at Gravy. I realized like, “Okay, I’m not a restaurant critic. I’m not someone who’s necessarily going to be traveling around like collecting top 10 lists and things like that.” These were things that I was thinking about more and more. And I think also on the media side, there’s- the last ten, fifteen years, it’s been a huge growth of personal essays and interest in those narratives. So I think it was a lot of things converging. But for me, in terms of the food component, I felt like if food can actually be this lens from which we can explore so many different things. Why certainly it can be something that I can use to talk about my experiences as a child of an immigrant, or as the descendant of someone who was in the great migration, or as a descendant of enslaved people or all of these other- these historic and personal experiences.

EL: That’s the great thing about food and why I have stayed writing and producing stuff in the food culture, because the food culture enables you to touch every other discipline in every other aspect of life.

OE: And I didn’t really know that coming into it. I mean, I started really like my first professional clip I think in food was another clip for Atlanta Magazine. I was an intern in graduate school at Atlanta Mag and I had heard this oral history that they wanted to do on brewing company, Sweetwater. They didn’t have someone to do it. The person who they thought it was going to be able to do it wasn’t available. And I heard this in an editorial meeting and-

EL: And you raised your hand.

OE: I did not raise my hand, but I cornered the editor, Steve Fantasy at the time, after the meeting and then told him, “Hey, I’ve been following craft beer culture. I’ve had a few clips in a smaller run monthly.” And he said, “Well, let me see your clips and we can talk about it.” And he assigned it to me, and he paid me. And supposedly I’m the only intern to ever earn a feature assignment at Atlanta Mag.

EL: And then you became a food writer.

OE: And then I became a food writer. But that was like, “Okay, this is an area-” I mean, I’d been writing profiles, and I’d been doing a lot of essays and some art coverage and things like that.

EL: Wow. So you’re kind of the accidental food writer, but I now after having read so many pieces of yours, it is like you’re one of those voices that from the first sentence like, “Oh, that’s an Osayi piece.” And that’s the best thing you could say as a writer. You know, I started as a music writer and I had all these music critic idols and I could write exactly like Robert Christgau or any of these seminal rock critics, but they didn’t sound like me. And then when I started writing about food, everyone said, “Oh, it’s kind of like listening to you talk.” You sort of found a back roads way to that.

OE: Somehow. I mean- Thank you so much. My Mom taught me the practice of reading out loud. What you write. I stuttered actually for a while as a kid, and between kind of practicing reading out loud to- She would help me do that to sort of hear how fast I was. It was because I was reading quickly that I would try to stumble over these words super fast and she’d say, “You have to slow down. You have to say slower than you hear it or see it in your mind.” Between that and I think just the act of revising … if I get stuck or if I’m trying to figure out where I need to go, the best way for me to get there is to read it out loud. Even if I’m just sort of murmuring the words.

EL: I do the same thing.

OE: Yeah.

EL: So I’m afraid we have to leave it here for this episode of Special Sauce, but we will continue this conversation for the next episode because we haven’t talked about fried chicken and what you wrote about it in You and I Eat the Same and the book you’re working on. And oh yeah, what you’re going to write for us at Serious Eats. So thank you, Osayi Endolyn for this episode.

OE: Thank you.

EL: And thank you for agreeing to stick around and we’ll see you next time, Serious Eaters.