Madison has its share of folks who live here but whose work is on a national or even international scale—perhaps more than our share for a community our size. Raphael Kadushin is one of those folks. His day job is senior acquisitions editor for the University of Wisconsin Press. But he was also a contributing editor for seven years to the national food magazine Bon Appétit, writes regularly for Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler magazines, the culinary website Epicurious.com, and is probably best known locally as a regular restaurant critic and food writer for Isthmus.
We were curious about how he landed such a prestigious gig on the national food scene. It turns out it was a serendipitous meeting at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. “We were trying to light our cigarettes (that’s how long ago it was) and this woman in black leather and leggings ran up with a battery of lighters and we quickly became friends,” says Kadushin. “Her name was Karen Kaplan and she’d never been in Amsterdam before, so we took her around the city that week. She kept talking about this magazine she wrote for, and I could see she knew her food, but I didn’t think much of it until her last day in town, when I asked her what this magazine she kept talking about was. It turned out she was an editor at Bon Appétit and she invited me to send in writing samples and on the basis of those, she immediately and very generously gave me a feature story to do for Bon Appétit, and everything proceeded from there. Soon I was doing the majority of the magazine’s culinary travel features.”
Somewhat to our surprise, Kadushin’s work for Bon Appétit preceded his writing for Isthmus. “And that was a conscious thing,” he says. “As I grew more interested in food writing I felt I wanted to be part of the local dialogue as well, where in some ways you have more influence than you would writing about restaurants in Europe or wherever.”
There is an inescapable sense of glamour associated with traveling around the world writing about food, and Kadushin admits it is, for the most part, “immensely fun.” But not always. “When you only have four or five days to really sample the best dining in a city you sometimes end up eating three or four dinners in a row—especially if you haven’t found any great restaurants by the last few days. You feel like a foie gras goose whose liver is being stretched. But of course you just sample dishes; you can tell from one or two bites if a dish is good or not.”
Kadushin mentions the suckling pig pizza at Spigia in London and the sushi at Sushi of Gari in New York City as the two best things he’s ever eaten. Wasabi’s sushi is also this reluctant cook’s takeout choice at home. Kadushin says in general Madison restaurants are getting better, but there are gaps.
“I don’t know why we don’t have a decent Chinese restaurant. And I don’t understand why there isn’t a great bakery in town, given the rich German and Scandinavian pastry traditions that are a part of the culture here. And I’d like to see more serious sushi restaurants. Wasabi is the only Japanese restaurant in town now that really serves genuine sushi.”
As for the explosion of interest in food professions, Kadushin says it’s a good thing, “at least in the sense that people are thinking about what they’re eating and cooking. But I find a lot of the food blogs and anonymous online reviews really unnecessarily cruel and personal, for absolutely no reason. And too often those reviews are totally misinformed so I don’t trust them. Taste is a subjective thing but there are certain standards—like is the sushi rice actually polished—that are objective and that aren’t a matter of opinion.”
Objective, informed and fair: these are the reasons that Kadushin’s writings are the genuine article.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.