We partner with some incredible local talents for our classes and some of our retail selections. In our ongoing Extended Family series, we want to showcase their work and provide a glimpse inside their personal story
Nancy Leson is a recent addition to our teacher lineup and we instantly fell in love with her hysterical and wise voice. Nancy was a restaurant critic and food columnist for The Seattle Times and now teaches, talks and entertains around Seattle. Check out her website here, learn more below and sign up for one of her classes here.
Let’s start out with the basics, where are you from and what do you do?
I was born and raised in Philadelphia. Give me a third glass of rosé and I might just yell, “Yo! Can I also have a glass of ‘wooder?’”
Though most people know me from my longtime job as food writer and restaurant critic at the Seattle Times (I pre-tired in 2014) and from my radio gig as co-host of “Food for Thought” on NPR affiliate KNKX (12 years and counting), these days I’m having fun teaching cooking classes, emceeing at local events, occasionally writing or editing, baking way too much bread at home and eating my way through the ever-growing number of Asian restaurants in and around my Edmonds neighborhood.
What do you love about your job/business?
It allows me to meet and get to know many interesting people. Because I’m one of those outgoing folks who insist that strangers are merely “friends you haven’t met yet,” that’s high on my list of reasons to love what I do.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been cooking since I was a kid, and though I’m not a professional chef, I’m fearless in the kitchen and believe that cooking is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m absolutely convinced everyone’s lives would be a whole lot better if they knew how to cook great food from scratch — and were comfortable doing so. It’s not difficult! I love proving that to people.
How long have you been in business?
I’ve been in the food- and restaurant-related business my entire working life.
How did your job evolve since its beginning?
I was born premature, weighing slightly more than a rotisserie chicken. Once I arrived home from the hospital, a cry went up from every mother in the neighborhood: “Oy! Give me that kid! She needs to eat!” Within a year, I looked like a baby sumo wrestler, and, not surprisingly, developed a great appreciation for dining out.
I always intended to be a writer. Instead, I became a waitress – a career that lasted nearly 20 years. My first gig (if you don’t count a few post-high school months spent as a cashier at Hardee’s hamburgers) was at the Victorian-era Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, where I learned that a “deuce” was a table for two, and “in the weeds” translated as “so slammed, I wish I’d had an office job.”
I’ve worn sailor suits and crepe-soled shoes while hoisting fried seafood platters in a waterfront joint in New Jersey; poured pina coladas in a Puerto Rican surfer bar; served tofu in a veggie-themed Santa Barbara restaurant; and Beef Wellington in Anchorage at a small, sophisticated dinner house where I learned to ascertain the difference between grape varietals, putting an end to a fondness for Blue Nun.
After moving to Seattle in 1988, I hit every high-end restaurant in town in hope of finding the best waitressing job. Once I snagged it, I spent my spare time earning a journalism degree from the University of Washington, later turning the tables to write about restaurants with the keen eye and practiced palate of someone who knows the business from the inside. Before taking the lead restaurant critic’s position at The Seattle Times in 1998, I wrote food-focused columns for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly and Seattle Homes & Lifestyles. I’ve written and edited a stack of travel guidebooks — for Sasquatch Books (back in the Best Places heyday) and Zagat (ask me about my lunch at the original Le Cirque with founder Tim Zagat), and my work has appeared in numerous national and international publications —including (#humblebrag) a four-page spread in Bon Appetit when I’d only been writing for a year.
What cookbook do you reference most often (in general or just lately)?
Molly Stevens’ All About Braising has been my go-to since it was published. One of the many reasons I adore it is because Molly’s recipes — not just meat, but seafood and vegetables, too — work exceedingly well. The book is worth it for her Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons recipe alone. What’s more, her very specific directions are the equivalent of being at your wits end in the kitchen and having a very smart chef-friend show up at your house and baby you through the recipe, step by step.
If you could take any cooking class, what would it be?
I already took it! With one of my cookbook heroines, Najmieh Batmanglij, whom some call the Persian Julia Child. If you don’t know her work, I suggest you purchase a copy of her fabulous cookbook, Joon: Persian Cooking Made Simple.