Helen Freund is the new food critic for the Tampa Bay Times, arriving from New Orleans where she was the restaurant writer and food critic for an alternative weekly newspaper. Freund also covered criminal justice and the courts for the Times Picayune newspaper before she began writing about food in a city where food and restaurant reporting is a highly competitive beat.
Hear Robin Sussingham's full interview with Helen Freund on The Zest Podcast.
Freund says she went to college to study journalism, but food has always been her passion.
“I think food has always been the thing in my life that I'm most passionate about,” she said. “I started reading cookbooks when I was probably four years old. I remember my first cookbook. I was living in the Bay Area and Alice Waters has this restaurant there called Chez Panisse that's kind of this iconic restaurant in the area, and she wrote a cookbook about her daughter -- kind of a kid's cookbook -- called Fanny at Chez Panisse, and my parents got that for me… I just spent the rest of my adolescence poring over cookbooks and Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines.”
Freund spent a summer during college taking classes at the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. She later worked as a catering chef in New York.
“I'd be on my feet all day long, and then I'd take the train home at night. You know, I got home at like 2 o'clock in the morning and my back was hurting and my legs hurt… at that point I realized, I love doing this, but I can't make a living doing this.” That's when she decided to return to journalism, she said.
Although she hasn’t been in the Tampa Bay area long, Freund said she’s already impressed by the size of the market and by the diversity of culinary options.
“Just driving through Pinellas Park the other day, I was driving by Filipino restaurants and Korean and Polish and Indian and Thai and Vietnamese,” she says. “And that to me is very exciting… And I love the Cuban foodways here. As regional foods go, maybe it’s not like the Creole or the Cajun of New Orleans, but I think Cuban food in Tampa is a really important and special thing.”