In this blog series intern Kate E. interviews the staff here at culture: the word on cheese to give you an inside look at a day in the life of this goofy group of cheese-lovers and their work on the magazine you’ve come to love. Have specific questions for or about our staff? Be sure to send them to staff@culturecheesemag with the subject line, “Meet the Staff”.
Late last week, our contributing writer, Will Fertman, was on his way to his second breakfast with Michael Pollan, award-winning author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Their first breakfast took place years ago in the lobby of a hotel, almost by accident. This time, however, the meal was more intentional. Leading up to their meeting, Will and Pollan exchanged a series of e-mails and agreed to convene at Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen in the Gourmet Ghetto of Berkeley, where Will discovered “the best [bagels] I’ve found since moving to the West Coast.” The excuse for this delicious fare was an interview for a Voicings article, which will be featured in our upcoming spring issue.
As part of his job, Will pursues meetings with various food-folk: “[as] a contributing writer, I spend a lot of time looking for new food superstars to interview.” He splits his days in half, with mornings for writing and afternoons for researching, both online and sometimes visiting a location or person for a story. Then he’ll often create some food experiments at his home in Berkeley. In the past few years, Will also served as the community manager for the magazine. The job description says it all; his responsibilities were to literally manage theculture community, particularly the online folks. His time was split between researching/writing posts for social media (think Facebook and Twitter), coordinating other people’s blog entries, and answering e-mail and inquiries from our followers. He was constantly part of a community, while at the same time all by himself: “It was a very social, but very screen-centric business.” As a writer, he’s gotten back to the actual human interaction that he loves: “yay humans!”
culture has taken advantage of Will’s ability to forge connections with interesting people, as proven by his exchanges with Michael Pollan. Several years ago, at the Freestone Fermentation Festival in northern California, Will was just one member of the “evangelistic and start-struck” crowd that had flocked to hear fermentation rock stars talk about topics such as the links between colon health and autism, the relative benefits of the GAPS vs. Weston A. Price diets, and their own experiences with food. The first day of the festival was devoted to seminars given by culinary experts, including Pollan, “pickle-pope Sandor Katz and beer-bishop Charlie Bamforth.” Not wanting to overwhelm Pollan at a meet-and-greet, Will handed the author his card, introduced himself, and moved on. Luckily for culture, the next morning found Pollan eating breakfast at a half-empty table, giving Will the perfect opening.
Before beginning his glamorous career at culture, Will worked as a carpenter’s assistant—biding his time until he found an outlet for his writing (he had already earned his MFA in fiction from Goddard College). From carpentry, he became an ad salesman until 2008, when, “the heavens opened above me, and cherubs descended on Alpine Lace wings.” Stephanie Skinner, one of our founders, asked him to be a column writer. He ended up writing the first two years of Ruminations and still regularly contributes to the magazine’s stories. Just returning to full-time writing for the magazine as a contributing writer, Will emerged from his breakfast meeting with over 15 pages of notes from the conversation, “where we talked cooking, family, cheese, sex, and death for about an hour.” I think we can expect more than just a Voicings article with Pollan, and get pumped for Will’s piece in the summer issue on Gus Rancatore and Toscanini’s ice cream for summer.