Nick Fauchald Q&A

August 12, 2019
NIck Fauchald on writing a beloved and award-winning cocktail cookbook.

“I felt validated —not for our book, really, but for the fact that cocktail books are finally being taken seriously by a larger audience.”

When did you decide that you wanted to apply your writing skills to the culinary and beverage arts?

I started working at Minnesota Monthly right out of college. At the time it had never occurred to me that writing about food was a possible career path. This was 2001, and food hadn’t yet become the big part of pop culture that it is today. Anyway, the magazine was short-staffed when I started, and my boss at the time, Pam Nettleton, asked me what I was interested in writing about. I liked to cook, so I took on some of the food and restaurant coverage (because hey, free food). I quickly fell in love with food writing and decided to move to New York to work in national food magazines.

If you could design a course at your alma mater at St. Olaf for aspiring publishing professionals, what would it be?

Fun question! I had a lot of great writing instruction at St. Olaf, but I wish I could have left with more editing experience. So I’d create a course that covers various styles of writing and editing (short form, long form, print, web, etc.) and let students play both writer and editor. Copy editing is also a very useful skill, especially now that fewer media outlets offer the crutch of professional-level copy editing, so I’d do a deep dive into how to copy edit and fact-check stories as well.

How did you enjoy your time at national magazines, such as Food & Wine and Wine Spectator?

I’m lucky to have started my career in a time when magazines were still the dominant force of food media and had the resources to produce great content. I learned so much about the publishing business at the magazines I worked at, and developed writing and editing skills I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to develop had I started my career a decade later.

Where did the idea of Tasting Table come from?

Some venture capitalists—who owned Daily Candy, Thrillist, and some other email-based publications at the time­—came to me with the idea to start a newsletter about food. That’s pretty much where we started, and I took what I had learned in magazine publishing and tried to apply it to an emerging format. I developed an editorial process that mirrored those in magazine publishing, which helped us distinguish ourselves from the fast-and-loose blog platforms that were popular at the time.

What was it like seeing Tasting Table grow so quickly?

We launched TT in 2008, which was during the very early days of Facebook advertising and other digital growth strategies that are now commonplace. This allowed us to grow quickly and relatively cheaply, and we were able to experiment a lot and take some risks.

How important has social media and digital communications been to the type of publishing work you’ve done?

In almost every project I’ve worked on, I’ve tried to keep one foot in old-fashioned media while harnessing the power of digital innovations. A couple of examples: In the early days of the iPad, I helped the New York Times launch a series of short e-books built from their archives of stories on a single subject. A more recent example is Short Stack Editions, a series of small-format cookbooks I started with my wife and another partner about six years ago. We produce these in a very old-school way—and are steadfast on never digitizing our books—but we use social media, digital ads and the like to grow our audience and market.

Which platforms do you think will grow in importance in the food and beverage space in the coming years?

There are some great food and drink podcasts out there, but I think we’ll see more and better in the years to come. Social media will continue to grow its influence on what and how we eat and drink, but so far I don’t like the direction that it’s taking us. And if you consider actual IRL experience a “platform,” I think we’ll find new ways to connect in the real world around eating and drinking. I’m especially interested in the future of food retail.

When did you get the idea for the Death & Co cocktail book?

I knew some of the folks who started and worked at the bar since it opened, but I never had the desire to write a cocktail book. But at some point I said (or at least thought) that if I was ever going to write a book on cocktails, I’d do it with those guys. And then it happened! When we started talking about the concept, we decided to throw out most of the trappings of a traditional cocktail book (small format, no photos, mostly recipes) and get inspired by the coffee table cookbooks that top restaurants were putting out.

What was it like hearing the news that you had won the James Beard Award?

Very surprising. I’d skipped the awards this time around (we were also nominated for the Death & Co book when it came out, but didn’t win) because I no longer lived in New York and awards ceremonies really aren’t my scene. So I was at a concert with my wife and some friends and got a text from my co-authors saying that we didn’t win the cocktail book category, which is usually the first award given out in the evening. No surprise there. But then, a couple of hours later, my phone went nuts when we won the Book of the Year award at the end of the ceremony, which I didn’t know was even possible. Only cookbooks had won that award in the past. After surprise, I felt validated, I guess—not for our book, really, but for the fact that cocktail books are finally being taken seriously by a larger audience.

What led you to return to Twin Cities after such a successful run in New York?

I never intended on staying in New York for 15 years, but one great opportunity led to the next, and it was hard to leave. Then my son was born, and my wife got a job in Minneapolis, and that made the decision to move back that much easier.

What’s your favorite cocktail in the Twin Cities?

I don’t think I have one. I used to say it was the old-fashioned at Nye’s, but that bar is sadly gone and I can’t bring myself to accept that there’s a new bar called Nye’s that’s nothing like the original. RIP. These days, though, the most exciting cocktails I’ve had have come from Martina and Colita, where Marco Zappia is creating some truly unique stuff.

What’s the most underrated restaurant in New York?

I don’t think it’s possible to be underrated in NYC. If you can believe it, there was a time when my favorite restaurants there (including Prune, Roberta’s, and Marlow & Sons) weren’t on the radar of most diners. And then social media happened.