We recently sat down with Jen Bernstein, winner of the Judge’s Award at The LAMP’s Best Desserts benefit last month, and author of LocalAppetiteNY.com. She spoke with us about food blogging, media literacy, why local food matters, her latest cookbook appearance and how it feels to win at Best Desserts.
How did you first get interested in blending an interest in new media with your passion for food? I started reading food blogs around 2002, and was hooked. I loved the personal window into other people’s lives and the escape it provided at times. It inspired me to try to cook more and try different things. Slowly, I started relying on blogs for recipes more and more. The internet allowed me to find a community of people that had similar passions. I always thought I wanted a blog but was afraid I didn’t have enough website knowledge. Eventually, a friend gave me the kick I needed and I’ve found that I can learn as I go along.
Your use of local ingredients is a hallmark of your recipes and cooking. Why is local so important to you? Local food is an important part of the “food movement” or our push towards eating real foods, not processed food products. It is not only about eating food that is organic (as that is such a loaded term these days), but for me it is the right choice environmentally as well as economically. Helping support small farms helps the local economy and keeps jobs in your region. It also cuts down on the need for food to be transported across the country or even further before it gets to your market. I have learned from experience that eating food that is in season, and therefore as fresh as can be, really does taste better. If you eat locally, you have no choice but to learn to eat seasonally, and that is one easy change everyone can make.
In your bio for the Best Desserts program, you mention that you think media literacy skills can make anyone a better cook. Can you talk a little bit about why? There is so much that one can learn online. There are blogs, magazine websites and online instructional videos to teach you what you don’t know. Need to know what to substitute for an ingredient? Ask Google. You can also get access to the food news sections of papers from different cities all over, or start off reading an online food news source that aggregates the different news for you, like one of my favorite sites, Food News Journal. The best thing about the internet is that food people really can find a community online.
Your recipes were recently included in a new cookbook called ThinkFood: Recipes for Brain Fitness, which has additional contributions by food bloggers from all over the world. Can you tell us more about the project? The cookbook project was really exciting. It’s the perfect marriage of new media, science and food. It is put out by a company called Posit Science, which sells products and games to increase brain fitness, things like improved memory, and focus. Anyone who signs up for the recipe of the week on the website will get a free recipe from a food blogger who developed a recipe using an ingredient that is considered good for brain health. Given my sweet tooth, I chose a recipe for my favorite health food – dark chocolate.
How did you feel when the judges announced that your strawberry cheesecake won their choice for Best Dessert? I honestly didn’t expect to win, I just wanted to do my best, so I was completely shocked when I heard my name. Then all I thought was, “Sweet!”