Books and Ballymaloe
Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine 19-21 May 2017
Submitted by J.R. Ryall on Wed, 27/04/2016 - 7:53am
I'm thrilled to introduce Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's Deli in Michigan as the next guest to contribute to the blog. In this entry Ari tells us why he started food writing and he shares his excitement for coming to LitFest 2016.
To put things in perspective, I never had any big ambition to be a writer. In truth, I started writing more out of frustration than anything else. Back in our first few years in business at Zingerman’s we hired other folks for a few hours here and there to do a bit of writing about the food we were selling and serving. At that time we had a simple, two-sided, single-sheet-newsletter that explained what made our food special and teach customers about foods they most certainly weren’t familiar with. While everything they wrote was perfectly fine, none of it quite got the message across as I wanted. As the months went by I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with what they were turning in. Not that it was bad. In fact, I’m sure at one level it was perfectly fine. They just weren’t saying what I really wanted them to say. In hindsight it seems sort of obvious —how could they communicate the passion I was feeling when they weren’t me? The answer was, clearly, that they couldn’t. The problem, it’s now clear to me, wasn’t them; it was me.
Finally, one day, one year—for some reason, I think it was a Sunday—I decided to take on the writing for myself. I can’t remember exactly what prompted me to make the move on that particular day. Probably the person who was doing it for us had given notice. Either that or my frustration level was particularly high. Maybe both. It was nearly thirty years ago so it’s hard to really remember all the details. Regardless, I announced to myself (and shortly thereafter to a few others in order to make the decision real) that I was going to take on writing the newsletter. Three decades or so later, I’m still writing it, along with some product handouts, recipes, catalog copy, electronic newsletters, books and a mess of other stuff that never actually goes into print.
Today issue #254 of our newsletter is out for our customers to read. It includes, among other things, a long essay I wrote about peppercorns—one of my culinary passions. (You can view the newsletter at zingermanscommunity.com). I’m just realizing as I write that it’s probably now one of the longest, continuously running food publications in the country. That work gradually evolved into a book—Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Service came out soon thereafter. From there I went to write Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon. Over the years I began to share not just my views on food, but also on our approaches to business..
In 2009 I took the business writing to the next level—I began a series of books called Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, and Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader. Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, Part 3; A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to Managing Ourselves, was released in December of 2013. The books gave me the chance to bring forward our progressive, rather unorthodox, though effective approaches to business. And to tap into my interest in anarchism, art, philosophy . . . and food, all at the same time.
With the series of business books we’ve returned to self-publishing. Working with the big publishing houses, for me, wasn’t much fun. So we now do all the design, layout, manuscript management, etc. For me, it’s well worth the effort. The little things make a difference; paper choice, cover design and page breaks are as much a part of the book experience as the words on the page.
Over the years, writing has become a vocation for me. I like the beginnings of each piece I take on—starting to write about a new idea is intriguing and interesting. It pushes me to study, to do research, to engage in dialogue with others to test out my ideas, to try implementing new techniques and improve others that we’ve used for many years. But I also enjoy the editing process—working with others’ input to craft my words to be ever more effective. It’s a way for me to both learn and to share thoughts; it pushes me to clarify my views; and it makes them available for others in the world to benefit from as well.
Coming back to Ballymaloe . . . I’m always excited to be there. Eager to arrive, to smell the air, see the smiling faces, experience the energy. And, of course, eat the food! My first visit was . . . nearly thirty years ago now. I was traveling Ireland on my own and had heard of this great country house hotel south of Cork. I booked a room and arrived in the late afternoon. Before I knew it Myrtle had invited me to skip my reserved seat in the dining room and, instead, have dinner with the family in the kitchen after service. That personal connection has only grown stronger over the years. I’ve been back probably ten times, and it’s always a pleasure to return. I’ve spoken to student groups at the Cookery School. We’ve hosted Darina at Zingerman’s here in Ann Arbor (in Michigan) a number of times as well. And I happily sing the praises of Ballymaloe who’s going anywhere near it. It is, to my belief, a magical, one-of-a-kind place that no food lover who can afford the time and cost to get there should miss.
This year’s visit to Litfest will coincide with the publication of my most recent book— Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading, Part 4; A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business is scheduled for release this spring. I look forward to the people, the food, good learning, seeing old friends and making some new ones. And of course, especially to the brown bread and butter!