Interviews / Philly Grub News

My Eat Like a Writer Interview

In December 2020, I was interviewed by Liz Barrett Foster on her Eat Like a Writer website. Unfortunately, she is discontinuing her website so she can focus on her writing so I’m reposting this here for posterity. Follow Liz on her website and LinkedIn to learn more about her writing and upcoming projects.

Marilyn Johnson is a freelance food writer who covers the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey food scenes on her blog Philly Grub. She’s an avid home cook, baker, and amateur mixologist. She lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with her husband and three cats (update: now four cats!)

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Marilyn Johnson turned her passion into a second career.

Tell us a little about your writing background.

Writing has always been cathartic for me. I especially love journaling and storytelling. I don’t have a writing or journalism degree; I studied psychology and work in marketing. Both require a lot of writing. Food writing became my outlet for creativity, marrying my two favorite interests. What began as a passionate hobby evolved into a second career!

Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?

Yes, absolutely. When I enjoy a meal, I’m often thinking about how I will write about it. How can I describe this food? How can I explain the flavors, so a reader understands how it tastes? What makes this food so unique? I’m always having “deep thoughts” about food. It’s such a joy to eat, and the process of writing about food allows me to relive the experience of enjoying a good meal. 

Do you ever travel for food?

Yes, I love to travel for food and then write about the experience. I even started a travel blog for that very purpose. Unfortunately, thanks to COVID-19, my travel plans are on hold until sometime in 2021 (update: plans for non-regional travel is now put on hold until the pandemic numbers go down again)

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Marilyn shows off a crab boil while on a trip to Florida. (Photo: David Johnson)

Do you enjoy creating budget-friendly meals?

While I don’t do a lot of cooking or recipe writing on my blog, I love to share what I’m making and eating on my social media profiles. The focus is always with budget in mind and for easy, weeknight meals (since I also work a FT job).

Do you focus on local food?

Since I’m a hyperlocal food blogger, the grand majority of what I write about pertains to local food, restaurants, and chefs.

Do you have any favorite cookbooks?

I collect vintage/mid-century cookbooks. I have hundreds of them.

Do you have any favorite food writers or chefs?

So many notable people I follow pretty closely: Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Lidia Bastianich, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Ming Tsai, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Samin Nosrat, Adrian Miller, the list literally goes on and on!

I watch food TV religiously… Food Network, Netflix, PBS/NPR, etc. I’ll watch any show about food!

Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?

I depend on social media a lot these days. Mostly Twitter and Instagram. I also read a lot of food blogs and recipe sites. I’m constantly reading about food and looking at food photos on the web and social media. Marilyn’s PhillyGrub Instagram page is popular for its delicious food photos.

What do you snack on when you‘re on deadline?

I don’t snack a lot. But when I do, it’s usually chocolate (lots of chocolate!!), chips, pretzels, combos, crackers, fruit, and cookies.

Anything you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food?

My dream is to become a full-time food writer and publish a book one day. Ideally, I’d like to work for a local news or media outlet covering our local foodways and restaurant scene. I would also love to write for any national publication (Eater, Forbes, Food & Wine, etc.). Monetizing my own blogs would be a dream, too. (Update: still not a full-time writer and I can’t quit my day job just yet, but you can help me get closer to the dream by “tipping” me for my articles here.)

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