Courtesy Serious Eats
Sitting down to lunch with Daniel Gritzer ’00, culinary director at the award-winning website Serious Eats, I strongly suspected I’d be invited to try something ... well, serious. I was not wrong. We ate Japanese, and Gritzer offered me natto, sticky, stringy fermented soybeans that are definitely an acquired taste. “They’re hard to like,” Gritzer admitted. “But I kept trying them and now I have a taste for them.”
It’s natural to assume a food writer and former chef would be an adventurous eater, and Gritzer’s twisty life path is marked by a similar enterprising spirit. By the time he landed at Serious Eats in 2014, he had been a 13-year-old assistant at famed French restaurant Chanterelle, studied molecular biology, written a thesis on African musical instruments, worked at a not-for-profit conservancy, harvested almonds in Spain, shepherded 200 sheep in Italy, made charcuterie in France, taught the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira, cooked in some of New York’s top restaurants and been an editor at Food & Wine. But being a food writer was his secret ambition all along.
Gritzer grew up in a food-obsessed family in Brooklyn and cooked at home, “funny things, like squid for breakfast.” When he turned 13, his mother (“a total hedonist”) offered a bar mitzvah or a fancy restaurant meal; he chose the latter and was taken to Chanterelle. After a chance introduction to chef David Waltuck during dinner, Waltuck suggested young Gritzer reach out if he wanted to come back to his kitchen. “It scared the crap out of me to call him,” Gritzer says, but he did, and soon after he was in too-big chef whites, piping salmon mousse onto toast. “A restaurant kitchen is such an adult environment, and I was trying to seem cool,” he says. “Everyone was so nice to me. It was an amazing experience.”
Still, it took a long time for Gritzer to get into the cooking life. He explored his passion for science in a Columbia summer program for genetics and molecular biology, and pre-med studies at the College, before a love for Art Humanities spun him instead toward an anthropology major. Studying abroad his junior year, Gritzer immersed himself in Asian and African music classes and fell for the mbira, a Zimbabwean board and key instrument. He wrote his senior thesis on it (“one of the highlights of my time at the College was working with anthropology and musicology advisors”) and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Zimbabwe after graduation. Unfortunately, his scholarship was canceled just a few weeks before Gritzer was due to leave. “I still don’t know why,” he says. “But it was an important moment because I graduated with no plan. I was suddenly open to a whole new range of experiences and possibilities.”
So, he WWOOFed. Through the WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, Gritzer ended up on a sheep farm in Tuscany in 2001 and stayed in Italy for nine months. When he returned stateside, Gritzer started working with green spaces for the Brooklyn Bridge Conservancy. But he was still wondering how he could best tie together his varied skills and experiences.
“People close to me were suggesting I was happiest working with food — I was still cooking every night and reading cookbooks for fun — so I should go back to that,” he says. “I finally came around.” He called Waltuck and asked if he could intern for him, and started cooking nights and weekends at Chanterelle. After eight months, he quit his nonprofit job and became a full-time chef, working in restaurants for five years. “Nights, weekends, birthdays, holidays — when everyone else is having fun, you’re working,” he says. “I started to feel like an absentee member of my life.”
He couldn’t transition to food writing without clips, so he started a blog about his experiences on his second WWOOF adventure, this time in central Italy, France and Spain. It worked, and Gritzer was hired at Time Out New York when he returned in 2007. Then, as a food editor at Food & Wine in 2010, he had his own cooking column, wrote food-world profiles and essays, and edited recipes. “It was such a great place to work,” Gritzer says. “I was the food nerd on staff in a lot of ways, taking deeper dives into stories, going down the rabbit hole.”
Now at Serious Eats, he believes he has his dream job. Gritzer’s work includes creating and testing recipes, kitchen equipment reviews and food-focused essays; on the “Cooking with Gritzer” page you’ll find his instructions on eating a whole lobster, best methods for cleaning cast iron and a recipe for a foolproof pasta carbonara. “For someone who likes to go down the rabbit hole, this is the place,” he says.
Gritzer lives in Jackson Heights with his wife and 1-year-old son; he burns off stress and calories doing capoeira. After seeing a man at the gym holding perfect cartwheels, he started taking classes and fell in love with the martial art. He has been practicing for 16 years.
His path has already been so varied that naturally, Gritzer is looking for new ways to grow. “I’m considering writing a cookbook,” he says. “As long as I get to go as deep as I want to go.”