Kat Odell—an ambitious young woman with an appetite for all things food-related—is the acclaimed editor of Eater LA and starred in the Bravo reality show, “Eat, Drink, Love” which is loosely based on her life as a food critic living in Los Angeles. Anyone even remotely involved in the dining scene of LA knows of Kat or have crossed paths with her for a story or an inside scoop of what is trending in food.
We met after the release of our short film about Proprietors LLC. and, since then, we periodically convene over coffee or food to talk about food culture and where it’s going. On one occasion, we ate nothing but Chinese dumplings from one establishment to the other on a Saturday afternoon in San Gabriel Valley. That’s just how she rolls and isn’t afraid of venturing into any of Los Angeles’ most ethnic pockets.
I’m sitting down with her at her quaint apartment in Santa Monica—with a giant tower of cookbooks looming over our heads—where she spends most of her time writing. She is the go-to person for anything and everything that is happening in the city in terms of food and restaurants—she often beats other publications to the punch. Rather than focusing on whether cupcakes are still trending or where to find the hot new spot for a family-style, farm-to-table meal, I wanted to focus on her personal journey and whether or not her depiction on television mirrored her life outside of the show.
This is her story.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Manhattan in New York City. When I was four, my parents moved to Scarsdale in Westchester. My mom is from the Czech Republic and growing up, my parents worked in the city and my grandmother from the Czech Republic came and took care of me—which is how I learned how to speak Czech. She is an amazing cook and I’ve always liked to eat, so growing up we would just cook together all day long. I really attribute my love of food to my grandmother.
What is Czech Republic known for in terms of food?
Czech Republic is always cold, so it’s a lot of stews and goulash or sausages with sauerkraut. I really like roasted duck, so whenever I go to Prague, that’s always the first dish I get. Very hearty, cold-weather dishes—not a lot of vegetables. Any time you see a salad on the menu, it’s usually just chopped cabbage—it’s not like a green salad with lettuce and tomato.
What brought you to Los Angeles?
I got hired by Bon Appétit magazine and they were based out of LA. I always knew I wanted to be in Southern California—the atmosphere… the energy… no snow to deal with!
I ended up applying for jobs at both Bon Appétit and Gourmet—they both had editorial assistant positions open. I knew Barbara Fairchild—who was the Editor in Chief at Bon App—through a family friend. I emailed her and stalked her for six months and said I’d scrub the floors if I could just get an opportunity to come in and interview. And I got the opportunity to interview and flew to LA. I almost got hired instantaneously, but they didn’t know I wasn’t living in LA at the time so I ended up having five days to move from Manhattan to LA. I just did it and didn’t even think about it.
What was your experience like at Bon Appétit?
It was amazing. When I moved here, I felt like I knew the New York dining scene really well but I didn’t know anything about LA. I didn’t know who Nancy Silverton was and didn’t know what Providence restaurant was—I didn’t know anything. Moving here and being immersed in the dining world at Bon Appétit was so incredible. I was surrounded by people that were incredibly knowledgeable and I learned so much.
I remember this girl that was a friend of mine at work who is from LA and she was talking about people eating from taco trucks in East LA. I thought that was horribly disgusting and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And of course, I love doing that now! And people dining in strip malls—I was so confused by that! I did not understand that at all!
When did you get hired at Eater?
I was at Bon App for two years and then got hired by Eater. I remember they had a job call and they were looking for a new editor. I was super young and had no experience as I was an editorial assistant. No one was going to hire me as an editor of a website. I almost didn’t apply but I did. Lock—who is the founder—got back to me and wanted to meet me. A week later, I get a call from Lock and he’s like “So… we decided to hire you as the new editor at Eater!” I remember telling him “Oh my God! I feel like I’ve been at home watching American Idol and… now I’m on American Idol!”
It has been four and half years now. Looking back on Bon App—that was in 2009—they didn’t even have a website. They had Epicurious.com, which is a hybrid between Gourmet and Bon App, but to think about a major food publication not having a website is mind-boggling.
What’s a typical day look like for you?
I’m home most of the day. I wear pajamas and lie on my bed… and I write. I have a desk in my room and I almost never sit at it. I get up, make coffee, sometimes I take a lunch meeting, or I’ll be on Eater and hear about a new restaurant down the block, so I’ll run out and take pictures. Then I work out in the afternoon and at night, I dine. Sure, I like to eat food but it’s also staying on top of trends, everyone in the industry, which projects are forthcoming, and talking to people—which is how I get a lot of my stories. You read Eater, and it’s not what happened yesterday, it’s what’s happening today. We produce so much content so quickly, it’s hard for other publications to keep up.
Nowadays, people are absolutely hungry for food-related content or taking photos of food. It’s become lifestyle. Why are people so interested in consuming food culture as entertainment?
I see it as people being more conscious about health. And because they are more conscious about health, they are learning about food. In the ’60s, it was like American, French, Italian, a little Chinese, and there wasn’t much of a culinary crossover as far as it is now. You have this new genre of renegade chefs. People are tatted up, people are artists, and you’re not just someone cooking food in the kitchen—you’re creating art. There is an entirely new way of perceiving cuisine. As a celebrity chef, you’re just as famous as an actor or a musician or athlete—it’s crazy.
I think New Yorkers are very sophisticated diners—we have such amazing food in New York. I moved here seven years ago and most of the great restaurants that are in LA now didn’t exist seven years ago. You had Spago and Hatfield’s had just opened. There was no Animal, no Son of a Gun, no Ink. I think LA is becoming a more sophisticated dining city but certainly the media and television all helps and adds to it. And Instagram—which I love!
You have this new genre of renegade chefs. People are tatted up, people are artists, and you’re not just someone cooking food in the kitchen—you’re creating art.
How did the Bravo show Eat, Drink, Love come about?
Completely unrelated, a friend of mine reached out to me and said “we should do a reality show on your life like The Hills but set in the food world. I know some people at Bravo. Lets create a treatment.” I said okay cool, it sounds fun. Our working title was “Food and the City.” Three days later, I get an email from this girl Jessie who says she has some producer friends that are putting together this new show for Bravo that is called “Sex And The Kitchen” (now known as Eat, Drink, Love). She asked if I would be interested in meeting them. That was so crazy because it was almost identical to the concept that I had talked about doing with my friend.
I went in to meet Drew Brown, who is the creator of the show and had an amazing meeting. I was the first person that they found for the show. We shot a lot of footage and we went through all these different stages of Bravo and got officially green-lit. It usually doesn’t take this long but it took another year to edit all of that footage and for it to air.
What’s your perspective of the show after had gone through the process for a season?
When you do a reality show, you have to be aware that you’re a character on a show. Why do you watch TV? You watch TV because there is drama. You’re not watching somebody walking through fields happily with the sun shining. There has to be a reason it captivates you.
We filmed for ten weeks for pretty much every day. Sometimes 8 or 10 hour days and then that is all boiled down to eight 42-minute episodes. When you’re actually in it and you see how things are edited, it’s frustrating. They splice together scenes that didn’t even happen on the same day and things are totally taken out of context. For me, what was most upsetting about the show is that I am very serious about my job and I’m really serious about food and dining which wasn’t portrayed on the show. That was very unfortunate and I felt it was incredibly unfair. Outside of that, it was a great experience and incredible exposure.
I was hoping people would understand that this is a “reality” show. Much of what is depicted on camera isn’t real. There are elements of truth in everyone’s story but a lot of what ends up on television isn’t real. I hate drama, I hate creating drama, and don’t want to be involved in drama. I think they (production) didn’t realize that at first and wanted more out of me and I wasn’t giving them drama—I was avoiding it. I was trying to be nice to everyone and they created this character of my personality that is not accurate because they didn’t have anything else to work with. I have a great family, I grew up in a really nice household, and I don’t have all of these bad things that have happened to me that I can whine and complain about.
For more on Kat, follow her culinary travels on Instagram.