Editor’s Note: At Life & Thyme, we’re fortunate to connect with a vast array of talented individuals from across the globe that help support our mission to create food stories for the culturally curious. They inspire us through their own creative narratives––and we’re pleased to share those specialities here in our series, Life & Thyme Community Spotlight.
Today, we check in with one of our veteran contributors, Carly DeFilippo.
Outside of food, what are your major sources of inspiration?
I’ve always been interested in live music, foreign languages, art, architecture…and most specifically, the creative conversations or movements that drive these forms of expression. Food actually came later on, when I lived in Paris during grad school. The opinionated, hyper-detailed way that French people talk about food is one of my favorite things on earth. It’s even better than eating.
More generally, I find gaining access to experts in a field and learning what makes them tick to be incredibly inspiring. That’s why the interview process is my favorite part of writing, and it’s also why I enjoy doing brand identity work for small businesses. It’s such a gift to have a skilled artisan or a seasoned entrepreneur take the time to answer my questions. If I can hold up a mirror to their experiences and tell a story that feels true to the complexity of their experiences—that’s the ultimate compliment.
What do you think is one major issue facing the food industry today?
I think the average consumer has a pretty superficial relationship with food. I love Instagram as a source of information and inspiration, but it also motivates a performative kind of eating that is completely disconnected from appreciating flavor or craftsmanship. We don’t need bacon and truffles on everything. (Have you ever thought about what happens to the rest of the pig when all we want is bacon?) And we don’t need 16 multi-colored scoops of ice cream dripping down our hands. (How about one perfect scoop that is so chock-full of flavor you don’t even crave a second?) I’m just not terribly interested in excess—what I call the “melted cheese corner of the Internet.” It’s too much. And when you actually get used to eating quality ingredients that are prepared with skill, you realize how unappetizing all these flash-in-the-pan food trends really are.
What are some tips to make your subjects feel more comfortable during interviews?
I make it clear to my subjects that they are my primary audience. If the article doesn’t feel true to them, then I have failed. But beyond that, I think genuine interest and attentive listening go a long way. People can tell when you are planning your next move instead of paying attention. If you listen well, it’s easy to adapt in real time and sense where the “real” story might lie. I always prepare questions in advance, but the most interesting conversations exist further off-script than anything I could plan.
What memorable moments come to mind from the stories you’ve worked on for Life & Thyme?
You mean other than chasing a truffle dog through the lush green forests of Washington State? Or spending a whirlwind week in Italy learning about the world’s most incredibly engineered espresso machines? I bring up these examples because they were such improbable, wonderful life experiences. But the most resonant moments, for me, are much smaller. Interviewing Toby Cecchini, for example, felt really special. First up, Toby is an incredible writer. Read Cosmopolitan, if you haven’t already. But beyond that, he’s an obsessive craftsman. He will tweak a cocktail for years until he believes he has perfected the recipe. (And when Long Island Bar still served brunch, he did the same thing with the iced coffee. I’ve never had iced coffee like that since.)
I also name Toby because he embodies what makes a place special. It’s not about the line around the block. It’s not about the price. It’s about the fact that in a city like New York, where there’s always somewhere new to try, people go back to his bar over and over again. He has his own unapologetic style, which attracts like-minded customers, and his bar’s culture has taken on a life all its own. I’ve had many noteworthy adventures since writing that article, but interviewing Toby really set the tone for the stories I care about and the type of humans I want to continue to feature.
What scares you?
To stop learning or to get stuck in a rut. I thrive on stepping outside my comfort zone, and I believe that it’s not my job to be an expert. When I’m interviewing a business owner or an artisan, they clearly know more than I do about their area of expertise. My job is to listen as best I can and persuasively tell their story without imposing too much of my perspective. That’s pretty humbling, but also freeing. Because if my writing does a service to someone I respect, that gives me a real sense of purpose.
What did you have for breakfast?
Today, just whole grain rice cakes and crunchy sunflower butter. But when I’m feeling more ambitious, I like to make my own yogurt or quiche :)