Soleil Ho in the house: talking art + inclusion with our fave food critic.
Excuse us while we freak about our new 5+5, featuring an art-injected mini-interview with one of our favorite food people: Soleil Ho. In December 2018, Ho was named the new restaurant critic at The San Francisco Chronicle, a refreshing-as-hell replacement on the heels of Michael Bauer’s 32-year stint. We couldn’t wait to see what she’d do with her new role, and if you’re familiar with her shrewd, witty writing and other projects you probably get why. We’ve been following (and fangirling about) Ho’s work for a while. A few examples of her awesomeness: This piece she penned for Taste appeared in The Best American Food Writing 2019, a compilation edited by Samin Nosrat. She wrote a killer essay on food in video games for Charlotte Druckman’s Women on Food. Then there’s Racist Sandwich, the multiple award-nominated podcast she co-founded and previously co-hosted (until pivoting to her new Chronicle gig), which takes a closer look at race, gender, and class in the food industry. If you’re a podcast kinda person, you can now catch Ho co-hosting the Chronicle food podcast, Extra Spicy—extra good listening.
Since she’s settled in at the Chronicle, there’s been no shortage of new must-reads coming out of her column. This piece on food media’s racism problem, and this interview with the teen tackling Trader Joe’s racist product names come to mind. You’ll also discover why she won’t hate on pho pizza, and the cheesecake that made her lose her fucking mind. And we’re not the only ones obsessed with her writing: she was recently nominated for a James Beard award for food criticism. One of the many things that makes Ho's work for the Chronicle stand out is her authentic perspective—her unique ability to engage with the politics of food and dining, her determination to challenge convention in her field and say no to the status quo in pursuit of a future food world that’s more inclusive, more nuanced, more exciting. And to do it all with approachability, humility, and a stellar sense of humor.
The Washington Post had a thing-or-two to say about Ho’s approach to food criticism, and here she is speaking at Portland, Oregon’s XOXO Festival. (Fun fact: in her talk, she mentions the Soul Food Scholar Adrian Miller, who penned this artwork intro for us!) Sign up for her weekly newsletter, Bite Curious, while you’re at it. And if, like us, you find yourself wanting summore Soleil, don’t miss her 5+5 interview + art picks below. — Team 20x200
5 Perfect Picks
1) Camp Fern Rock (archer) by Gordon Parks
What I've learned lately is that joy is a practice. Which sounds like some hippie dippie shit, but it's really true: You need to take time to dwell in the small, good things in order to pull away from the void. This photo is just that.
2) slow ending by Yosuke Yamaguchi
As my interactions with the world become more and more virtual during this pandemic, it often feels like I'm just throwing my thoughts and dreams into an empty, desolate space. Even when I receive nice feedback to stories or other things that I do, my mind is instinctively attracted to the bad things: the overturned furniture, the garbage, the broken glass.
4) Torus Cutaway AC75-1086-1 5725, a 20x200 Space Edition
I love--well, maybe love is not the word. I get a dark feeling from the fact that even the most far-out imagining of extraterrestrial colonization is so banal, so suburban. For me, it's a reminder that white heteropatriarchy will attempt to preserve itself ad infinitum, even when even broader, more generative possibilities are within reach.
5) Weedwatching Wall Hanging by Jen Hewett
It's hardly a deep thought to point out that what we commonly call "weeds" are just plants that we don't like. But I really love how Hewett makes that thought plain and so obvious with the way she pulls out the details of things that the eye tends to glaze over while walking on a trail: the pale grasses, the plump-leaved clovers, the detritic fragments of tree bark and other things that have flaked off of much, much bigger things. What do we tend to ignore because people tell us it's easier to do so?
5 Q's + 5 A's
1) What's your favorite museum?
I have the softest spot for The American Museum of Natural History, because I grew up going there with my mother and sister. I remember often sitting at the feet of the giant Barosaurus, slyly touching pieces of the exhibit and waiting for my mother to come back with the tickets.
2) What's your most coveted coffee table book?
On Eating Insects is a wonderful book commissioned by the Nordic Food Lab about, well, what it says on the label. The elegant photos of insect-based dishes, with recipes, are gorgeous and very stark in that Nordic way, and they juxtapose curiously with field photos from the chefs' research into global insect-eating traditions.
3) Do you prefer a single statement piece or a salon wall?
I guess a salon wall? I don't know, I just put frames everywhere and hope for the best.
4) If you could be reincarnated as an artist, who would you want to be?
This is a funny concept, to be reincarnated as a person who already exists. But if I were to be someone else, I would want to be Hieronymous Bosch's assistant. I really want to know what that Bosch's deal was.
5) As the SF Chronicle’s restaurant critic, you’re big on using your platform to create opportunities for a broader range of folks to make a living making food. That idea is super exciting to us, in part because we want the work we’re doing to open up the art world in a similar way. Aside from reading every word you write (which everyone should be doing already!) could you recommend a few simple things food lovers can do to be more conscious consumers?
Read more widely. Read people who don't look like you, who didn't grow up like you, who have a totally different relationship to food from you. And really interrogate what the goal of consciousness is for you: Do you want to be more thoughtful about food because you care about labor? About climate change? About racial equity or capitalism? Whatever answer floats up in your spirit should be a clear guide to what you need to work toward, not just in your consumption habits--because the impact of that is pretty limiting, to be honest--but in your life as a whole.
The 411 on Soleil Ho
I'm the restaurant critic of The San Francisco Chronicle and co-host of the newspaper's food podcast, Extra Spicy.