What Boston Eats: Q & A with Sarah Kleinman

Boston Eats: a definitive gem in the Boston culinary scene.  You may not have heard of this restaurant review cum YouTube phenomenon since well, it’s kinda underground.  It’s creator, Sarah Kleinman, is a midwife by day and Boston Eats is her creative outlet.   But it’s not about just doodling in front of her Mac….Sarah’s really, really good.  I did a Q&A with her to learn more about Boston Eats….and above, you can see one of her signature videos.  To see more Boston Eats, click HERE.

PRK: Where did you get the idea to start this series?

SK: I love food. And I’ve always loved projects that incorporate creativity and community building. I recently graduated from midwifery school and no more than a month into that very science based 3 year program, the artist in me started to seep out in any way possible. Creating satirical nursing newsletters and facilitating school-wide cooking contests were soon followed by the making of commercials for phony OBGYN products and video documentation of the “capturing” of the school’s catheterization mannequin for an evening of adventure.

When I moved back to Boston after I graduated, the video bug was still very much alive in me. And though I had lived in Boston for 6 years prior to graduate school, there were so many parts of the city I had yet to see. When I set out to “relearn” my way around Boston I discovered that instead of taking the day to walk the freedom trail or tackle the USS constitution, I found that exploring the city via its’ culinary offerings was much more fun for me. It gave me an excuse to travel to neighborhoods I otherwise would never see and allowed me opportunities to connect with the people of Boston through food.

PRK: How do you choose restaurants?

SK: I’d like to say there is a well thought out system for this process but there really isn’t. I never touted Boston Eats as a review of only “cheap eats” types of places but I’m finding that I’m much more drawn to the unfamiliar hole in the wall than the overpriced or extravagant meal. Don’t get me wrong, I can absolutely appreciate a really decadent, delicious meal but I think the unknown underdog is generally more interesting and generally accessible to a larger audience.

I pretty much make it my duty to check out the Cheap Eats section of the Boston Phoenix every week in case they review anywhere interesting. I have a pile of reviews I’ve ripped out of that newspaper and stuck to my fridge for future episodes. I’m also not above choosing a restaurant based on stereotypes of the city it’s in. So, there was no question I was going to go to a fried fish shack in Portland, ME last week. I also have plans in the mix for episodes critiquing Pizza in New Haven, Vietnamese sandwiches in Dorchester and oysters at the Union Oyster House in Faneuil Hall. Other than that, it’s just word of mouth, recommendations or noticing a neat looking spot while I’m walking down the street.

PRK: How important are the friends you take along?

SK: The friends I take along are very important. I think the best episodes, or at least the ones I have had the most fun making, are the ones where my guest host has strong opinions, a healthy sense of humor and the confidence to disagree with me. Although I think my perspectives are adequate, having a friend or two come along offers the audience multiple views of the food, atmosphere and the experience in general. So, while I could certainly do Boston Eats on my own, I think the “friend’s opinion” has become an essential part of the series.

PRK: What has been your favorite video so far?

SK: Such a tough question! I really loved all of them for very different reasons. Sometimes for the food, sometimes for the company, sometimes for the final edited video. I loved eating at No 7 in New York as it was some of the best fried chicken I’d ever had and still is the only restaurant featured on Boston Eats that earned itself a top score. Jose’s in North Cambridge is also one of my favorites. The food wasn’t anything to write home about but the experience of eating dinner outside on a hot summer night with a cold beer and my very pregnant friend is always an episode that makes me smile. The dueling delis episodes in Queens, NY was also memorable as it was the first and only time we actually critiqued 2 restaurants in one episode.

Sofra in Watertown and Mi Tierra in Waltham are two local spots featured that I was just so pleasantly surprised by during filming. I go back to both of those restaurants ALL the time and would never have known about either one of them had it not been for Boston Eats!

PRK: You’ve taken Boston Eats to NYC. After spending time in NY, do you think the Boston dining scene brings something unique to the table? Is Boston lacking in certain ways?

SK: Although I think Boston and New York are two distinctly different cities, I’ve found that as soon as I walk into a restaurant and turn on the camera, the place comes to life, no matter where I am. Portland, New York, Ottawa, Allston…I’ve been so amazed at how the camera acts as this equalizing force. The waiters are friendly, the food is unique, and my friends and I find ourselves completely caught up in an exciting dining experience. I really haven’t found that Boston is lacking at all in the way of food/restaurant options. Every city is going to have both great and not so great restaurants. I’ve been impressed and disappointed by the dining options in ALL of the cities I’ve taken Boston Eats to. IN fact, I think the only way the dining experience in Boston is different from anywhere else is related to the fact that Boston, unlike all the other cities I’ve taken Boston Eats to, is my home. So each time I eat out here I feel like I’m learning a little but more about the city in which I live. Perhaps, because of that, I’m a little more critical of the Boston restaurants I feature. But when I eat somewhere that really knocks my socks off my heart swells with a little Boston pride.

PRK: Do you have any goals for Boston Eats?

SK: I do. I’m definitely an amateur in movie editing and cinematography but every time I work on a new episode I learn more about how to make the series as watchable as possible. So, one goal is just to get better at that. I’ve also thought about creating a Boston Eats web site so all the episodes are in one place, sort of a video blog type of thing.

One of the things I like about this endeavor is that as long as it remains an avocation it can stay sort of silly and “rule-less” and amateur. At this point, for me, it doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, I love all of Boston Eats’ imperfections. I really just want to continue to satisfy my creative hunger (so to speak), continue to make people laugh and explore as many local restaurants as possible. That being said, it wouldn’t be awful if some Boston restaurateurs got wind of this series and started to personally invite me to their establishments to wow me with their gastronomic creations…

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Associate Producer, Here & Now Most recently, Jessica worked as an associate producer at WBUR's daily local program, Radio Boston. Jessica moved to Boston in 2008 and has lived many places since leaving her native Texas. After graduating from college, Jessica worked as a federal employee, documentary film festival producer, oral historian, university teaching assistant, traveling saleswoman and klezmer musician. Her work and projects have appeared in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Bust, Barnard Magazine, National Public Radio, Public Radio International (PRI), and the BBC. Jessica's freelance radio work has received various awards including accolades from the Religion Newswriters Association and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. As a Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador, Jessica collected and studied oral histories from the Jewish Community based in San Salvador. Jessica received her B.A. in political science from Columbia University’s Barnard College and her M.A. in history from Indiana University. She learned how to make radio from the phenomenal folks at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Jessica lives in Somerville with her husband, twin son and daughter, and two cats. To learn more about Jessica’s projects, both current and past, please visit www.jessicaalpert.com.

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