A Day in the Life: Ed Levine, Serious Eats Overlord

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

"A Day in the Life" is our behind-the-scenes series exploring what SE staffers are working on, and, of course, eating. Up today: Serious Eats Overlord, Ed Levine.

4 a.m. I invariably wake up at 4 a.m. worrying about Serious Eats. I don't remember being a worrier before I founded the site, but I guess starting a business—particularly a business with no playbook to follow—is guaranteed to turn anyone into a worrier. Sometimes I'll read a business book until I fall back asleep. I never would have thought I'd be the kind of person who reads business or management books, but running a company that also happens to be your passion presents so many new challenges that I need all the sound advice I can get.

7 a.m. This is when I start problem-solving at Serious Eats. It could be personnel issues, financial issues, creative issues, managerial issues—they all crop up every day in this kind of job. I'll respond to emails and take some time to read through stories on the site that I didn't get to the day before. On any given day, there are invariably a few posts on Serious Eats that are so useful, so engaging, so good, so smart, and often so funny, that I can actually take a minute and step back to appreciate what we've built.

If I eat anything this early, it's a banana with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter on it. Just to be clear, I like my bananas ripe, with brown speckles on the skin, and my peanut butter creamy. As for brand, though, I'm actually something of a peanut butter agnostic, which means I like Skippy, Simply Jif (less sugar), Fairway's store-made organic peanut butter, or Peanut Butter & Company's Smooth Operator.

8:00 a.m. The crew at HQ has been on me to tweet more. In fact, Maggie told me she wants me to tweet five times a day. I'm not up to five just yet, but I'm working on it—I try to squeeze off one tweet before I leave the house. Sometimes, I'll just draft a tweet in the early morning and post it when I get into the office. It took me a while to figure out how to write in my voice in just 140 characters; as with most things, practice and focus are the keys. I must be doing something right, because someone replied that one of my tweets was the best Twitter post ever. Hyperbole for sure (she was probably put up to it by Maggie), but encouraging nonetheless.

8:30 a.m. I leave the house and head to the swimming pool at 49th and Broadway. I swim for half an hour while listening to my waterproof mp3 player. I also do some of my best problem-solving and creative thinking while I'm in the pool. On any given day, the list of creative projects I would like us to undertake is usually 25 items long. It could be a podcast or a television show or an event. I depend on the rest of the staff to prioritize this list for me. Everyone needs a good editor—before I started Serious Eats it was my wonderful literary-agent wife, Vicky Bijur—and my team doesn't hesitate to step in.

Ed's dumpling face

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

10:30 a.m. I head down to the office. Most days, I'll stop for a protein fix. Often, that means eggs, either over easy or scrambled soft, and bacon (no toast or potatoes, which I've been eating a lot of for a big piece on diner food I'm working on); or two BBQ meat sticks from Vermont Smoke and Cure, which I buy at our local well-curated coffee and convenience store Nolita Mart, along with a Diet Barq's. Why do I love Nolita Mart? I asked them to buy Diet Barq's, a diet soda I truly love, and the owners actually go to the trouble traveling to New Jersey to pick it up, since their New York City Coke distributor won't deliver it to them (why? I have no idea). If I'm really feeling frisky, I'll buy a ball of the amazing fresh mozzarella made at DiPalo Selects, which is right across the street from our office. Not only is it seriously delicious, but when I do bring it to the office, I'm greeted as a food hero. I find it one of the most effective ways to preserve my overlord status. That's right. I buy my crew's affection with DiPalo mozzarella. And it works.

Sturgeon from Shelsky's [Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

11:30 a.m. Often, one of the editors will bring in something seriously delicious that they are going to write about or photograph. Recently, Niki and Vicky brought in an incredible array of smoked fish products from Shelsky's for a story on appetizing. The sturgeon, the pickled lox chunks, the whitefish salad, and the bluefish salad were all unusually good. In fact, you could describe them as stellar.

1:00 p.m. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to lunch choices in our neighborhood, even if, like me, you're watching your carb intake. For business lunches, I often head over to Michael White's Osteria Morini, where I somehow find the willpower to bypass one of the many extraordinary pastas on the menu and order the chicken skewers instead, which come with a quinoa salad. I do have to have a spoonful or two of their sorbet for dessert—I find Robert Truitt's sorbets to be as good as I've had in this town. Then I'll encourage my lunch mate to eat the rest of the sorbet, and the cookie that comes with it, so that I don't finish the whole thing off. Or I'll go to Balaboosta, home to chef-owner Einat Admony's excellent cooking, where I have the unusual, delicious grilled chicken salad or, if I'm feeling randy, the chicken schnitzel entrée. My third business spot of choice is Rubirosa, where I'll have the chicken milanese salad (it's so big that I usually bring home half for dinner). And for dessert, I have to have a bite of the made-to-order sfoglatielle, which is as good as sfogliatelle gets in NYC. You have to go to the source—Naples, Italy—to find a better one.

But who joins me for these business lunches? It could be a long-time chef friend visiting from out of town, like Tom Douglas or Nancy Silverton, or a local chef like Marco Canora. They tend to be people I've known for years or done a project with. Our sales director, Jim Lehnhoff, would like me to be having these meals all the time. I told him he won't be happy until I'm on the Modified American hotel meal plan (breakfast and dinner daily) with old-friend chefs and food writers.

If I'm just grabbing a quick bite, I'll get a falafel plate at Taim or a chicken parm on a roll from Parm, a salad from Despaña Foods on Broome, or the lunch special at 456 Shanghai. Or, if I'm willing to walk a little farther, I'll have the amazing hand-pulled noodles from Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles.

Ed

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

3:00 p.m. This is the time of the day when either Daniel is cooking something he invites us to taste, or Niki is making something for a post she is working on. Or, if we're really lucky, Max has made some wacky flavor of ice cream that turns out to make much more sense in the bowl than I think it will. And yes, my thoughts invariably turn to Kenji, who is now making amazing food in his kitchen for his wife and friends in San Francisco, rather than for us in New York City. Damn you, Kenji.

3:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, this is when we have our management meeting with Kenji, our managing culinary director, who I like to call our recipe czar; Tracie Lee and Paul Cline, the designer-developer duo who head up our product team; Jim Lehnhoff, our ad sales director; managing editor Maggie Hoffman; and newcomer Chrissie Lamond, who runs creative services. I tend to talk too much at these meetings, which I'm trying to change because our management team is so smart, talented, and experienced that what they have to say is incredibly important. I really do feel fortunate to have gathered the incredibly impressive team that comprises the staff at Serious Eats, and every day I try to get better at getting out of their way so that each of them can do his or her thing.

5:00 p.m. This is when I get the phone call from my wife. This is how the conversation goes:

Vicky: I have no idea what we're doing for dinner.
Me: I'll bring something home.
Vicky: When are you coming home?
Me: Early.
Vicky: You always say that, and then you don't get home until 8:30 or 9.

What can I say? There's a lot to do at Serious Eats.

Dinner can be a couple of chicken cutlets from DiPalo if the wait isn't too long, along with some mozzarella. My wife makes the salad. The funny thing with DiPalo (and I say this with a ridiculous amount of fondness) is that even if there's just one person ahead of you at the counter, it takes a minimum of 20 minutes to get out of there. Kenji wrote about this in his day in the life post. Still, I invariably leave with a smile on my face, having learned something from the staff and tasted something great that I'd never tried before.

Sometimes, I'll rustle up and/or assemble a chicken parm using DiPalo's chicken cutlets and fresh mozzarella with Rao's Marinara sauce. Is it as good as Kenji's chicken parm recipe? Probably not, but it definitely does the trick when you want to put something together in twenty minutes. Sometimes, I'll use Rao's marinara sauce to make the Neapolitan specialty, eggs in purgatory, or eggs poached in tomato sauce.

After that, I usually retire to my son's old room, where I'll read the site and return e-mails, tweet, and watch sports or politics. It's my way of zoning out and winding down. If at all possible, I try to not look at any screen except for the television screen after 10 p.m. After-dinner snacks can be a piece of fruit, an ice cream treat that I know is 200 calories or fewer, or something delicious I've hidden around the house in an attempt to avoid my wife's intense scrutiny. She worries about my weight (I do, too, but I feel like it's sort of under control), but if I can eat a single piece of chocolate or peanut brittle I'll feel sated.

I do try not to eat anything after 9:30 to avoid going to sleep with a full stomach. But, as you can imagine from what I've written above, trying to go to sleep with a full stomach is an occupational hazard. But a fella can dream, can't he?