#WhatDrivesYou: Karon Liu
February 27, 2015
We want to say a BIG congrats to our friend and media buddy Karon Liu for his new role as Canadian editor of Munchies, Vice's food site. We've worked with Karon through his position at The Grid and as moderator for the DXParty Table Talk during the Spanish TAPAS exhibition. Learn more about what fuels Karon, besides food:
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, explain your other potential path.
My dad works in advertising and has bookcases filled with decades’ worth of issues of Communication Arts, a trade magazine highlighting the best in advertising and editorial design and photography. It made me want to go into graphic design but by the middle of high school I realized that my art skills weren’t good enough to make it. I figured if that one keener Priscilla was killing it in my class, there are hundreds of people of her caliber dying to break into the industry. Thanks Pris for killing my dream.
I then thought about going into sciences, but I was terrible at math and fell asleep in biology class (my teacher had to wake me up a few times cause I was snoring). The only thing left was English so I focused on that and my career choices were either to become an English teacher or a reporter. School fills me with dread and I don’t like children, so journalism it was by default! Ah, memories of thinking I could make money as a journalist.
What do you love most about what you do?
I basically get paid to eat. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’m not a restaurant critic so I don’t have to hide in the shadows and I get to have the face-time with chefs to know more about the people who make my meals.
My shtick is breaking down dishes, explaining types of cuisines, profiling chefs, introducing unfamiliar ingredients; basically demystifying this romanticized industry and making the average reader feel smarter about their food choices and become more informed when they go out to eat. That’s the best part about my job, making people feel more knowledgeable and empowered on something as basic and universal as cooking.
What is your advice to PR Pros pitching food-related stories?
Most editors and writers will come up with their own stories/angles and don’t like it when PR people force pre-approved stories down their throats—especially when the same story is being pitched to a dozen other publications.
Keep it simple: let the writers know that this new thing is happening, the menu has changed, etc. and if they’re interested, they’ll contact you. There’s no problem with the follow-up email, but if you haven’t heard back the first time, chances are the writer/editor has already seen it and deleted it. But yes, I know PR people need a confirmation of some sort from the editorial side just so they can tell their clients that they’ve reached out.
Also, never call with pitches or leave voicemails. Voicemails from anyone are awful, and I include my family in this.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
For the most part, chefs aren’t really talkative or charismatic. I don’t blame them; their job is to shine in kitchen, not in front of the camera. It’s this Food Network phenomenon that made us expect every chef to have a catchphrase or the temper of a toddler. Most interviews with chefs require lots of prodding and follow-up questions to get more than “yes” or “no” answers, which I’m fine with cause that’s my job as a reporter.
That being said, I enjoy interviews with chefs who have been in the industry for decades and have reached a point where they’d say just about anything on record and just stopped giving a fuck. Mark McEwan comes to mind. I recently spent a day with him for an upcoming feature and he talked about everything: problems with the current industry, career missteps, how he once burned his balls on an oven. He’s great.
What is your definition of success?
Being able to look back at your life without thinking, “I wish I did that.”
Dream dinner date with anyone, from past or present and why?
My grandparents. They passed away when I was really young and never got to see me cook. I’d love to show my grandmother how far I’ve come since she taught me how to microwave mac and cheese. I’d make my versions of things my grandma made for me: from scratch chicken-ginger-vegetable soup inspired by her chicken-ginseng consommé; pan-seared sea bass with garlic-sautéed bok choy in a miso broth to go with her steamed bass with sweet soy; and baked apples with cinnamon and brown sugar, which is a take on her poached apple slices in simple syrup.
Motto to live by:
“Be smart, not smartass.”
Laas Turnbull, the former publisher of The Grid, a weekly magazine that unfortunately shut down last July, told me this when he was interviewing me for a job at the publication. He later restated these words at a staff town hall meeting and it’s how I approach everything that I write. It’s really easy to be snarky but what separates you, a professional writer, from all the junk out there is that it is your job is to inform people. You have the access to interview subjects, resources, information that the general public doesn’t; use it.
What is your favourite foodie app?
Does Instagram count? Once you wade through all the vacation-feet and juice cleanse pics, it’s an effective way to find out about what restaurants are cooking up and what home cooks are doing. It’s a great resource for finding food trends—it cemented my belief that kohlrabi is going to be a popular ingredient for 2015 when I saw four restaurants cooking with it in one night.