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The LAist Interview: Cicely Wedgeworth, LA ChowNews

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As Chowhound.com -- the once relatively obscure über-food lovers' website -- becomes increasingly well-known to the world at-large, it becomes less of a sweet hound and more of a daunting monster. The site’s most active discussion boards, LA included, amounts to a deluge of information and opinions. For the impatient, too much info can be a definitely bad thing.

But it is a good thing to have someone who culls through the spirited virtual conversations about the city’s best mole, bahn mi, sushi chefs, pizza (or lack thereof), ice cream, guanciale source, you name it. Cicely Wedgeworth does the dirty work of compiling the goods into ChowNews, the weekly newsletter available by subscription that makes the wonderfully unwieldy LA message board more, er, palatable.

Age and Occupation:

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30; Los Angeles Times copy editor by night; editor of Chow News, an email newsletter about local food, by day.

Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago and grew up half there, half outside New York City.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles and what neighborhood do you live in?

I’ve been here for five years and live in Silver Lake, but still haven’t figured out whether it’s two words or one.

When you first arrived in LA, how much did you know about the city, and most importantly, how did you begin to explore the culinary landscape? Which sources were most helpful for pointing you in the right direction?

I knew hardly anything about LA other than the Santa Monica stereotype: beach, bikinis, babes on rollerblades. I found a place on the Eastside because I wanted to stay away from all that. I really like my neighborhood because it feels like real people live there, although I’m also somewhat guiltily enjoying the fruits of gentrification. It’s also a great base from which to explore ethnic enclaves for food: Chinese in the SGV, Mexican in East LA, Thai Town, K-Town, and Armenian and Middle Eastern in Glendale.

I had heard about Chowhound in New York, so I started reading the message board pretty early on, as well as Jonathan Gold’s Counter Intelligence.

Do chowhound.com and other similar online affinity "communities" have a different type of value and significance in a dispersed and decentralized city like Los Angeles?

I think people definitely need to feel they’re part of some kind of community. Virtual communities are also convenient for the modern lifestyle; even when you don’t have time to go out, you often have time to blog or read posts or IM.

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Is food the best way to get to know a city like Los Angeles?

I never really thought about it that way before, but yes! I certainly can't think of any other reason I would have gone to Alhambra or Garden Grove or Artesia.

Describe a few of your best LA dining experiences.

Daikokuya's rich house ramen with luscious slices of pork belly. Tangy sorbet at Boule in flavors that wake up your senses, especially pineapple-black pepper and basil-lime. Chock-full-of-coconut cupcakes from Auntie Em's. Bombolotti at Angelini Osteria -- perhaps the divine ancestor of my mom's spaghetti with meat sauce, it's infinitely richer and more delicious.

Are there any treasured food favorites which you won't include in the "ChowNews" newsletter that you edit, nor will you ever relinquish under any circumstances?

No, I like to share with other people who are passionate about food. And it's great to give business to mom-and-pop joints that might otherwise struggle.

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do find it challenging to make new friends here?

When I came here I knew one other person. Only after about four years did I feel I had a good base of friends - and I always feel like I should have more.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV(s) show that are based in LA?

I have kind of a love-hate attitude to shows and movies set in LA, considering they're made or conceived of here, it seems like an exercise in navel-gazing. That said, if it's good, it's good. I loved the movie Clueless before I got here, and now that I know LA, it's ten times funnier. \

I also loved "Angel," the now-defunct spinoff of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I loved the episode where Angel goes hunting for someone in Koreatown and he speaks Korean, because I speak Korean. It was funny.

Best LA-themed book(s)?

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin, is an LA Cinderella story, very observant. So is the hilarious A Year in Van Nuys, by Sandra Tsing Loh.

What's the best place to walk in LA?

Huntington Gardens. I love how you can move from towering cacti to thickets of roses to a Japanese garden with little bridges and fountains.

How do you handle the drinking and driving conflict?

By driving really slowly.

It's 9:30 PM on Thursday. Where are you and what are you doing?

I work Friday-Tuesday, so Thursday is kind of like my Sunday. I might be having a late dinner, or at a concert at Disney Hall in the cheap seats, or watching a movie (preferably at the Vista), or just having a drink with friends - bars are more enjoyable during the week.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

I'm fine with the present, although I'm kind of fascinated by a scene in Buster Keaton's 1925 film "Go West" where he leads a stampede of cattle through downtown Los Angeles. The city looks so different, I kind of wonder what it was like to live in it then.

What is the "center" of LA to you?

Hollywood feels the most central to me.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

The Bradbury building! It's the most beautiful thing I've seen in Los Angeles. I also love the Gamble House, but it's awfully dark. In a more modern vein, I was recently in a stupendous renovated warehouse in a non-neighborhood off Fletcher, just east of the 5 freeway. Vast, clean-lined, and with an amazing kitchen.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?

I love New York and I'm very fond of Boston, where I went to school. I basically consider myself a product of the Northeast. But I really believe in making the most of where you are, and focusing on a place's strong points. Get your intellectual fix and your bagel and pizza fix back East.

When you're out here, enjoy great regional Mexican and Chinese food, gorgeous movie palaces, the sea, the mountains...there's so much.