Food media trailblazer: Meet Christa Glennie Seychew - INTERVIEW
blog by Nick Mendola • September 26, 2013 @ 11:40am
Seattle’s chief intranational exports in the early 1990s were grunge music and Ken Griffey Jr., but one localized gift took a few more years to blossom.
Christa Glennie Seychew quietly relocated to Buffalo in 1992, ready for a change and finding it in the area where her grandparents used to farm. She found what she was looking for, though it was more of a slow burn than the explosiveness of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and “The Kid” roaming centerfield for the Mariners.
Before we go any further, who exactly is Seychew?
A woman of many projects, perhaps it’s better to let her online biography speak for her. She “is the senior editor at Buffalo Spree magazine, the owner of Feed Your Soul Productions, author of “Nickel City Chef: Buffalo’s Finest Chefs & Ingredients,” host of Buffalo’s favorite Industry Night, a consultant, a local food advocate and a passionate foodie with her finger on the pulse of Western New York’s emerging food scene.”
Got that? Holy smokes. So let’s start at the top. Seychew grew up when Seattle was “the middle of nowhere, really” and always had an intense passion for food. Even though her family wasn’t filled with cooks nor did they have a dedication to dining out, she found herself fascinated by food.
This led to a couple problems, one which is funny and one not-so-much. In seventh grade, pretty limited in budget as seventh graders generally are, Seychew spent those prime babysitting pennies on… wait for it… a garnishing kit.
“Who does that?” Seychew joked. “I don’t know what I thought I was going to garnish because it’s not like I had any cooking skills.”
But the serious struggles came when Seychew attended culinary school at a time when being a woman in the field was still fairly rare, and it was not a pleasant nor anywhere-near-complete experience.
“I struggled with a few things, including the accepted and ongoing sexual harassment,” she said. “When I was growing up, there were few women chefs and even fewer women culinary instructors. Women who wanted to cook professionally were either pastry chefs or home ec teachers, to the best of my knowledge. I quickly learned that I was not thick-skinned enough for life in a restaurant kitchen.”
With time came wisdom, but not before stunting her growth for a spell.
“It did a number on me mentally, for sure,” Seychew said. “There were other factors as well, but that one remains at the forefront. Had I known one day there would be career paths for food writers, food stylists or food photographers, I would have easily chosen to follow that direction.”
Seychew came to Buffalo in her early 20s for a few reasons, chief among them her family’s history and the city’s affordability. Earlier generations had lived in Buffalo before taking off for the Pacific Northwest, so it was a natural returning point and one that led to her “A-ha moment,” as she calls it.
After working extremely hard as a food writer at Buffalo Rising, things grew organically. In 2007, a friend had suggested she go to the Clinton and Bailey Market at 4 a.m. when the farmers brought their food in for sale.
“I show up and there’s 10 trucks and 10 farmers, all over 60, sitting there with their bushels of gorgeous vegetables,” Seychew said. “Everything about it was so cool. I realized that this was my family heritage staring me in the face and I had not been aware of it. This was the same market my grandmother used to come to sell tomatoes.”
“That was when I decided that I was going to find a way to connect farmers to the market, whether through chefs or through building consumer interest in local food,” she said.
To say she’s expanded on that idea over the past six years is an understatement. Consider the popular Nickel City Chef series, one that’s grown to sell out at an almost silly pace. Sure it promotes local restaurants but at its core is that link to the deep roots of Western New York.
“It’s built around an ingredient from a family farm, and we sell the ingredient at the show,” Seychew said. “We want people to feel appreciation for the talent of the chefs and hard work of the farmers.”
It’s a common thread throughout her work and wouldn’t be possible without her adoration for the city and her family’s history. The cookbooks, the shows, the Industry Night events: they all come from a passionate feel for the region.
From these events and goals come dreams that would’ve once seemed pie-in-the-sky yet now feel achievable, especially coming from the convincing and contagious mind of Seychew. Her goals read like a flowchart for food domination.
One: She wants Buffalo to be the place that mints tastemakers like Austin or Portland.
Two: “I want to see the whole Rust Belt area develop its own signature regional cuisine, a blue-collar ethnic background topped with a finesse and idea of what we can do here locally.”
She can see it coming into fruition largely because she’s done it. Seychew doesn’t claim to be swimming in cash—she’s following her dream—but she knows you can make it here while working towards something bigger, something brighter.
“The thing that makes Buffalo completely remarkable is that we’re an arts-loving cultural community that’s open to ideas and at the same time we have a low economic threshold,” Seychew said.
“People can come here and build a life for themselves,” she said. “If you’re smart and you’re savvy and you’ve got balls, you can make that happen, even with no money in your pocket.”