Tasting food for a living. Where could you go wrong?
For Jess Fleming, the food critic at St. Paul’s Pioneer Press, a realistic attitude about trying new and unique dishes carries her through the workday.
“It’s food,” Fleming said. “It’s not going to kill me.”
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Originally set on a career in math or science, Fleming channeled her passion for writing into a job as a cops reporter at the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota’s student run newspaper. With a full-time job lined up after graduation, Fleming moved to Rochester, N.Y., where she became a copy editor for two years — and later spent two more as a news editor.
Fleming moved back to the Twin Cities to take a job with the Pioneer Press covering Dakota County. It wasn’t the easiest reporting job — Fleming did not enjoy interviewing crime victims — but she has always prided herself on a “knack for finding good stories,” no matter where they come from.
Fleming’s career path changed two years ago when the longtime Pioneer Press food critic retired. One of the paper’s editors thought she’d be a perfect fit for the job, so her new role began.
Fleming’s love for food grew in college when her roommate and best friend — now a restaurant chef — created experimental dishes that gave her an introduction to the culinary field. She also remembers being “kind of jealous” when her friend attended culinary school — yet Fleming now has a rare opportunity to write about food in a major restaurant city.
“It’s so hard to break into (food criticism) … I’m very lucky,” she said.
Fleming eats out three to six times a week at whichever restaurants she chooses. She oversees the Pioneer Press food section every Thursday by writing shorter profiles, which she calls “Small Bites,” and full restaurant reviews over multiple visits.
One of her favorite places to eat at in the Twin Cities is Parlour, a downstairs bar at Borough in Minneapolis. There, she enjoys a simple burger, which consists of two patties, cheese, a bun and “no condiments at all.”
However, eating free for a living is “not all glory..” Fleming recalled a time in her career when she had to consume a “ridiculous amount of burgers” for a feature. Fleming decided it would be wise to take up running to account for her new job-related diet.
To Fleming, journalism is not just about critiquing food, but narrating the story of an aspiring chef or a family that recently opened up its first business. She enjoys spending time with chefs in the Twin Cities, whom she considers “gregarious, fun people.”
Beyond food, she also writes about her personal life. Her three kids and “rock star” husband mean the world to her — and she has written about her son, who has been diagnosed with autism. She finds it important to write about the difficulties that families with autistic children often face.
“Knowing people’s stories is very different,” Fleming said. “(And I thought) sharing my story would make people feel less alone.”
MEET OUR CAMPERS
Editor’s note: ThreeSixty is fortunate to have wonderful media volunteers collaborate with our instructors during summer camp. As part of our July Intro to Journalism Camp, each visiting media member is being (cruelly?) subjected to our ThreeSixty HotSeat, where students can ask whatever question they’d like to help build a “getting to know you” profile.
Special thanks to Jess Fleming of the Pioneer Press. To learn more about the authors of this piece, Montana Fender and Lujain Al-Khawi, check out bios from our 15 campers.