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Straight to the Sizzle: SMU Journalism Professor Wins Best Newspaper Food Feature Award

When Mark Vamos isn't in the classroom he finds time to write about food, barbecue in particular

Sizzling Food
Photo courtesy Smoke

Most days, Mark Vamos is in the classroom teaching aspiring journalists how to navigate the world of business, technology, economics and more. He has plenty of experience in those realms; over the years he has served as senior editor and editor-in-chief for Newsweek, Business Week, and Fast Company magazine.

But Vamos, head of the SMU William J. O’Neil Program in Business Journalism, is not all business. When he’s not in the classroom he finds time to write about food, barbecue in particular. He recently won First Place in the national Association of Food Journalists annual journalism competition in the Best Newspaper Food Feature/Above 200,000 Circulation category. His story about James Beard Award-winning chef Tim Byres of Smoke restaurant, “Straight to the Sizzle,” appeared in Palate, an annual food magazine produced by The Dallas Morning News, and was accompanied by gorgeous photos and a video created by members of the Dallas News staff.

Below, Vamos dishes on food and writing:

SMU Meadows (Meadows): Most people associate you with straight-ahead business writing but it turns out you’re also a foodie. Have you always had an epicurean side?

Mark Vamos (MV): I have been an avid cook--and an even more avid eater--for as long as I can remember. But I didn't have an opportunity to combine that passion with my vocation of writing and editing until about eight years ago, when Leslie Brenner became the chief dining critic of The Dallas Morning News. She asked me if I knew of anyone who might be interested in doing some reviewing; I thought really hard about it and came up with my own name.

Meadows: Regarding your recent First Place prize for your story about chef Tim Byres and his “Eisenhower” steaks, had you entered the Association of Food Journalists competitions before, or was this your first entry?

MV: This was my first entry. And I have spent most of my 30-year career as an editor; magazines and stories I've worked on have been nominated for, and have won, things like National Magazine Awards, Loeb Awards and Overseas Press Club Awards. But this is actually the first time I've been nominated, let alone won, for something under my own byline. So I was pathetically excited by it.

Meadows: Are there other styles of writing that you enjoy?

MV: University Curriculum course proposals. Just kidding. I began by writing fiction, and it's probably true that every journalist has an unpublished novel in a desk drawer somewhere.I may turn back to mine someday.

Meadows: Can you offer a few tips to aspiring writers about business writing, human-interest feature writing or specialty writing?

MV: Wow. That could be a book. I do tell my students to always, always think of the reader: What will she want to know, and when will she want to know it? I also tell them that a small story told tightly has more impact than a sweeping story that lacks depth and insight. I tell them that God is in the details. I tell them to finish their drafts early, put them aside so they have time to cool, and then edit themselves with fresh eyes. I tell them to treat every word as if using it cost them money. And I tell them that if they fall madly in love with a sentence or phrase, they should make sure to delete it.

Meadows: Do you have any photos of yourself at the conference?

MV: There was no photography at the event, I'm afraid, because many of the attendees were restaurant critics who still try to dine incognito (me included).

Read the award-winning "Straight to the Sizzle" article and more about Mark Vamos and the William J. O'Neil Program in Business Journalism at SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

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