“I grew up in a family that just loves food and wine, so I’ve always had an affinity for cooking and restaurants,” says cocktail-guzzling New Yorker and Eater Drinks editor Kat Odell. “Out of college, I thought I wanted to own a restaurant.”
She has always been of the culinary persuasion, obsessing over the New York Times’ food section as a teen. But instead of going into business for herself, the English-turned-art-history major landed a job with Bon Appetít and relocated to Los Angeles, where she began eating and writing, full-time.
“It’s kind of the only thing I’ve ever done,” Odell says, noting how bizarre her trajectory has been. “I could never have predicted that my career would work out the way that it has.”
This weekend, she’s hitting the 10th annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine (PBFW) festival, a highbrow weekend of celebrity chefs, grandiose tastings, and expert seminars targeted at affluent eaters in Monterey Bay.
“Having been to a ton of food festivals, Pebble is just stunning,” Odell says. “If you took the most high-end events at Aspen Food and Wine and brought them to California, that’s what this would be.”
Alongside master somms, top-tier chefs, and Food TV notables like Curtis Stone and Guy Fieri, Odell will peddle her forthcoming book, Day Drinking: Fifty Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz. Friday afternoon, she’ll discuss the trend toward session cocktails — drinks you can sip on without getting drunk — and give tips on playing mid-day hostess. Odell will also serve three of her favorite low-ABV beverages, paired with customized small bites created by Alinea’s Michelin-touted chef, Mike Bagale.
“He’s one of the top three most talented [chefs] that I’ve ever met,” Odell says of her perfectionistic partner. “It’s very fortunate that he agreed to create some bites.”
The trend toward mixing drinks with less and less booze was the chief inspiration for Odell’s book, which comes out May 16.
“I think it speaks partially to the saturation of the craft-cocktail world in general,” she says. “Bartenders are looking to be creative beyond full-proof spirits and are incorporating amaros and sherry and vermouth and all of these other liquors that are becoming more widespread in the U.S. I also noticed the rise of mocktails in restaurants, which I think is great, especially for people who don’t want to drink or can’t drink.”
It doesn’t hurt that in 2013 Odell was featured on Eat, Drink, Love, an eight-episode reality TV series that followed four women in the L.A. food industry for 10 weeks of catfights, small plates, and lots of foodie gossip. Odell’s on-screen debut with Bravo gave her practice in front of a camera.
“Anytime you sign up for a Bravo show, you have to be open to some level of scrutiny and editing,” Odell says, claiming the network escalated most of the drama in a big way. “It’s just the nature of Bravo. People watch those shows for drama, which is the reason our show didn’t get a second season — because the drama wasn’t real.”
Such notoriety can be a blessing and a curse, although overall, she says it was a positive experience.
“Now, more than ever, it’s incredibly challenging to venture to a restaurant without being recognized,” Odell says. “I have many friends in the industry who know exactly what every critic looks like.”
Odell concedes she often gets special treatment when she dines out, especially if she has a personal relationship with a member of the staff. “There’s always positives and negatives,” said Odell. “If you go somewhere where someone knows you, of course they kill you with food — and sometimes you don’t want that, honestly.”
The average eater may beg to differ, including the slew of foodies shelling out for tickets and noshing their way through an abundance of small bites and hundreds of spirits at this year’s PBFW. Let’s hope some of those beverages are low-ABV.
Pebble Beach Food and Wine, Thursday-Sunday, April 20-23, pbfw.com