It's fair to say that J.M. Hirsch fell in love with Edinburgh while a student here in the 1990s. He has since brought his son to visit the city, and proposed to his now-husband on Calton Hill. He tell us about his time studying Philosophy and how he turned a passion for food into a busy writing career.
|Name||J.M. (Jason) Hirsch|
|Year of graduation||1994|
At the moment
For the past six years, I’ve been editorial director for Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, a food media company that produces TV and radio shows, a magazine and books. I love my job. I travel the world to learn cooking from home and professional cooks everywhere. We turn those lessons into content across our platforms. It is a dream. I get to see the world and people welcome me into their lives to teach me something intimate—the sharing of food. I also am obsessed with cocktails and recently released a cocktail book, “Shake Strain Done: Craft Cocktails at Home,” and now am working on my next one.
Your time at the University
I’d split my childhood between the U.S. and Europe, so when it came time for university, Edinburgh was an easy choice. Both the city and the school offer so much. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew I wanted to be part of a larger, global community. Edinburgh delivered that and more.
Despite its vastness, the University always felt like a small and welcoming place. It gave me the opportunity to explore so much and meet so many people. I studied Norwegian. I wrote for the student paper. I joined writing groups. I tried (and failed horribly!) doing improv comedy at Bedlam Theatre. I got lost in endless conversations with fascinating people. The instructors pushed and challenged me.
Most importantly, it gave me the chance to figure out who and what I would be. Could I have had similar experiences at another university? Possibly. But there was something different about Edinburgh. I have so many wonderful memories from the city and the University, but the one I love most is walking at night. The aromas from the breweries would fill the city with a smell similar to baking bread. I can still smell it. It was like a warm, delicious blanket. A few years ago, I brought my teenage son to Edinburgh and I insisted we walk late at night just so he could smell it. And just over two years ago, I brought my now husband and proposed to him on Calton Hill. Edinburgh, quite clearly, remains very special to me.
Most importantly, it gave me the chance to figure out who and what I would be. Could I have had similar experiences at another university? Possibly. But there was something different about Edinburgh.
Your experiences since leaving the University
Edinburgh prepared me for anything and everything. The rigorous coursework, the emphasis on critical thinking, the exposure to so many people from so many places. When I left Edinburgh, I headed to Cape Town, South Africa, to pursue a PhD.
When I finally returned to the U.S., I ended up in journalism, working for The Associated Press. Edinburgh had prepared me wonderfully for the demands of this career. Question everything. Keep an open mind to everything. Embrace everyone. After about six years of covering crime, I switched to food and drink, always a personal passion (even in Edinburgh, where I baked HORRIBLE beer breads for my flatmates and made even worse stews!).
I eventually became AP’s national food editor. The timing couldn’t have been better. The world was just waking up to the political, social and health aspects of everything we eat. I stayed with AP for almost 20 years and loved it. Working for a news organisation like AP puts you at the centre of history as it happens. Then I got a job offer I couldn’t refuse. Christopher Kimball, famous for his exacting approach to food media, was launching a new company and needed somebody to head it up. It was an opportunity to codify food writing as hard news, to put boots on the ground around the world and to learn from and profile the people who feed us. I’ve been at Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street for six years now and love it. Covid-19, of course, put travel on hiatus for a year. But I’ve just resumed and already have been back to Italy, Mexico and Liberia. Food connects us in so many ways. I consider it a privilege to witness and document that around the world.
Life during Covid-19
Covid-19 slowed me down. Tremendously. Even up to a week before the pandemic was officially declared in the U.S., I travelled two out of every four or five weeks. But slowing down was good. It gave me time to focus on other aspects of my job and work on home projects. My husband and I expanded our garden and repainted almost every room in our house. I also used the time to finish my cocktail book and start a new one. We consider ourselves incredibly lucky. Both our jobs—he works in emergency management—only got more intense during the pandemic. Plenty of people suffered tremendously. For us, it mostly was a time to slow down and focus on home.
I would have done more and cared less. The city and the University offer so many opportunities. I did a lot, but I could have done far more. If I had another chance, I would worry less about grades (but STILL study hard) and go out more, do more, meet more people, try more things. Edinburgh offers everything. Take advantage of it!
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street (external)