Maureen Clancy was an assistant producer of political programming at KPBS-TV when she got a call from La Jolla Light publisher Phyllis Pfeiffer, asking her to become the Light’s first restaurant critic.
That was 29 years and a million calories ago.
In 1980, Clancy joined the San Diego Union as restaurant critic (under the pen name Leslie James), and shortly thereafter assumed the role of food editor, serving as editor until 10 years ago when she became a food columnist. She is best know for her no-holds-barred restaurant reviews, lively personality profiles, and the Matters of Taste column that passed judgment on everything from dacquoise to dog treats.
Earlier this year, she moved on from print media to the Web, where her blog
www.MaureenClancy.comcontinues to entertain, educate, advise, communicate, commiserate, and share the news about good things to eat and drink.
What brought you to La Jolla?The “Matching Program” of U.S. medical schools. My husband, Thomas (“T”) Shiftan, graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and was matched with UCSD for his internship. We arrived in San Diego June 23, 1972, two dyed-in-the-wool East Coasters who expected to stay a couple years. We never left.
What makes La Jolla special to you?I love the natural beauty and the climate that allows me be outdoors for fresh air and exercise 365 days a year. But mostly I love my friends - a fascinating mix of personalities and backgrounds, all of them dynamic, life-loving and smart enough to have moved here from elsewhere.
If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?I’d get rid of the tacky shops geared to tourists and the “art galleries” geared to vacationers who need an expensive souvenir. Instead, the village would be home to businesses that enhance the life of the people who actually live here. Specifically I’d like to see an upscale market along the lines of New York City’s Zabar’s and Balducci’s and the Northwest’s Metropolitan Market.
I’d also like to see greater local support for small, owner-operated restaurants (as opposed to chains) that offer comfort, creative food and good value. Places like La Taverna, Burgundy and Cafe Lavande should be packed every night of the week.
Who or what inspires you?A good cookbook inspires me to whip up a variety of new dishes at home. I flip through the pages with glee, dreaming, drooling and marking pages with Post-it Notes. By the time I finish, I don’t have time to go grocery shopping, so I call Rimel’s for take-out!
If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?I’m assuming my husband, T, would be there helping me throw the shindig. The eight guests would be: Thomas Jefferson, Lou Gehrig, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Julia Child, Voltaire, Beverly Sills, and our sons Nicholas and Ben who can liven up any conversation at any dinner table.
What are you currently reading?“Chopin’s Funeral” by Benita Eisler and “A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889" by Frederic Morton. I started both books before we left for our recent month-long stay in Austria. I figured I’d finish reading them in Vienna, while sitting in an atmospheric cafe, drinking coffee and eating Sacher Torte. Didn’t happen.
What is your most prized possession?I’m not really into material possessions. The only thing I keep in our hunky steel safe is a 30-year-old box of family Christmas tree ornaments. These treasures include hanging plastic picture frames with photos of our boys having breakfast with Mickey Mouse at Disney World and playing T-ball at the La Jolla Y, and plastic lids festooned with dyed macaroni and glitter that they made at La Jolla Methodist Preschool in the mid-1980s.
What do you do for fun?Sit around a table with family and friends, cooking, eating, drinking, opining, laughing and celebrating life. I also love to bike and hike, walk our black Lab Geena on the beach, ski double-diamond runs and rolling cross-country trails alike, go to the opera, and watch Chris Farley in classic SNL episodes.
Describe your greatest accomplishment.That one’s easy. My three men. A husband who still loves to be with me, 24/7, after almost 40 years of marriage; and two 20-something sons who are smart, funny, honest, passionate and well-spoken, and who still want to hang out with Mom.
What is your motto or philosophy of life?Always try to find the bright side, the silver lining, the glass that’s half full.