January 26, 2007

By Leann Frola
Naughton Fellow

Forget the clinking crystal, white tablecloths and dimmed
lights of the restaurants you’re used to reading about.

Kevin Pang, a Chicago Tribune features writer, approaches dining critiques from a different angle — one we journalists, and our readers,
are all too familiar with:

The fast-food industry.


That’s the motto of his monthly column “Chain Reaction.”

“I just think that everybody eats fast food, so why not
write about it?” Pang told me on the phone.

Some of his past stories:

  • A review of the Pizza Hut’s Sicilian Lasagna Pizza. Here’s
    a sample of what he had to say about it:

“It suffers from identity crisis. Like a “woe is
me” high school freshman, this aspires to look and taste like something
it’s not. Just be yourself, pizza. We like you just the way you are.”

When one of the kids Pang interviewed was asked by a
waitress if he wanted ketchup, he replied: “I don’t eat ketchup. I eat olive

The kid was 5 years old.

“He’s got a palette that puts mine to shame,” Pang said.

Pang said he tries to emulate the writing of Calvin
and Jeffrey Steingarten. They have a more personal approach to food writing, Pang said,
that uses all the senses.

“You’re following them throughout their adventures,” he
said. “You really live vicariously through them.”

Here’s a peek at what he’s working on now:

Pang tells me he’s on a mission to find the spiciest food in Chicago. He’s also trying
to learn about the chemical compound in peppers that makes you sweat (a
chemical called “capsaicin.”).

“It’s not only talking to people with a bottle of Pepcid
AC,” he said. “I’m also talking to nutritional biochemists and scientists about
what happens when you’re eating spicy foods.”

So what’s your paper doing to follow the eating habits of
your community?

Pang’s been on this issue for about two years — and said it
hasn’t been easy being the “go-to guy for fast food.”

“It requires a lot of extra work on the elliptical machine
at night.”

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Leann is a former copy editor at The Dallas Morning News who now works as a writing consultant at Collin College in Plano, Texas. She…
Leann Frola Wendell

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