Meet your neighbor… Patricia Brooks
NEW CANAAN — Patricia Brooks never took a journalism class. She did, however, write for the New York Times for 38 years as a food critic in Connecticut.
“Most people know me from the New York Times, but I have done travel writing for a long time,” Brooks said as she laid out a yellow piece of paper detailing the over 50 articles she had written for publications ranging from Newsweek to Travel and Leisure magazine in 1983 alone.
Originally from Minneapolis, Brooks first ventured out from her home city when she left to study drama at Vassar College, returning to study English at the University of Minnesota before heading out again.
“I always knew I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t think of the nonfiction aspect or commercial writing,” Brooks admitted.
Brooks sent her first article to the New York Times, a piece she wrote while in Manila in the Philippines, which was published in March 9, 1952. From there, Brooks kept writing about her travels, freelancing to several publications and chronicling her adventures throughout the globe.
Her New Canaan home, which she purchased with her late husband, Lester, back in 1959, is a testament to her travels and writing.
African masks decorate the walls along with Spanish paintings and French art. A Japanese Sasano-Bori wooden carving of a hawk rests on a glass table just next to a frightening Samurai mask.
“It’s difficult to travel now,” the 91-year-old said. “But all these items are from my time abroad though that Samurai mask we got from a kid here in town who sold it to my husband and I for $25 when we owned our shop in town, Art Originals.”
Brooks explored different cuisines along her many travels, something which invariably helped refine her style and taste in food. In 1977, Brooks got a call from a New York Times editor asking her to become a steady writer for the paper, reviewing restaurants in Connecticut.
“By that point, I had written three cookbooks and I had gained and lost 50 pounds. I didn’t want to regain those 50 pounds,” Brooks said. “Of course, I gained them back slowly after I took the job.”
For Brooks, Chinese cuisine holds a special place in her palate though she added that French, Italian and Turkish cuisine are also at the top of her personal list.
“I have not eaten good Chinese food in this country,” Brooks said with no trace of hesitation in her voice.
As to the New Canaan scene, Brooks has seen the restaurant scene grow and evolve for the past 59 years. She ranks Ching’s Table, Cava, Soleil and (her regular go-to) South End as her favorite restaurants in town.
“We really have a handful of good restaurants and the food scene has changed so much. Back in 1959, the only decent place to eat was the Roger Sherman Inn,” Brooks said.
In addition to her constant freelancing, Brooks was briefly involved in New Canaan politics, elected to the role of chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee in the early 1970s.
“Everyone knew I worked from home so I would get calls all day,” Brooks said with a laugh, reminiscing about her stint in local politics.
Food and politics became intertwined at a certain point.
In 1968, she co-authored a book with Poppy Cannon, “The Presidents Cookbook,” which detailed the favorite recipes of presidents from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I like research and it involved a lot of that. I found some of the most interesting material and books on economics on what the presidents ate,” Brooks said. “I did almost all the work and when I heard Cannon on the radio talking about the book, I was lying on my bed thinking of how life was unfair. She didn’t write a word of it.”
Though she hasn’t written much since her food review section at the New York Times was eliminated in 2016, Brooks’ mind lingers with the sentiments of a lifelong profession.
“I still dream of writing and I dream a lot,” Brooks said. “Just last night I dreamt that my husband and I had written a book and that we were presenting it to a publisher.”