Tag Archives: Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni: “A Generation Of High School Kids Throws Darts At The College Dartboard”

An overflow crowd filled the Westport Library yesterday, to hear Frank Bruni talk about college admissions.

Go figure.

The award-winning New York Times journalist — who has covered presidents and popes, served as chief restaurant critic, and now writes a wildly popular Sunday column — was here to talk about his new book.

Frank Bruni bookIt’s called Where You’ll Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania. On this topic, of course, Westport is one of the most manic places on the planet.

Bruni, who is 50, grew up in an area similar to Westport — a place that could give us a run for our (college-leads-to-Wall Street) money.

But even though there was an implied competition back then, based on college stickers on the backs of cars — and even though Bruni joked about going to a school (the University of North Carolina) supposedly less prestigious than those of his siblings — he said things today are far, far worse.

Which is why he wrote his book.

Bruni said that as he realized he knew so many contented and accomplished people — and that they’d gone to an enormous range of colleges — he understood that all the admissions talk has been focused on the wrong thing.

“We should focus much more on how students choose and use college, than on how to get in,” he said. “‘Success’ comes not from where you go, but from figuring out a school’s landscape, and how to till it.”

Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni

Citing examples from his book, Bruni talked about schools like Rhode Island School of Design (where the founders of Airbnb went), and the University of Waterloo (which produced the most number of graduates with successful Y Combinator venture capital pitches).

Last year, Bruni taught a course at Princeton. Though he was “in some way in awe” of the school, he realized that many students were tone deaf about their place in it, and the world.

One eating club tradition is “State Night.” Students dress, and act, “as if they went to a state school,” he said.

Part of the reason is that high school students in places like Westport hear messages about the perceived differences between private and state schools (and see “rankings” of every private school too).

College pennantsPart of the reason too is that some students spend so much time trying to “get in” that they don’t care much about what happens once they do.

“We have a generation of kids applying to 18 or 20 different college. They’re throwing darts at a dartboard. They can’t understand what all those schools offer. So once they get there, they don’t know what to do,” Bruni said.

Audience members had plenty of questions.

They wanted to know what Bruni thought about the importance of “making connections” at highly competitive schools. (He thinks that students at those college are already on the path to success. “If you’re someone who reaches far, it doesn’t matter which school gave you its imprimatur. You’ll get there.”)

There are plenty of reasons for this admissions mania, Bruni noted — and it’s not only parents who share the blame. Colleges “cynically” take measures to drive down their acceptance rates — like not requiring SATs, or sending information to students who are clearly not qualified — so their yields will look more impressive in the US News & World Report rankings.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

Bruni says it’s important for “influencers” — teachers, counselors, anyone talking with students — to change the tone of conversations.

Of course, those conversations often begin at home. “Kids should not feel that where they go to college is a validation — or repudiation — of their parents.”

The crowd was large and appreciative. Bruni’s message was especially important for teenagers to hear. But there were very few of them in the audience.

I guess the sophomores and juniors were at SAT courses.

And the seniors were home, waiting to hear from 18 or 20 colleges.

A Beef With Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart may no longer live here, but it’s not like she has a bone to pick with us.

Yesterday, in her cleverly named “The Martha Blog,” she gave a nice shout-out to Saugatuck Craft Butchery — the shop on Riverside Avenue (opposite the old Doc’s)  that’s drawing raves from plenty of non-Martha normal people as well.

(On Monday I was at The Whelk — Bill Taibe’s equally excellent restaurant next door, whose meat comes from Craft Butchery. Sure, Bill’s menu is heavy on oysters, clams and other seafood. But my lamb burger at least equaled any dish I had in New Zealand. And the meat there was waaaay beyond mouth-watering.)

But back to Martha (of course). She wrote:

Recently, I learned of Saugatuck Craft Butchery, which opened its doors last November in my former hometown of Westport, Connecticut, and is owned by Ryan Fibiger. Fibiger started his career in finance on Wall Street and after relocating from Manhattan to Westport with his wife, Katherine, he became deeply disenchanted with the food choices in his new neighborhood.

Ryan Fibiger and friend.

Fibiger learned about a Butchering 101 course being taught by Joshua Applestone at his shop in Kingston. After taking the class, Fibiger started rethinking his career path, spending his weekends as Joshua’s apprentice. Along the way, he met Paul Nessel, who had some restaurant experience and was also deeply interested in the art butchery. The two found a shack to rent near Kingston, which they dubbed ‘Meat Camp’, and spent an intensive eight months learning the craft.

Saugatuck Craft Butchery is a gem of a shop, which Ryan and Paul run together.  They are one of perhaps ten butcher shops in America that deal with cutting whole animals from nose-to-tail, sourcing their organic meat from local sustainable farms.  It’s also a very friendly shop with wonderful customer relations and a true sense of community.

Okay, as a food writer Martha is no Ruth Reichl or Frank Bruni. But the woman knows her onions.

And her grass-fed, grain-finished, all-natural, humanely raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry too.

Martha Stewart talks turkey about Saugatuck Craft Butchery.

Food For Thought

In 5 years as restaurant critic for the New York Times, Frank Bruni influenced millions of diners — and countless discussions of “where should we eat?”

For much of his life, his own answer was:  anywhere, any time.

Bruni was a voracious eater.  The results showed on his body — and, less visibly, his self-esteem.

Frank Bruni

Now average weight — and off the food beat — he’s written a book:  Born Round:  the Secret Life of a Full-Time Eater. He says it contains “elements of an addiction memoir and a food memoir, with lots of family issues and digressions.”

This Monday (August 2, 7:30 p.m.) Bruni will be at the Westport Public Library.  He’ll talk about restaurant writing, eating, self-loathing — and the intersection of all 3.

He’ll also answer questions from the audience.  If anyone asks him to compare his own youthful weight issues with today’s focus on childhood obesity, he’ll mention the importance of offering healthy options and environments.

And, he’ll note, that’s not always easy to do.

“Parents have to realize that kids model behavior from watching their parents — with food, and everything else.  If parents are sedentary or pig out in front of the TV, kids accept that as the norm.”

I wanted to dig in to another subject:  Westport’s culinary life.

“Sadly, I don’t know much about Fairfield County restaurants,” Bruni said.  “My knowledge ends with Westchester.”

So where will he dine before Monday’s library appearance?

“Unfortunately, I’ve got a lot of things to do here at the Times,” he said.  “My summer is crazy.

“I’ll probably just have a sandwich on the train.”