Dame du Jour: Cynthia Eakin

by Maria Isabella, Interview by Joan Pistone

No wonder Cynthia is so good at what she does. She brings a lifelong love of food and a sincere appreciation for hard work to her job (quite frankly, one that all foodies would envy) as a successful and widely respected newspaper staff writer and dining and entertainment columnist.

“The hospitality industry has always been a part of my life,” says Cynthia. “When my great-grandfather arrived in this country, he opened a tavern to support his family. My grandparents and parents were also restaurateurs.”

She goes on to add, “I grew up with the greatest respect for people in the restaurant business.  I think one of the reasons so many restaurants fail is because people open them with the idea that, ‘I like to cook and I like people,’ thinking that qualifies them for success. They don’t realize how hard they will have to work and the long hours they will have to endure…My parents finally retired ten years ago when they were 75.”

What was it like growing up with restaurateur parents? “My sister and I were both raised in my parents’ restaurant,” she explains. “I worked every New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day until I married and moved to Cleveland from Western Pennsylvania. On Friday evenings, when dinner business slowed down a bit, my parents would have me join them for a late meal. My father said I could order anything on the menu, but it had to be seafood and it had to be different each week…I have yet to sample a clam chowder that is as good as theirs!”

Armed with a freshly minted degree in journalism/news from Kent State University, her first job as a journalist had her writing about a wide variety of topics. “Strangely enough,” she admits with a smile, “my favorite subject has always been food.”

Now that both her children are grown, Cynthia and her husband combine recreation and entertainment as boaters. “Every Sunday, we extend an invitation for friends to join us at our dock for a cookout. Sometimes, 20 or 30 friends and fellow boaters show up. We fire up a couple of Weber grills, and everyone brings something to share. We always have way too much food, but somehow it all seems to disappear by the end of the evening.”

Curious minds want to know, as a restaurant writer, which is Cynthia’s favorite restaurant. “I am often asked this question. I always reply that I have many favorites, depending on my mood and what food I crave. Some sort of fresh seafood is always at the top of list of foods to order,” she reveals.

As for how she learned of LDEI, Cynthia explains, “I had the honor of being invited to an LDEI meeting half a dozen years ago by a fellow Cleveland chapter member. I am truly in awe of the talent and intelligence of the women in this group.”

Learn more about Cynthia as she shares some fun and interesting insights about herself.

Who influenced your love of food the most?

Several times each summer, my grandfather would host a lamb roast for family and friends. The men would spend the day roasting a whole lamb on a spit while enjoying cold beverages, and everyone invited would contribute a favorite dish. I wanted to continue that family tradition for my own children. Several years ago, I purchased a La Caja China roasting box. Each summer, my husband and I host a lamb or pig roast for 60 to 70 of our closest friends and family.

Of all the places you’ve traveled, where did you have the best food?

Describe it. One of the most memorable meals I have ever had was in Jamaica. I was invited to fly there for lunch with a number of other writers. We were shuttled from the airport to a tiny, private island off the coast of Montego Bay, where we enjoyed a meal of fresh Amberjack, beans and rice, lobster pizza and, of course, delicious jerk chicken.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

Probably Japanese Fugu (or blowfish).

What’s your favorite comfort food?

My mother’s meatloaf. I love it hot or cold. I also enjoy some of the ethnic dishes, like stuffed cabbage and apple strudel, that my grandmother prepared when I was growing up. Cold turkey dressing and potato salad are dangerous because I can’t pass by the refrigerator without a forkful if I know those items are in there.

What’s your favorite snack?
Planters Heat Hot Spicy Peanuts (the chipotle seasoned ones). I’m addicted to them.

Do have a signature dish?

I don’t have a signature dish. I love to cook all types of food. My son has always loved stuffed grape leaves. So, I learned to make them from a recipe I got from the Greek Church of the Annunciation. I make them whenever he’s in town from Chicago. My son also loves to cook. When he was young, we made Sunday dinner together. It could be anything he wanted as long as he helped shop for the ingredients and prepare the meal. My daughter, on the other hand, has always loved to bake. She tells me that she is that strange person in the office who arrives at work carrying boxes of cupcakes that she has baked for the other employees. I am proud to say that I’ve raised a couple of fine foodies.

What’s your go-to, quick-and-easy dinner?
Caesar salad or Greek salad with feta cheese and grilled salmon.

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare?

My favorite desserts are pies and cobblers. (I’m not much of a chocolate lover.) My mother baked four fresh pies every morning for their restaurant. I make a great strawberry/rhubarb crisp with rhubarb that we grow in our own garden. Concord grape pie is also another favorite and an autumn tradition. It can be time-consuming because you have to separate the grape pulp from the seeds and the skin. Consequently, my husband has always called it my “swearing” pie. He disappears until it goes into the oven.

What’s one ingredient you can’t live without?
The one core ingredient I always have on hand is fresh garlic. My sister and I get together in late summer to can hot peppers in oil and spicy dill pickles. So, you will always find those in my refrigerator, too, along with goat cheese for snacking. I also love Heinz spicy brown mustard. I guess I like fiery foods. My husband loves Orlando Seed’licious bread, so that is always in the refrigerator as well.

Name 3 kitchen gadgets you can’t live without.

A Calphalon skillet; a good, sharp knife; and my KitchenAid mixer.