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Interview: Melissa Coleman, New Dine Out Maine Reviewer

Photo: Tom Minervino

Portland Press Herald, which recently sealed its formerly free online content behind a paywall, has found in Melissa Coleman an interim restaurant reviewer to replace John Golden, who stepped down from the Dine Out Maine column but continues to blog for Press Herald parent company MaineToday Media. Coleman, daughter of prominent back-to-the-landers Eliot and Sue Coleman, also writes for Maine Home + Design's Bright-Minded Home column, and her first book, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak, was a New York Times bestseller.

She's dining with a different guest author each week, providing an interesting twist on the standard review formula. So far, she's reviewed Royal River Grillhouse with her family (positively), Palace Diner with Kate Christensen (positively), and Anneke Jans with Genevieve Morgan (mixed, as "new chef [Lee Frank is] still finding his footing").

Coleman responded via email to questions about her enjoyable new role, explaining that the possibility is still open for her to extend her tenure as Dine Out Maine columnist.

Are you enjoying the work?
Yes, how could one not enjoy the chance to eat good food with interesting guests and get paid to write about the experience?

Are you getting a good response?
Well, nobody tells you if they don't like it (though maybe that's not true in the case of John Golden), but people keep saying they find the informal narrative style and guest concept refreshing and fun to read. I imagine the restaurants and chefs might be a little annoyed about sharing the limited word count with guests, but I'm trying to focus the guests as much as possible on the food and experience so you get to hear two or more perspectives on the evening instead of just one.

How did you get involved?
When the editor asked me to do it, I first thought it wasn't right for me as I usually write more about travel than food when I freelance, but decided I should be more adventurous and give it a try. I figured the guests could help make up for what I lacked in experience in the genre. And coming from a Maine food/farming family it's important to me to do Maine's unique local food scene justice and also seek out great places that might not be on the standard best of Maine lists.

Was your involvement always with the caveat that it would be an interim fill-in?
My editor said if it was a fit, I could continue past the summer, but I'm just committing to summer at this time.

Will you continue with food writing after this experience ends?
Of course, I love writing and reading about food. I've been so inspired by this to really dive into the great reviewers and food writers, MFK Fisher, AJ Leibling, Ruth Reichl, Colman Andrews, Jonathan Gold, Sam Sifton, Pete Wells, David Lebovitz, and Alexander Lobrano. It's an honor to take part in such a revered tradition, and though I'm certainly not a traditional reviewer, I hope to draw in new readers who might like a less traditional approach.
· Melissa Coleman [Official Website, Facebook]
· Dine Out Maine: Royal River Grillhouse, Palace Diner, Anneke Jans [PPH]
· All Eater Interviews [-EME-]