I’m a former English major and semi-devout reader, who still loves to discuss a good book with friends who share my interest in nerdy stuff like structure, symbol and characterization. I’m told that analyzing literature in this way is completely out of date, but I don’t care. To me, it’s fun — mental calisthenics without getting out of breath.

I think it was being an English major that led me to food writing, well, that and having a mother who was both a wonderful cook and an inveterate analyst of everything she and everybody else ever put in their mouths. We discussed the things we were eating or already had eaten all the time, analyzing what we liked about them and what we didn’t. But there was nothing unusual about any of this to us because we were southerners, and people in the south are obsessed with food.

In my 20s, when I was a bartender at Mabel Murphy’s (the original, owned by Bob Sikora back in the day), my cocktail waitress friend and I had a game we played as we stood across the bar from each other, me slinging what she’d ordered. We’d think up something we loved to eat and describe it in the most mouthwatering way possible. I know. Crazy. A roomful of men and we were fantasizing about food! Well, most of the time.

Still, I was by no means a food expert when I took the job as restaurant critic at the New Times in December of 1984. I remember so clearly sitting in Voltaire, a classic French restaurant still alive and well in Scottsdale, and asking the server what crème caramel was. After his explanation, I heard a diner at a neighboring table say, “Sophistication is hard won,” and I nearly slid under the table I was so mortified. My next thought was, “Please, God, don’t let this person figure out I’m actually getting paid to be a restaurant critic!” For my first six months at that job, I felt like a charlatan, but I ate and I ate and I learned by eating and reading and analyzing.

Well, I’m not mortified anymore, and although I know much more about food now than I did then, I’m also more comfortable admitting that there’s plenty I don’t know. I learn new things all the time, and to tell you the truth, it’s my favorite part of the job. There’s no end to the learning. My dream job would probably be traveling the world writing about food culture in different countries. Life couldn’t get any better than that!

Got a tip? Have a question? Email me:
tips@thewildlavender.com.

Media/Publishing Experience

2008-present: Restaurant critic, The Arizona Republic

2008-present: Writer, Arizona Highways

2009-present: Writer, Sedona Magazine

2008-present: Writer, Where Guestbook Arizona

1996-present: Local editor, Zagat Survey

1995-2008/1989-1992: Dining editor, Phoenix Magazine

1995-2009: Producer/restaurant critic, Good Morning Arizona, KTVK-TV

1998-2009: Editor/writer, azfamily.com

1998-present: Freelance writer, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit

1998-2006, 2008: Local editor, Gayot

2002-2006: Editor/writer/producer/talk show host, KFYI radio

1987-1992, 1996-1998: Talk show host, KTAR radio

1984-1988: Restaurant critic, New Times

Teaching Experience

ESL at Eiwa Junior College in Kofu, Yamanashi, Japan

ESL at Shintoku Kindergarten in Kofu, Yamanashi, Japan

English 101 & 102 at ASU, Tempe, Arizona

Education

BA, English, Arizona State University

MA, English, Arizona State University

Awards

Second Place, Food Writing, AZ Press Club, 2008; Second Place, Food Writing, AZ Press Club, 2007; Second Place, Food Writing, AZ Press Club, 2005; Third Place, Food Writing, AZ Press Club, 2004; First, Second & Third Place, Food Writing, AZ Press Club, 2000; First Place, Travel & Food Reviews, AZ Press Club, 1999; First Place, General Criticism, AZ Press Club, 1991; Second Place, General Criticism, AZ Press Club, 1989; Second Place, Restaurant Reviews, CRMA, 1996, 1998.

  • samphalon

    Can anyone please explain to me how my Mom got to be so damn cool?

  • http://www.thewildlavender.com nikki

    Thanks, Love! That made my day!

  • chip

    nikki what is your email? can you send it to me?

  • Greg

    NIkki

    We are DESPERATELY looking for food writers for our local magazine. Can you forward your email so I can send you more detailed info.

  • Todd Michael

    Nikki Call me at Michael's General Store & Cafe, Florence, AZ 520-509-6511 or email me at michaelgeneralstore@cox.net. Tell your mother that we are still serving catfish. Todd

  • Dana Centrella

    You may not remember me but because of your favorable review, I was able to launch The Seafood Market in Ahwatukee way back in the stone age, 1986. Seafood has always been my passion. I am currently writing a book about my long career in the seafood industry and I do seafood consulting work. Do you know if anyone needs a seafood expert/food critic here in Phoenix? I can spot a bad fish a mile away. No one can fool me. I'd like to write about every seafood place here, from an expert's opinion. Call me Mr. Picky. Thanks again and best wishes to you Nikki. I miss your KTAR radio show, Dana Centrella

  • Linda

    As a mom of a 27yr old son… I can only guess she always was. You were just to busy growing into cool yourself to notice. What a sweet compliment, hope mine feels the same way.

  • Jmtkaplan08

    Nikki, I've been a fan of yours since the very first time I read one of your reviews in Phoenix Magazine; made a point of picking one up monthly just to read your mouth-watering descriptions and even had a letter to the editor published praising your writing skills. I just discovered your blog this evening while searching for a terrific Mexican restaurant to take our visiting relatives to this weekend and my search was “Nikki Buchanan reviews 2010″ so you know I still count on you for the best, most appetizing reviews. Thank you for all of your wonderful reviews, good and bad! Happy Holidays!!!!

  • Tips

    Gosh, jmtkaplan08, I'm so sorry that I haven't responded sooner! Kinda let this thing go dormant for a while. But I intend to get much more active very soon. Just gotta learn a few blogging basics. Hope you check back and find my note. Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot to me!!

  • Tips

    Todd, just found this. Will tell my mom. She'll be glad to know where you are!

  • Tips

    Hi Chip,

    Who are you and why should I give you my email? Do we know each other?

  • Tips

    Greg who? Which magazine? Wha . . . ?

  • Tips

    Hi Dana, I DO remember you and The Seafood Market too. But why am I remembering a Mesa location? Glad to hear you're alive and well. We should talk. Write me back here — if and when you ever look this up again.

  • dana centrella

    Nikki, we had a store in Ahwatukee and  one in Mesa. sold both in 97 and bought a fish business on Chesapeake bay. Now I am in LaPorte texas eating crabs and shrimp and enjoying my life. Lots of great memories and your writing about us in Phoenix was a high point in my life. I will always be grateful for your kind words. Best of luck to you. dana centrella

  • Cindy

    Nikki-
    We would like to invite you to try a restaurant in Carefree.  How do we send you an invitation?  
    Cindy

  • Docq5446

    Nikki, I just read your piece on cheese crisps.  I am a Michigan girl who lived in Tempe and Scottsdale, and used to work in Chandler in the ’70′s, and Chandler is where I discovered cheese crisps.  I do not remember the name of the restaurant, unfortunately, but I had a cheese crisp every Friday during the school year, they were so delicious.  When I moved away, I perfected my own home technique of making a perfect cheese crisp.  It came to mind today (I am a dentist, again back in Michigan now) as I was telling my assistant how to make some quick and delicious meals for her family.  She said, “Dr. Carol, you ought to make a YouTube video on that!”  Well, I doubt THAT will ever happen, but I really appreciate your including a photo of a nice cheese crisp so I could show it to her, too.