Yvette Simpson

The Cincinnati City Councilwoman talks about food’s role in our community as a catalyst for growth and social change.

Interview by Bryn Mooth / Photo by Michael Wilson

What’s a favorite food memory from childhood?
My grandmother raised me, which lets you know how much food was a part of my life. She taught each of us a signature recipe, and now we all bring that dish to the table for Thanksgiving. My dish is potato salad. I’m trying to go back now as an adult to re-create things that she always made.

You’re a Findlay Market shopper; what are the items always on your shopping list?
I was a pescatarian for awhile, so Frank’s is always on my list. We go to Madison’s and the outside vendors for fresh produce. I get fruit for the week, vegetables for salad. I love Bouchard’s vodka cream pasta sauce. We go to Eckerlin for meats, and we get their goetta and egg breakfast sandwiches. And we can’t miss Market Wines, and Churchill’s for my tea.

When you imagine the Downtown/OTR landscape five years from now, what do you think the food scene will look like?
I think we’ve been really successful with having amazing niche restaurants that are doing well. I see that continuing, and I think we’ll see more diverse ethnicity. I’d like to see more organic farm-to-plate options and more local sourcing.

How can food be a bridge to foster social change?
We need more opportunities to come together and share the food that represents our heritage and where we come from. With German food comes stories of German history. With African-American food comes African-American history. We can grow through that. A common experience like food shows us that we’re more alike than different.

What role does food play in making our city vibrant and livable?
There are a lot of things that you can build community around, and food is always a part of that mix. [Restaurants, coffee shops] are the anchors of neighborhood business districts, which are anchors for communities. It brings people together, keeps dollars in the neighborhood. All of the different pieces of our food scene—Findlay Market, the resurgence in restaurants, brewing, cocktails—it all represents everyone, but it truly represents Cincinnati.

Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.