Jan. 15—BRYAN MILLER
Occupation: Journalist; was a food critic for The New York Times for 15 years. Author of "Dining in the Dark," about his struggle and triumph over
Grew up in: Northern New Jersey. Lived a short time in the Rockville section of Vernon.
Background: Started his career at the Journal Inquirer, where he covered Suffield. Also worked for the Associated Press in Oklahoma City, the Providence Journal, and Connecticut Magazine.
Education: Colgate University, Columbia School of Journalism. Took night courses for two years at the culinary school Johnson and Wales in Providence. Worked for a year at Restaurant du Village in Chester, which at the time was considered one of the two top restaurants in Connecticut. "That was invaluable training and hardly any restaurant critics have ever worked in a restaurant."
Q: At what point did you decide to write "Dining in the Dark"?
A: The book is about depression. I had horrible depression almost the entire time I was the food critic at The New York Times. It came and went, and I had to work between the cycles. It was hellish. I finally had to quit and leave the paper because I couldn't work anymore. I'm fine now.
I didn't get well in time to salvage my career. What do I have? I have no job, I lost my home, I lost my savings, now what now am I going to do? Maybe I have a story that can help other people as well as be entertaining and educational. So, I started writing it. So far, among journalists I know, they say it's very good.
Q: How long were you at The Times?
A: I was at The Times for almost 20 years, and I continued to write afterward.
Q: What was the source of your depression?
A: There are two forms of depression. One is bio-chemical. Others can be caused by life events, particularly early childhood experiences. I had both.
I had a bio-chemical depression. I went to a number of doctors. I finally found one of the top psychopharmacologists and he had a hard time keeping me stable. When I was 3 years old, my father died, and a lot of awful things happened. Children appear to rebound from a lot of things. Their behavior returns to normal, but it can fester inside of you. It was marinating inside of me for 30 years. That's when depression begins, around the 30s, and it came barreling out of the cannon.
Q: Based on the title, how much does your time as a food critic deal with your depression?
A: I really could have written two books; a really good, funny "Bryan eats New York." A lot of food and celebrities.
But, I thought, if I write that, whereas my life was really revolved around depression, that would be disingenuous. It would be writing a fake book. Maybe I could write a book in which I have all that stuff, and mention that I have some problems, but that would just not be true to the readers.
Then I moved on and though maybe I could do half and half. That still wasn't true, so I kicked down the door and wrote the raw depression part wrapped around my life as a critic.
The theme is depression, how one can cope with it, where depression originates, and how you go about digging out of it. In the year 2021, there's no reason for someone to suffer 20 years as I did. There are better medications, other treatments. I had electro-shock, you name it. It didn't work.
I'm somebody who actually made it in the worst of conditions. I now hold a little group, talking to people about it. The book is sort of like that. Give people some hope. If I can make it, anybody can.
Q: In your 20 years reviewing food for The Times, what were some of your more infamous experiences?
A: I had some serious death threats. That's the degree of power that I had. In the beginning, I was the only weekly dining critic in New York, aside from Gael Greene.
The power of the column was that Thursday evening before the review would appear on Friday, a gaggle of restaurant owners would gather in The Times lobby waiting for the paper to come off the presses.
The stakes were very high. I got a really nasty threatening letter from someone: "You ruined my life. You're against Italian food." I didn't pay much attention to it. Two weeks later, another came that was more threatening: "We know what you're doing. We're watching you." I gave it to my editor who called in two detectives to follow me around. Bodyguards.
Then another letter came. This one threatened my wife. We had to figure out who this person was. I looked at recent issues for Italian restaurants I had reviewed. It was pretty obvious.
The cops said, "We can do two things. We can let him know that we know what he's doing and to stop, or we can break his shoes. We go down there, we call him out to the lobby and have him stand against the wall, and we stand on his shoes and say, "If you ever come within a mile of Bryan Miller, you're going to be in big trouble." So, they broke his shoes and it stopped.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I worked for a year and a half with no income on this book. I'm back to the unenviable place of being an unemployed journalist. I'm 68. I can't retire. The depression completely wiped me out. All my colleagues are retired. I keep on keeping on.
I have a 16-year-old. He's a 6-foot basketball player. He keeps me busy too.
Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
For coverage of local restaurants, cultural events, music, and an extensive range of Connecticut theater reviews, follow Tim Leininger on Twitter: @Tim_E_Leininger, Facebook: Tim Leininger's Journal Inquirer News page, and Instagram: @One_Mans_Opinion77.