Alison Stein

Alison Stein By Britt Gambino

Gotham teacher Alison Stein is a native Manhattanite who grew up thinking milk comes from the supermarket, so it’s kind of funny that she started out writing about agriculture in upstate New York. But like any good writer, Alison let her curiosity be her guide.

The same curiosity allowed Alison to make the transition from agriculture to business travel, and then, before she knew it, she was writing about luxury travel, which opened up a whole new world to her. Alison was off jet-setting to locales like French Polynesia and sampling exotic cuisine such as scorpion.

“When I travel by myself for writing assignments, it’s better,” Alison says. “You experience a place so much more on your own.” Alison has always had positive experiences abroad, even in times of duress. She once sprained her ankle in Mozambique after jumping over a fence, and then in Beijing she found herself giving “This End Up” on the back of a room key as the hotel address to a taxi driver since she couldn’t understand the language. She’s found people are usually helpful when you’re lost or confused. Alison says, “I’ve had scarier things happen to me in New York.”

Alison’s travel writing naturally led to food writing; after all, when traveling to interesting corners of the world, one must eat. She had no real interest in cooking, but became fascinated by the culinary arts. She decided to take cooking classes and even began making candy. If you try one of her homemade peppermint patties, Alison warns, they’ll ruin York’s for you. Alison says, “There’s something really fun and scientific about making candy—when sugar, butter, and water transform into something else.” 

Her cooking, however, is not always so ambitious. While at home, Alison is especially fond of ordering Chinese take-out and making gin and tonics, the Stein family signature cocktail. (She jokes that she would be disowned if she didn’t declare G&Ts her favorite drink.)

As someone who came of age in the era of print journalism, Alison had to acquire a whole new skill set for the digital revolution, including HTML, photography, video, and Podcasting. She says, “It’s an interesting time to be a writer. You get to learn all sorts of new things mid-career.” While Alison is a prolific blogger (she started her own blog back in 2004 and contributes to several travel blogs), she asserts that, first and foremost, a good blogger must be a good writer. She encourages all of her students to keep their own blogs because as she puts it, “If you’re not going to give yourself an assignment, why should you expect an editor to give you one?” Plus, it’s an organized way to showcase all of your work.

One of Alison’s most memorable journeys was traveling to Krakow, Poland to see first-hand where her family had lived during the Holocaust. During her stay, she met an old Polish couple who could barely speak English, but despite the language barrier, Alison felt they had an uncanny ability to communicate with one another.

Once inside the former Krakow ghetto, Alison followed a marked map to discover the entrances to the sewer system. She had imagined something like Schindler's List—a larger entry like a door but instead found a manhole cover, just like any you would see in New York. Her grandmother and other relatives used these sewer lines to escape transport to a concentration camp. Alison could hardly imagine her grandmother—a woman who never left the house without lipstick—lowering herself down into an open manhole.

Perhaps Alison inherited just a bit of her grandmother’s daring.