Savory meatball subs smothered in mozzarella. Sizzling birria tacos with spicy salsa. Smoky barbecue brisket with all the fixings. And a rainbow of Italian cookies.
Just try looking at the Instagram account of Stephanie Breijo ’09 on an empty stomach.
“Food is universal,” says Stephanie, a Los Angeles Times food writer who graduated from the University of Mary Washington. “It’s a lens everyone sees the world through, whether they’re aware of it or not.”
Reporting takes her to every corner of L.A.’s restaurant community, from pop-ups in Koreatown to bistros in Santa Monica. But before she began highlighting epicurean happenings throughout the city and curating cuisine on social media – an art that didn’t even exist when she was a student – she acquired the recipe for great storytelling at Mary Washington.
A Los Angeles native, Stephanie learned to cook from her grandmother, before starting college in San Diego. Hungry for smaller classes and more facetime with professors, she transferred to UMW, where she majored in English and landed an internship at Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star newspaper.
She also earned the Class of 1943 Scholarship in Memory of Levin J. Houston III and the Thomas Howard and Elizabeth Merchent Tardy Endowment, which allowed her to continue feeding her knowledge.
“As a student responsible for paying for their education, every bit helped, every semester,” Stephanie says. “These scholarships made obtaining my degree possible — especially as I was balancing part-time jobs and internships to get a jump on my career before graduation.”
Stephanie also spent countless hours in former Mary Washington dining hall Seacobeck … but not for the smorgasbord. There, in the basement, she edited stories and helped design the student newspaper, then called The Bullet.
“Some students need help learning the craft and finding their voice,” says Steve Watkins, who taught journalism at UMW for over two decades. “Rare others, like Stephanie, show up fully formed. The best you can do is point them in the right direction and get out of the way.”
After graduation, she worked for a variety of media outlets before using her writing and photography skills to land a gig covering D.C. restaurants and bars. “It became a beat I loved more than any other,” says Stephanie, whose career took off.
As dining editor at Richmond Magazine, she managed a team of 20 writers and produced award-winning work spotlighting an up-and-coming food scene, before heading back to the West Coast to work for Time Out Los Angeles. Then came the pandemic, wreaking havoc on eating establishments everywhere. Finding herself furloughed, Stephanie began freelancing for the Los Angeles Times.
Now a full-fledged reporter and news columnist, she captures the city’s culinary culture, from making Michelin announcements to introducing new fare at Disneyland. And she explores everything L.A. has to offer: Báhn mì and burritos, kimchi and kabobs, pizza and sandwiches piled high with pastrami.
“There’s no denying I’ve had some incredible meals, but we’re also covering food policy, history and culture,” Stephanie says, citing a piece she wrote about an L.A. Natural History Museum digital series highlighting the local bread-maker community.
Through her Mary Washington education, supported by the scholarships she earned, Stephanie learned to craft these types of narratives with the same kind of care she gave the Italian wedding soup she made with her grandmother, who passed away early this year. After eating a bowl from that last batch they’d created together, Stephanie wrote recently on Instagram, “I marveled at each meatball, knowing one of our hands had formed it, indistinguishable as to whose.”
Her penchant for such palatable prose, Stephanie says, is perfect for tackling topical themes like food waste and insecurity.
“One of the things I hope I can do more, and do more effectively, is telling the stories of people whose stories deserve to be told.”
– Article written by Assistant Director of Advancement Communications Jill Laiacona. Betty Emrey of Mindpower Inc. contributed to the reporting and writing of this story, which originally ran on the UMW news site.
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