The Food Network's glamorous Nina Griscom is one of the most unlikely food journalists in America

Nina Griscom has everything. She's beautiful, gracious, knows everyone and everything--and what she doesn't know she can find out with one phone call. She's the step-daughter of the American ambassador to France, the wife of a world-famous plastic surgeon and the mother of a five-year-old girl who's polite to guests. Griscom is a bold-faced name in the gossip columns, regularly photographed at charity balls, restaurant openings and White House dinners. She also has the sort of voice that has advertising agencies clamoring to use it in their next campaign. In short, she's pretty much living proof that life just isn't fair.

But what's most interesting about Griscom is that while she could lead practically any life she liked, she chose a career in the most democratic profession of all: food. Griscom, a self-described foodie, is the coanchor with Alan Richman (full disclosure: he's my husband) of the Food Network's restaurant show Dining Around. To do her job well, she hits the streets every day.

She can tell you where to find the most delicious po'boy in New Orleans (Uglesich's) or the best cheese steak in Philly (Beato's). She knows when the salmon start running up the Columbia River (in late February). She can counsel you on what to buy at a market in Marrakech or Milan and what butchers to avoid in the Marais district of Paris. She's forever jotting down information in a tiny Palm Pilot, an electronic device she attached with Velcro to the back of a Filofax. She later downloads the notes to her laptop. (She has exhausted three hard drives to date.) She is, in sum, a reliable source of how, what and where we eat in the Nineties.

How does Griscom make the transition from a life filled with paparazzi to one focused on pappardelle? "I grew up in a family that loved food," she explains. "Not only eating it but talking about it as well. Whenever we got together for
a meal, we immediately began planning the next one." Griscom clearly enjoys eating, though she's so slender that the evidence is only anecdotal. "I love things like foie gras, shepherd's pie, cassoulet. And marrow! Oh my God, marrow--with a spoon! That would be right up there among my last wishes," she enthuses. "You're not going to get me worked up over a piece of grilled fish."

Griscom goes out for dinner nearly every weekday
and often for lunch as well. The impetus is as much a personal passion as it is a professional obligation. Yet she has been known to cook at home from time to time. "When I do, I don't really plan a menu," she says. "I'm more the sort of person who goes to the market to see what's there." Still, she admits she's more apt to prepare a "nonmeal." "You need to restore," she explains. "It's nice sometimes to sit in your robe and eat a baked potato."

Griscom also entertains in spurts. As she says: "Every two months I might invite 40 people over, but it's more likely and more often that I'll have a dinner party for 10." And once or twice a year she'll stage a big-scale bash, such as the Moroccan party (featuring professional belly dancers) that she threw last summer for her husband, Dan. "You can only pull that off every now and then," she confides. "Those kinds of parties lose their impact if you do them too often."

And judging by the volume of viewer mail that she receives each week, it's safe to say that Griscom knows how to make an impact. She was one of the first female hosts on the Food Network when she joined nearly five years ago, having already accumulated considerable experience at CNBC and HBO. "The Food Network has changed a lot since those early days, beginning with its location, which was way west on 33rd Street," Griscom recalls. "I had to be there at fivein the morning for taping. The hookers were leaving as I was arriving. I thought to myself more than once, should I be going from HBO to hookers on 33rd Street?"

But it's clear that it was the right move and that Griscom has found her niche. When she and Richman tape Dining Around at the new (and much improved) Food Network studio on Sixth Avenue, she'll chat with the chefs whose food will be sampled on the show, swap restaurant stories with Richman and plan the remainder of her always busy week.

Meticulous planning is a necessity for a woman who schedules up to eight appointments in a day--on top of a full day's taping. And she's recently added courses in bridge and opera appreciation to her tightly packed schedule. "I think it's so easy to get in a rut as you grow older," Griscom says. "You begin to eliminate activities. I try to add them."

Except golf. Although her husband boasts a 9 handicap, Griscom has no intention of taking up the game: "I'd rather do just about anything else--eating, reading, kayaking. I'll definitely take up kayaking before I'll play golf."