Big news in the Philadelphia food world:

Columnist Rick Nichols has announced that he's leaving The Inquirer, where he's been covering the nuances of the region's food scene for 15 years.

"It hasn't just been a job," he says. "It's been a lifestyle."

Nichols, 64, started at the paper in 1978 after a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. He came to his food appreciation early while growing up in Mayfair, Levittown, and later Andover, Mass., before studies at the University of North Carolina. After covering a list of Inquirer news beats, he juggled editorial writing and food writing in the mid-1990s (for Inquirer Magazine) before moving onto the Food staff in 1995. His work was often anthologized in "Best Food Writing."

No regrets, he says. He intends to pursue his own writing and will contribute the occasional piece to The Inquirer, as well as teach journalism at Penn, and log some long-distance biking with his wife, Nancy Szokan, a former Inquirer editor who works part time at the Washington Post.

His column in tomorrow's Food section is a must-read.