Food Studies WEEK: Interview 5 – Writer / Cookbook Author

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Last spring, I was going through a bout of particularly persistent anxiety with a tinge of depression that left me constantly panicked, but lacking the motivation to do anything about it. It felt like I was going down the wrong paths in many aspects of my life. My therapist recommended more physical activity, so I started walking the 40 minutes to and from work. And I started listening to podcasts, my favorite being Radio Cherry Bombe on the Heritage Radio Network. I listened to dozens of conversations with inspiring women in food entrepreneurship, journalism, and social justice. Radio Cherry Bombe opened my eyes to all the career possibilities out there for women interested in food, and is probably a large part of why I started in the NYU Food Studies program.

On the other side of those conversations was Julia Turshen, host of Radio Cherry Bombe. Her kindness and intellect always shone through in her interviews, and you could tell she really loved each individual story and treasured her guests. I was enamored with her passion and looking for guidance, so I reached out on social media, and Julia graciously agreed to chat with me about my career path. While I’m still figuring it out, I’m definitely a step closer than I was back then, and I certainly owe her a debt of gratitude.

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In addition to her podcast work, Julia is most well known for being a home cook and writer, and one of her early claims to fame was coauthoring a cookbook with Gwyneth Paltrow. Since then, she has written her own cookbooks, including Small Victories, which was named one of the best books of 2016 by The New York Times and NPR. I have my own personal copy which she signed at an event last year, and its one of my most prized possessions.

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This year, Julia has been an active voice for social justice, particularly with her new cookbook Feed the Resistance, named the best cookbook of 2017 by Eater. I haven’t purchased my copy yet because I suspect it is being gifted to me this holiday season, but if I make it through December and remain book-less, it will be my first purchase of 2018. Also, she’s donating all proceeds from the book to the ACLU.

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I think that’s enough fangirling for now. I only asked Julia a few questions since I know she’s a busy lady, so without further ado…


Q: How long have you been in the food industry?
A: 10 years formally, but really my whole life.

Q: How did you end up here?
A: For me it wasn’t so much that I ended up in this field. I honestly never considered anything else and can’t imagine not doing what I do. I have loved food and cooking since before I can remember. I studied writing in college with the intention of writing about food and working on cookbooks.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in your work?
A: For me personally, it’s challenging not always knowing what’s next and managing irregular income. I think the largest problem the cookbook industry faces is a severe lack of diversity at every level from authors to agents, editors, photographers, and publishers.

Q: What do you like most about what you do?
A: Getting to tell stories.

Q: Any advice for budding writers?
A: It’s always important to remember that writers, even those of us who don’t employ anyone, are small business owners and we need to set ourselves up as such. Get an accountant, start an LLC, etc.

Q: If there was one thing you could change about your industry, what would that be?
A: I would change the range of perspectives and backgrounds of the folks in the rooms where the decisions happen.

Food Studies WEEK: Interview 4 – Chef

foodstudiesWEEKI am beyond thrilled to introduce today’s interviewee, Jeremy Salamon, executive chef of The Eddy in NYC. Jeremy is the little brother of my little brother’s childhood best friend. That’s tough to visualize, but I’ve essentially been watching Jeremy control the kitchen since he was a wee thing, whipping up dishes well beyond the comprehension of all the adults in the room. He’s worked in some of your favorite NYC kitchens like Buvette, Locanda Verde, and Prune, he hosted his own Hungarian-themed pop-up dinners, and he was even a guest judge on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race! Also, he’s only 23, so there goes your self-esteem.

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If you’re in NYC and want to have a really special meal in an intimate, cozy setting, do yourself a favor and go get the tasting menu at The Eddy. Jeremy is the kind of conscientious, hard-working chef you want to support, and I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next.

This interview covers some tougher concepts like mental health, so I opted out of adding my normal silly GIFs so Jeremy’s honest and thoughtful words can shine.


Q: How long have you worked at The Eddy?
A: About three years now. I started as a line cook, was then promoted to sous chef, and then I left to work on my own project. Soon after, I was asked to come back as executive chef.

Q: How did you end up working in restaurants?
A: No one in my family is in the industry, which is the more common way people come to food. I told my mother when I was 9 that I wanted to do this, but I don’t really know why. I think it has something to do with the fact that I knew my cooking brought my family together. Even when my father lost his business, and my brother was going through stuff, and my parents’ relationship was on the rocks, we all sat down together to eat. So I just associated food with good moments. I thought maybe if I could learn how to cook, I could help heal what was going on with my family.

Q: Wow, that’s so… honest and beautiful and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing that with me.
A: I guess that’s the honest answer, because otherwise I really don’t know. I think about it sometimes, when I’m like, “Why the fuck am I in this industry?” Because it’s kind of terrible.

Q: Speaking of being terrible, what are a few of the major challenges in your work?
A: Definitely communication. Being able to communicate is such a priority and required skill, and if you can believe it or not, there are so many people who lack communication skills. Whether it’s a cook, general manager, waiter, or vendor, if just one small detail is missing, it could really screw up your entire day.

Being able to manage stress, which is something I am learning how to do, and how to be positive for everyone else in the kitchen is also challenging. One negative person can really bring down the entire house. And more so in this industry, people take their work home with them. Some people only have a few hours of sleep and then they get up and do breakfast service at 5AM and don’t get out until 8PM – people take the drama and stress home with them. That’s why industry suicides have really gone up in the last couple of years, and chefs are just starting to be more conscious of mental health. Being sober and anti-drugs is such a big thing now. But now that people don’t have alcohol and drugs to turn to, they don’t quite know what to do with all the stress and where to put it.

Q: I’m glad to hear mental health awareness in the kitchen is on the rise, even if there’s a ways to go. So there must be something about your work that you like if you stick with it. What do you like most about being a chef and working in a restaurant? 
A: First and foremost for me, really honestly, is being able to feed people. Genuine people. I think there are many types of diners in a restaurant, as there are many types of people in the world. When you get a really genuine family, or a pair on a date, or an older couple that’s celebrating their anniversary, it’s so rewarding when they’re into the food and the experience. I love getting a chance to be a part of that celebration, just like I got to be a part of when my brother graduated high school or when my parents had an anniversary. It brought me pleasure to be able to make a cake for my parents or cook a dinner for my brother. So I feel like I’m being somewhat welcomed into their life just a little bit, and for me, that’s a pleasure.

I also love that I’ve gotten to meet so many people through restaurants. I’ve met authors who were writing books and have gone on to publish them. I’ve met famous actors. I’ve met other cooks who are now also executive chefs. Just being able to talk and spend time with people and learn from them is a pleasure for me.

Q: For people like me who have never actually worked in a kitchen, what is the structure and what does executive chef mean? What are some of the other roles in the kitchen?
A: An executive chef is the president of the kitchen. They oversee all the departments, have the final say, and can veto dishes and ideas. Right underneath them is the sous chef which is like the vice president. So when I’m not there, the sous chef steps into my role. The sous chef manages more of the cooks and helps out with the ordering. Below sous chef, there would be almost 100 positions in a classic French kitchen including junior sous chef, lead line cook, grill cook, saute cook, and a garde manger (which is the person who preps all of the cold items).

Q: How does a general day work?
A: The Eddy is only open for dinner service, but we open up at about 9AM, which is when a porter or dishwasher arrives. They start breaking down boxes, cleaning up windows, mopping – all that fun stuff. But the porter also receives all the deliveries that have been ordered from the night before. Those can come in anywhere from 9AM to 3PM. By 12PM, I come in with my sous chef and we’ll start getting the kitchen prepped and set up.

Around 2PM, the other cooks start to come in. We have a team meeting and then we’ll talk about the day, what happened yesterday, what’s on the agenda for today and tomorrow, and what we need to grab from the farmer’s market. Then we’ll do prep and create family meal, which the entire staff eats around 4:30PM. We always have a pre-service meeting, so that includes the general manager, owner, and the waitstaff. We talk about new dishes, new beverages, wine, and service etiquette. Then we open our doors at 5:30PM until about 11PM. I’m there expediting on the line.

Q: What’s expediting?
A: Expediting means I’m calling out the tickets, what’s fired, and what’s ready to walk out the door, where I finish the plates. Since The Eddy’s a pretty small kitchen, I cook and I expedite. Normally I’m working the meat station where I’m in charge of all the entrees and proteins. But at the same time, I have to call out orders, and I have to approve every plate that walks out of the kitchen. I do a lot of multitasking.

Around 11PM or midnight depending on how busy it is, we start to break down. Then we clean up the kitchen and write a list for the next day. Me and my sous chef will place the orders to our different vendors. The last people to leave are usually the dishwasher and the bartender.

Q: You mentioned family meal. I’m just always entranced by this concept of family meal. What is the typical family meal?
A: It always changes depending on the cooks. I really like it when we have a different cook every day that gets to create their own family meal for the staff. I feel like they can express themselves and try out new dishes, or maybe they want to make something that they actually make for their family.

An example of family meal is if we have some leftover chicken, we’ll roast it with this sausage I get from Local Bushel, one of our produce vendors from upstate NY. Sometimes I’ll make fresh cheese and cut some bread up and make a big salad. We normally keep it simple, but I had one cook make this really amazing curry with ginger. It was really luxurious and he made his own naan, so people can get pretty fancy. And other times it’s pretty casual, like taco Tuesday.

Q: If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
A: That is a loaded finale question! I wish that – and I’m saying this as if there was a genie in front of me that is asking – I wish everyone had the same day off, so the restaurant was closed for a day or two. We’d have to really consider the finances and the practicality of that, but I do really wish it was possible. That way, nobody has to deal with work pestering them, because we spend so many hours there. That’s my wish, Genie.

 

A Love Letter to Cooking Your Own Damn Food

November 9th, 2016 was a day few Americans will ever forget. And now we’re all looking for ways to feel less helpless, less at the whim of a government that doesn’t seem to share any of the values of the majority of its constituents. We can and should protest, write letters, make phone calls, run for office, and donate to the charities that need us to keep fighting. But sometimes it feels overwhelming. Every day spent not doing something to resist the new administration feels wasted. And you get deeper and deeper into a shame spiral about your inaction, which makes you do less, and then you feel guilty again, and YADA YADA you get the picture.

So here’s a radical idea if you’re feeling like you’re not in control of your destiny:

COOK YOUR OWN DAMN FOOD BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING EMPOWERING.

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Queen Bey agrees.

Make choices. Go to a farmer’s market and speak to the growers about their work. Take home some ugly produce because you’re not shallow – you care about what’s ON THE INSIDE. Buy organic meat at the supermarket. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you vote with your dollars. Organic, local farmers are going to need our help when agriculture gets even more deregulated and garbage meat filled with hormones and poison floods the market. Get a beautiful cookbook, a real one, in print, written by a person that cares about their work and their environment. (Might I suggest Small Victories by Julia Turshen who is a true boss?)

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My most prized possession

Spend a day figuring out an ambitious recipe. Roast a whole fucking chicken. Make something slowly with ingredients you’ve never used, like this Slow Cooker Coconut Lemongrass Chicken (pictured below). Prove to yourself that you are an effective human, and even if the whole world goes up in flames, you have the control to create something beautiful and nourishing for you and your loved ones.

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Did you know you’re supposed to smack the shit out of lemongrass before you use it to release the oils?

This is what I’ve done so far. But I know my knowledge of the food issues affecting our country – food waste, industrialized agriculture, the cost of healthy food, food deserts, unfair wages, and many more – is limited. So I’ve applied to the Masters of Food Studies program at NYU, and G-d willing, I’ll be starting part-time in the fall.

Moving forward, this blog will have a bit more substance. It’ll still be snarky and weird and sometimes crude, but there’s a time and place for lists of the 22 Best New Cantaloupe Dishes of January 2017 (maybe?), and this isn’t it.

The universe might keep throwing 🍆 at us, but let’s not be afraid to make a damn good 🍆 parm.

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Eggplant, not dicks, you sicko.