Interview with Chef + Author, Julia Turshen

Flipping through Julia Turshen's latest creation, Feed The Resistance, I am in awe of the amazing collection of recipes and stories she has put together. As soon as I saw the book was available for pre-order last fall, I reserved my copy. I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book, which has been named 2017 cookbook of the year by Eater, made multiple other best book lists, and whose sale proceeds go to benefit the ACLU. Not only does FTR include some of Julia's own recipes for comforting home-cooked foods (Sheet Pan Sausage, Potatoes + Red Cabbage, Thai Yellow Curry Vegetable Pot, Pizza Frittata for a Crowd, and Angel Food Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce - YUM!), but it offers recipes for other delicious dishes like Dark Roux Mushroom Gumbo (Bryant Terry), Tikka Masala Macaroni + Cheese (Preeti Mistry), Persistence Biscuits (Erika Council), and Chocolate Espresso Pie Bars (Cheryl Day) by cooks from around the country. Even more, the book is seasoned throughout with powerful narratives about the intersection of food and activism such as "How Food Can Impact Communities" by Caleb Zigas and "How Food Can Be A Platform For Activism" by Shakirah Simley. Julia even includes super simple guides detailing just how you can help resist like her list of "Ten Ways To Engage That Aren't So Obvious". FTR is just one example of how Julia melds her passion and talent for cooking with her care for community and drive to foster social justice. She shows that it's easy to do what you love and make the world a better place at the same time, and I'm so thrilled I was able to speak with her further about FTR, her other cookbooks and collaborations, her home, and more! 

 Photo credit: Gentl & Hyers

Photo credit: Gentl & Hyers

 This photo and all others below via  Julia's instagram

This photo and all others below via Julia's instagram

How did you discover your love of cooking and food? Do you remember the first dish you cooked?

I honestly can't remember when because I've loved to cook for my whole life. I literally can't remember a time when I wasn't drawn to food and specifically to the kitchen. No particular thing stands out as the first thing I cooked, but I do remember a lot of scrambled eggs, chicken cutlets, and hash-browned potatoes when I was very young and teaching myself how to cook.

Can you tell us about your first cookbook, Small Victories, and how and why you developed it? 

Sure! It came out in September 2016, and it's full of recipes that hopefully have gotten people excited to cook at home and, most importantly, comfortable in their kitchens. Each recipe has a 'small victory,' or a tip or technique that helps to demystify cooking, plus 'spin-offs' on each recipe, which are a bunch of variations. So, the idea is once you know the tip or technique, not only can you make the recipe, you can also make so many other things. Cooking is infinitely empowering.

This past year you released Feed the Resistance, with proceeds from the sale going to the ACLU - how amazing! The cookbook not only has recipes from several different contributors of varied backgrounds, but it includes articles like "How Food Can Impact Communities" and "How Food Can Help End Recidivism" - I absolutely love it. How did you first conceive of this project? In your introduction you wrote, "I hope you get as much out of reading this book as I got out of putting it together." What did you learn from this project, and what has the response from readers been?

Thanks! I first thought of the book after the most recent presidential election and a major feeling of wanting to contribute something positive and productive to the national conversation about how combining food with activism is a recipe we can all get behind. I learned so, so much from this project including how to be a better listener, how to be a more productive and active activist in my own community, and how to support other people doing similar work.

In addition to Small Victories and Feed The Resistance, you've worked with others on cookbooks such as: It's All Good with Gwyneth Paltrow and the Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook - what have these collaborations been like for you? What are some things you love about collaborative efforts with others? How is the process different from writing a cookbook on your own, besides the obvious? 

Each collaboration has been totally different and I've learned a lot from each. I guess that's what I love most about collaborating with other people— I get to not only learn different recipes, I also get to learn so many stories. Collaborating on cookbooks is a whole different animal than authoring your own, and I really enjoy them both. One is very extroverted, the other is quite a quiet process. I like doing a mix.

 Julia with Angel Food East volunteers

Julia with Angel Food East volunteers

You and your wife, Grace Bonney of Design Sponge, volunteer regularly at a non-profit in the Hudson Valley where you live called Angel Food East - can you tell us more about the work you all do there and what inspired you to get involved?

Sure! Angel Food East is a great organization that's almost like a local version of Meals on Wheels. We prepare homemade meals for clients who are homebound with chronic illnesses, and along with a whole other set of volunteers, we deliver the meals along with some other groceries. I have always volunteered regularly wherever I have lived, and food offers us so many ways to support our communities whether through something like Angel Food East, or through supporting your local farmers, helping at your town's food pantry, or running for local office and addressing any issues in your local food systems.

Who are three women that you look up to, that have inspired you, creatively and otherwise in your life? 

My wife, my mom, and my childhood babysitter Jennie who I am still very close to. 

 Julia with her wife, Grace

Julia with her wife, Grace

 Julia with her mother

Julia with her mother

What advice do you have for someone who is not at all culinarily-apt or inclined but wants to make cooking and food a part of their lives?

It doesn't have to be complicated to be satisfying.

Okay, favorites time!
Favorite ingredient that's not a spice? 
Olive oil
Favorite spice? Is salt a spice? If so, salt, and if not I'll go with dried oregano, which is really an herb, so I will go with cinnamon. 
Favorite dish to make? 
Anything for my wife 
Favorite dish to eat? 
Anything my wife cooks 
Favorite tool in your kitchen? 
My hands
Favorite time to cook? Afternoon 
Favorite place to cook? 
My kitchen 
Favorite place to eat out? 
My kitchen

How do you develop new recipes?

I write them first, and then I test them.

What does a dream day relaxing and not working look like for you?

No computer, no phone, a nap, an afternoon cooking dinner, and then eating that meal outside with my wife while our dogs run around.

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What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

Currently reading a collection of essays and interviews about Edna Lewis and listening to Still Processing

Can you share with our readers some of your favorite spots in the Hudson Valley? Shops, restaurants, sites?

Top Taste or Sylvia's for Jamaican food, Rossi's for sandwiches, Long Season Farm for produce, Arrowood for beer, Westwind Orchard for apples and maple syrup and pizza in the summer, and Lagusta's Commissary whether or not you're vegan.

If you could prepare and host a dinner party for any 5 people-dead or alive-what would you make, who would be there, and why? 

Do dogs count?

Last question! What does feminism mean to you? 

It means an intersectional understanding of, and championing of, womens' rights, gender equality, and equity for women of color. It means more seats at a longer table.