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Read the transcript of the Eater Upsell Season 2, Episode 10: Julia Turshen, edited to just the interview, below. For more from Greg and Helen, including a brief but reverent examination of Cheers more than two decades after the series ended
Greg Morabito: Our guest on the Eater Upsell today is Julia Turshen.
Helen Rosner: Hi Julia!
Julia Turshen: Hey, I’m so glad to be here.
Helen: Julia is a cookbook author and recipe writer and all around brilliant food person.
Julia: Oh, thank you.
Greg: Brilliant food person, brilliant collaborator to many big names, and somebody who has contributed and is responsible for some of the great cookbooks, I think, of the last five, six years.
Helen: Including Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks.
Julia: Yeah, I worked with her on the first two, and then Buvette with Jody [Williams], that was a really fun one. What did I do? Dana Cowin’s book I worked on, Hot Bread Kitchen, and a whole of stuff.
Helen: Some of the best books of the last couple of years.
Julia: That’s great to hear, I’m so glad you think so.
Greg: Just from the jump here, I’m very curious about this process of writing a cookbook with not just a chef, but a personality. Because these books have a lot of personality, it’s about more than just the recipes and the food. It’s a lifestyle, it’s reflecting the person that you’re working with. How do you start a project like this?
Julia: It’s an interesting point. Food has been my everything. My whole life I’ve always loved to cook. I’ve always loved cookbooks. And my joke about it is that I don’t really care what we eat. So I love food, but I think to me the most compelling thing is the story behind the food, which is I think why I love cookbooks so much. So whoever I’m working with, or if I’m working on my own book, to me the story is just as important as the recipe, and the voice is just as important as the food. So getting the opportunity to work with so many different people has been this great thing. Getting to know different stories and voices — that’s really appealing to me.
"To me the story is just as important as the recipe, and the voice is just as important as the food."
Helen: With these books, how does the process begin? Do you have existing friendships with the people you collaborate with?
Julia: Each time has been different. There hasn’t been a formula, at least for me, for writing a book or starting the process. A funny way to sum it up is that I’ve never really written a resume — it’s all word-of-mouth. The first few books I worked on were definitely personal relationship-driven, and and a couple years ago I started working with a literary agent, who I adore, who’s awesome, and has made my life a lot easier. Because I get to just do the work I love, and she gets to do the work she loves, which is all the stuff I don’t love. She gets to figure out contracts and agreements and stuff like that. Sometimes it comes from collaborative projects, sometimes from the authors I’m working with directly. Maybe we knew each other before, they reach out to me, or I reach out to them. Sometimes they come through editors and publishers I’ve worked with. Like, "Oh, hey, I’m working on this thing, we need someone to step in to help with this part of it, or these parts of it." It’s all different avenues.
Helen: And you have your own cookbook coming out this fall, right?
Julia: I do. September 6. Small Victories.
Helen: Small Victories, it’s so beautiful. We’re looking at it right now and it has this incredibly nourishing, beautiful, homey, comforting bowl of chicken soup on the cover.
Julia: It’s my favorite food ever.
Greg: It’s such a good cover, I gotta say.
Julia: Thank you.
Greg: I really want to learn how to make that, but is actually seems like it’s too soulful for me to know how to make it.
Julia: It is no too soulful, you can learn how to do it! You can totally do it. This soup is actually my Aunt Renée’s chicken soup recipe — my Aunt Renée who sadly is no longer with us. But her soup still is. It really is my favorite food, and so much of this book is so personal. And we’re talking about the stories behind the recipes, so this to me is the most important recipe. It’s simple, but it means the most to me, so it felt like the right thing to put right on the cover.
Helen: We get dozens and dozens of cookbooks a week in the Eater office, they just pile up on my desk and spill over onto Greg’s desk, and he’s very patient with that. And so many of their covers — every cover is different, but they all have a very similar visual language, where there will be a beautiful, perfect, kind of aspirational-y, Pinterest-y cover, and your cover —
Julia: I love Pinterest as an adjective.
Helen: It totally is, right? If it’s in a mason jar, it’s Pinterest-y.
Helen: But I think your cover is also beautiful and aspirational, gorgeously styled, and gorgeously photographed. But it’s a rustic bowl of chicken noodle soup. This is not fucking around.
Julia: Yeah, yeah.
Helen: It is beautiful, but it’s not trying to be beautiful.
Julia: Oh, I’m glad to hear that.
Helen: It immediately jumped out.
Julia: Oh, thank you, that’s really great to hear. That’s sort of like, mission accomplished. I worked with the most amazing photographers, Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers, who are this awesome husband-and-wife team. Just awesome people, and also as talented as they are kind and cool. We shot the entire book, including the cover, at my house. And for me, being able to do that felt really meant to be. I really feel like it’s from my kitchen to yours. It’s my home and my kitchen and the food I make. I hope it’s delicious, but I don’t think there’s anything intimidating. It’s all real casual and relaxed.
Helen: So this is your first book with just your own name on the cover, right?
Julia: Just me, yeah.
Helen: What was different?
Julia: It was different because it was a lot quieter. It was me and my kitchen and my computer, and not me in conversation with other people. It was a more private, intimate experience writing the manuscript, which I really loved. And then doing the photographs was this great moment of bringing the book to life. Doing the photo shoot for a cookbook is always the best week in the process, because it’s existed as a Word document for months or years or however long, and then all of a sudden, you see it come to life, and it’s really exciting. To see my own recipes and stories, to see that happen, felt very surreal. And again, I mentioned we shot it at — my wife and I live in upstate New York, and we moved just in time for the photo shoot, which wasn’t the plan, but it worked out. So Andrea and Marty and their amazing team stayed with us, and my friend Larry helped me, who lives near us, so we had camp cookbook for a week.
Helen: It totally sounds like summer camp.
Julia: Yeah, it was pretty great, it was wonderful.
Helen: That’s so fun. Did you miss — I imagine that collaborating with someone on a cookbook gives you as the — what do you think of yourself as, the co-author?
Julia: It depends, but yeah.
Helen: That gives you some sort of structure and direction, and maybe helps answer a lot of the questions. It doesn’t really matter what you would want to say, what matters what they would want to say, so you can abdicate certain emotional responsibilities for the content.
Julia: Yeah, it’s a nice world to be in often because I get to be just as invested. I’ve been really lucky to work on books that I care about, and with people that I adore. But it also lets me be objective in a way where it’s like, we’ve got a deadline and I’m there to be the one who hands things in. If I were to put anything on a resume, it’s just that I live by deadlines and I always respect them. Because I feel like if I don’t, I would never be done with anything. So I always see that as my role, to keep things on track.
Greg: Were you on track with your own book?
Julia: I was, I was.
Helen: Wait, are you literally the only author who’s ever turned in her manuscript on time?
Julia: I just turned — this is hysterical. I’m working on a book right now with these great guys, I wonder if you guys know them? Tom [Moorman] and Larry [McGuire], who ran all these restaurants in Austin, and they have Perla’s and Josephine House, and we’ve been working on their Elizabeth Street Café book, and I just handed it in a year early.
Helen: A year early?
Julia: I mean, it’s not done, it’s just the first draft, and there’s a lot to be done. But it was kind of a hysterical moment of —
Helen: Literally a year early.
Julia: I wanted to give it my all before Small Victories publicity eruption begins, so we just dove into it. But they were game to do that, so it was great.
Greg: No wonder everyone wants to work with you.
Helen: You’re crushing it, I want to hire you to do everything here, too. We never hit anything on time.
Julia: My whole life has been very punctual. My mom said when I was a kid, my favorite game was to take the tops off the markers and then put them back on. I don’t know what it is about my personality that enjoys that, but I guess I’m able to use it to my advantage.
Helen: I guess you really love getting your mise en place all set, all the organizational aspects.
Julia: Yeah, and timing. Everything about Small Victories is all about home cooking, it’s the thing that I believe in most strongly and it’s part of my everyday life. And when I talk to people about cooking, and if they want to cook more but they’re intimidated or something — to me, cooking each thing isn’t the hard part. It’s timing everything that’s really the difficult thing. I think timing is a really interesting thing to talk about, but that’s why I think everything’s good at room temperature. Just make it ahead.
"The worst thing you can do to cooking is give a disclaimer."
Helen: I’m always really bad at making a menu. I’m great at picking one dish that I really want to make, or even five dishes that I want to make, but they have no coherence, they don’t make sense together.
Helen: And whenever I throw a dinner party, I’m like, "Okay, I know what my main course is, and now I just have no idea what else is happening."
Julia: Yeah. I like when that main course becomes like your anchor, and everything else can be super simple, like greens with lemon and olive oil and a loaf of bread or something. It doesn’t —
Helen: Those are the two things that I go with. I’m just like, "Here’s a hunk of meat or a bowl of pasta." Or no, pasta messes everything up, because then I can’t do bread on the side.
Helen: And then I’m just spiraling in darkness.
Julia: You can do bread on the side.
Helen: You do pasta with bread on the side?
Helen: You don’t think that’s aggressive?
Julia: I mean, it’s delicious.
Greg: It’s not a Top Chef competition or something. It’s people eating at your house.
Helen: I’m very competitive with my dinner parties.
Greg: I’ve never cooked for a dinner party in my life before.
Helen: What, really?
Greg: Yeah, never. I’ve had people over, and I make one thing.
Helen: What do you make?
Greg: It’s a pasta, or something like that. Or a big piece of meat.
Julia: You two with your hunks of meat!
Helen: It’s just easy, and it looks very dramatic. I cook very differently when I’m cooking for — I apologize to literally everyone who knows me who’s about to listen to this. I cook very differently for my food world friends than for my civilian friends.
Julia: Yeah, I get that.
Helen: I’m terrified to cook for my food friends, because they’re gonna judge — even though I know they’re not, because I would never judge them.
Helen: We all talk all the time about how whenever we go to non-food world peoples’ homes for dinner, they’re always apologizing, or being like, "Oh, I’m so sorry, I know that this isn’t foie gras with truffles." And I’m like, "No, like I love it. You made it with love."
Julia: No, I always think the worst thing you can do to cooking is give a disclaimer. I think inviting anyone to your home and cooking for them is such an act of love, and I know how much I love to do it. I also know how much I love to be on the receiving end of it, and there’s nothing to apologize for. Again, I think the food is a means to an end. It’s like a means to get people in your home, which is a wonderful thing to do.
Greg: These dishes, do you have to go to a good small market to get these ingredients? Are these supermarket things? Is it a mix of the two?
Julia: I’m gonna give you a longer answer to that question. I mentioned that my wife Grace and I live now in upstate New York, and we moved from Brooklyn. Previous to that, I lived in Manhattan for most of my life, and I’ve always tried to be aware of the New York cooking world and bubble, and access to ingredients. Like, "What do you mean, not everyone can go to Kalustyan’s and get this amazing spice?" Now that we live outside of that, it’s been very helpful for me, as someone who creates recipes, because if I can’t get it at the supermarket in my tiny town, I’m either not gonna call for it, or if I do call for it, I’ll tell you exactly why and also give you a substitution. Because I don’t like being unapproachable, that’s not something I feel comfortable with.
Helen: I think telling the reader why is so cool, and so crucial, and so missing from so many books.
Helen: I have a lot of high-minded thoughts about recipes. But the way that recipes are structured, particularly in the trend of cookbooks for the last ten years or so, is headnotes are usually a lovely personal anecdote, and there’s a lot of evocative adjectives about aroma or whatever, and then it’s a list of ingredients and a list of instructions. And it’s rare that you get into the coherence of the dish, what’s actually happening in a non-science-y way. So that’s so wonderful, like, "Here’s what the saffron brings." "Here’s why it’s worth it to get za’atar," or whatever it might be.
Julia: Yeah, yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more and it was a bit of a guiding principle with Small Victories, because I’d been thinking about doing my own book for a while, and I had this list of recipes and dishes — I’ve always kept, in a very loose, not organized way, counter to my marker story — I’ve always kept track of things I’ve cooked. And so I had this group of recipes I was thinking about. But it took me a minute to get the hook of what would tie them together, and also offer something that I felt like I hadn’t quite seen before in this kind of package, which for me was this idea of small victories. Every single recipe has that personal headnote and there’s an anecdote and it’s super personal — a lot about food I grew up with — and food I now make for my family. But every recipe’s also introduced with, I’m doing air quotes, a "small victory," which is a tip or a technique. So every recipe has this very grounded purpose to it. I feel like there’s all these lessons in it, so it’s emotional and it’s personal and anecdotal and all that, but it’s also a really practical book, so I’m happy about that.
Helen: Talk to us about this idea of small victories. I love that.
Julia: My other running joke is I love coming up with book title names, and I really want to do a book of just book titles, but not actually write the books. Just concepts. So "small victories" was just this great way to approach cooking, and I think Small Victories the cookbook is a great book for beginners or anyone a little bit uncomfortable in the kitchen, or scared, or just starting. But there’s a lot for really seasoned cooks as well. Each recipe has the small victory that introduces it. A lot of them are just super practical tips and stuff, things like — the example I always use is getting the seeds out of a pomegranate without making a mess.
Helen: What’s your method for that?
Julia: Underwater, a bowl of water.
Helen: Yes! I love that method.
Julia: Yeah, and that white stuff —
Helen: And all the pit stuff floats to the top-
Julia: Exactly, you got it. And it just makes sense. Then they are already rinsed and ready to go. And then some of the small victories are a little bit more — I hate to use the word theoretical, because they’re not highfalutin — but there’s one in the dessert chapter, there’s a peach and bourbon milkshake, and the story behind that was I’d made this peach and bourbon ice cream. Well I thought I did. I used to work as a private chef, and it was a very high-pressure dinner party setting, and I made this ice cream, I thought it was going to be a hit — it was like the middle of summer, the peaches were fresh, blah blah blah, all that. And then I took it out of the freezer and it hadn’t frozen, because I put too much bourbon — which isn’t actually a thing. But I had this moment of panic, like, "Oh no, the thing I made that I thought was gonna be great is not what I thought." And then I was just like, "Well, if I put it in glasses and not bowls, and use straws and not spoons, they’re delicious milkshakes." It’s this funny dessert that maybe isn’t that expected. And everyone loved them. So the small victory with that is sometimes you just need to call something something else, and that to me is a small victory. So the small victories come in all sorts of forms. But it’s also just a nice way to approach the kitchen, and it’s a little cheesy, but it’s a nice way to approach life. Finding these small moments of achievement, stopping to pause, and celebrate them. It’s a good way to go.
Greg: How long did you work as a private chef?
Julia: On and off for maybe like five, six years, something like that? Starting out of college. I would say more than five, less than ten.
Greg: Did you like it?
Julia: I did it in a lot of different ways. My favorite was — when I still lived in New York — I had a few clients who I would go to their apartment, and just cook and basically leave the refrigerator as if they had gone to a prepared food store, but it’s food specifically prepared for them. That was nice, because again, talking about timing of recipes, nothing had to be done. I wasn’t serving dinner, and normally I would get to just be in these beautiful kitchens, and work by myself, and put music on, and come and go as I pleased, so that to me is the best way to be a private chef, because it’s on your own schedule and stuff. And then the more cooking-for-a-dinner-party thing I always found a little bit stressful. But there’s something kind of fun about having that adrenaline, and I never thought I’d be able to pull it off, but then I would, so that would feel good. But it was a little too much for me.
Greg: Would your clients always say like, "Hey, this is really good, I like this." Or was it more just cooking for them but not getting feedback?
Julia: There was a lot of good, positive feedback, and I think the thing that I got out of those experiences — private chef-ing — was I was cooking in peoples’ homes. Everything for me comes back to home cooking. And anyone who’s hiring a private chef, this is like a high end moment. But they’re not hiring me to — I’m not Eric Ripert, I’m not gonna come in and make amazingly beautiful restaurant food, that’s not my background. I’m the wrong person if you want that to happen. So people are hiring me to make good, home-cooked food in their home. So I’ve made a lot of meatballs. I’ve made a lot of Caesar salad dressing, that kind of stuff. It was a really great experience of getting to see other families up close, and cook in other kitchens. It gave me a little bit more understanding of home cooking in different settings. It also made me really appreciate any time I could cook in my own home. It gave that even more meaning.
Greg: Did you ever work in a professional kitchen?
Julia: I’ve spent a lot of time in them, working with people like Jody from Buvette on her book. I worked with the Fat Radish guys on theirs. I’ve spent time, while working on restaurant books, in those kitchens, but no, I’ve never worked in a restaurant.
Helen: The line about co-authoring restaurant cookbooks that we hear all the time is that you just sort of perch on a stool in the corner of the kitchen, and watch what they do, and turn it into a recipe. Is that how it was for you?
"A chef is someone who does something physical for a living. You’re not gonna get the great stories unless you put something in their hands and give them something to do."
Julia: It depends. It’s different on each one. That was definitely true with Jody, who’s one of my favorite people, just in the world, period. One of my favorite people I’ve worked with. Jody — and for anyone who’s listening, she runs Buvette in New York and now also in Paris, and she has Via Carota with Rita [Sodi].
Greg: Just the best restaurants.
Julia: Yeah, and she and Rita are just the coolest, greatest. Jody’s like one of the funniest — I could just go on and on about Jody. I think Jody is truly a genius, and all of this genius exists in her head. My job as her collaborator on her cookbook was to get some of this genius from her head onto a page. So it was definitely being literally perched on a stool. We worked a lot out of actually Rita’s kitchen at I Sodi because they are not open for business during the day, where Buvette is. And it was pretty magical. Jody would cook, I would sit on the stool, I would watch her. I’ve gotten really good at taking notes while other people are cooking, and approximating things, and kind of slipping in a measuring cup where I can, and just being able to eyeball stuff. So I would take notes on what she was cooking. But it was also a really nice time to talk to her about what she was cooking, and get all the stories that informed the headnotes and all that. I think a chef is someone who does something physical for a living, and the idea of just sitting down with them, the way we three are sitting down right now, and just talking, and asking about their dishes, you’re not gonna get the great stories. You have to put something in their hands and give them something to do. So talking to Jody while she was cooking allowed me to really get the best stories out of her. That was that sort of that experience.
But on other restaurant books I’ve done, some restaurants already have things written down, so I take the kitchen binder and translate it, which is a lot of math — which I never thought was something I was good at, but I can do it for kitchen stuff. A lot of restaurant recipes are written to huge scales. They’re always written in grams, and there’s very little instruction, because they’re recipes written usually by a chef for other chefs. If I were to say I have any specialty, it’s writing stuff for home cooks. So I spend a lot of time — I think of it as translation. It’s taking this one language and turning it into another. So it’s different each time.
Helen: Are there things that you wish restaurant chefs understood about how home cooks cook?
Julia: It’s funny, I think they’re really different things. And I think there’s an expectation that a lot of restaurant chefs will be able to produce recipes for home cooks like it’s a one-to-one thing, and it really isn’t. There are people like me who could help you do that if that’s what you want to do, but I think it’s also okay if that isn’t the case. There are plenty of things I love to eat in restaurants that — and I feel comfortable cooking most things — but I don’t want to make at home. And part of the reason I love eating in a restaurant is I don’t have to do the work that goes into it. But if there’s something I wish in general they knew more about — maybe just to make it easier for them, when they’re asked to write the recipes — it’s remembering that the home cook has to do everything. They’re the ones shopping for it. They’re the ones cleaning the vegetables, meat, or whatever it is. They’re the one serving it. They’re the ones washing the dishes. At a restaurant, there’s usually a lot of people involved in that chain, and at home, it’s just usually one person. Keeping that in mind, to simplify things, and knowing a simple version of what you do at a restaurant can be great for at home. It doesn’t have to be the exact same thing.
Helen: Like I said, I have very high-minded thoughts about recipes, but I tend to think that cookbooks fall generally into one of two categories: Either descriptive or prescriptive.
Julia: That’s a very good way to sum them up, I like that.
Helen: Descriptive cookbooks are like, Eleven Madison Park or Alinea. They’re documents of how something happens, or sometimes they’re that giant gorgeous Thai street food book from a couple years ago. They’re documents of a place and a time. And you could maybe cook from them at home, but the purpose of the cookbook is not for you to cook from them. And then prescriptive cookbooks are like, "Here’s how to do this thing, we expect that you’re gonna do it." And as soon as I realized this, all cookbooks started to make sense to me.
Julia: Yeah, yeah.
Helen: But I wish so deeply that it would just say right on the cover, like, "Here is what I expect you to do with this book."
Julia: Oh, which one it was. It could be two sections of the store!
Greg: Put this on the shelf in your kitchen, or put this on the coffee table.
Julia: Exactly, yeah. I’ve always thought about that distinction, too. And to me, if you’re gonna divide the world into two things, which is always tempting to do to understand things —
Greg: Yes, let’s!
Julia: Let’s make a big list! But I feel exactly what you said. I’ve always thought of it like you go to a cookbook either for inspiration or information.
Helen: That’s so good. And also a rhyme. This is great, we got it.
Julia: More on our book title list.
Helen: Because if you look at the Amazon reviews for some of these door-stopper tomes that are these documents of a moment in time or in space, the majority of the reviews will be people saying, "This is amazing, and it was a great souvenir of the incredible meal we all had at Eleven Madison Park." And then every so often there will be someone being like, "I do not understand how you expect me to make this for my family on a Thursday."
Julia: Yeah. I kind of think — not that anyone’s asking me about what my solution is for it — but I feel like with the coffee table books, the descriptive, inspiring ones, I kind of wish there wasn’t the expectation that they need to even have recipes. I know how much work it takes to write a recipe, to test it, to make it functional. And if they’re not gonna be used, part of me wonders if it’s worth putting in the work to make them. Maybe it’s beautiful photographs of the recipes, stories about what they are, how they came up with them, maybe some notes on the technique —
Helen: Do you think people would still buy them?
Julia: I want someone to do one and see how it goes, maybe it’ll be a hit. You never know. Just in general in life, I think there’s a lot of expectations and rules we all follow without even realizing it, and I think in creating cookbooks, that’s one. "Every cookbook needs to have recipes." Maybe they don’t, I don’t know.
Greg: I would love the beautiful coffee table book that doesn’t have recipes. But I’ll also say, I’ve met a lot of chefs, including chefs that work in scrappy restaurants in Brooklyn, who have the Noma cookbook and Modernist Cuisine. And they’re like, "That’s how I learned to cook, man. I just flipped through those books. I was like, ‘I’m gonna make Alinea, or whatever.’"
Greg: Which is kind of weird. I’m like, "Really, that’s how you learned to cook? That’s a very protracted way of learning technique, but —"
Julia: Yeah. I think a lot of those fancy restaurant cookbooks definitely are written by chefs for other chefs, which is again, totally fine. Not every cookbook has to be written for the home cook. I just think, from what I understand — and I could totally be wrong, and it would be interesting to speak to a publisher about this — but I think home cooks are just a larger buying audience than chefs, so that’s appealing.
Greg: I haven’t talked to every chef that’s made a fancy coffee table cookbook, but I do feel like the impetus for a lot of them is not to make a recipe book. It is just to have this fancy souvenir of this time in their life when their restaurant was hot shit, you know?
Julia: For sure. And I think those are the books that a lot of restaurants will display in the front of the restaurant. It’s like, "Hey, I’ve got this in my collection." It’s the way people with record collections, that kind of thing. Sneakers, whatever it is.
Helen: It’s like buying the t-shirt when you go see the Broadway show or the concert.
Julia: Totally, yeah.
Helen: Because you’re spending this much money to go to the restaurant, plus presumably in a lot of these cases, to fly to the Basque country, or wherever it is, and like, "What do I have to show for it, besides four Instagrams? I’m gonna get this cookbook."
Greg: Four Instagrams!
Julia: My theory about green juice is it always comes in a transparent cup, and when people drink it — if you couldn’t see that they were drinking it — it’s a bragging right kind of thing.
Helen: It’s a fully performative beverage.
Julia: Yeah, right.
Helen: That’s a really good point. And Greg, to your point, I think very frequently, if you read interviews with the chefs who publish these gorgeous hardcover documents of their high-end restaurants, a couple years later they’ll say, "Okay, I’m ready for another one." Because this was the yearbook of that era, and once it’s written down it’s been frozen in amber. "I don’t want to deal with it anymore. We’re on to new things."
Helen: And you get that Ferran Adrià thing where he would do these annuals with elBulli. Where you could fill a bookcase with his books, because it was just elBulli: 2001, 2002, 2003.
Julia: I think it’s no different than a band or a rockstar with an album. A lot of chefs want to be rockstars and vice versa, it sort of makes sense. It’s like the greatest hits of this year.
Greg: Somebody should do that with just some bar and grill in a nowhere town. I bet it would be really interesting. Treat it like it’s elBulli.
Helen: Right. "In 1998, they shift chicken finger purveyors from Cisco to US Foods, and it was a really major shift in their tone and philosophy."
Greg: After Small Victories comes out, you’re working with a team in Austin —
Julia: Yeah, we’re working on a really fun book. It’s sort of a Vietnamese restaurant/French bakery, so I’ve been working with them on their manuscript and recipes, and signing up maybe for another book proposal for a restaurant. I loved writing Small Victories so much. It was just the greatest career moment, to just sit down and have the opportunity to write it. And I had this little bit of an identity crisis when I handed it in, because I was like, "Oh, I love that so much, I should do that all the time." And I couldn’t. I put everything into it, and I was like, "I need to accumulate more life experience and time before I write another." So I’m doing a lot of collaborative work just as I always have, and starting to think about book number two, but taking my time.
Helen: Are you excited about all the publicity you’re gonna get to do for this?
Julia: It’s funny. I’ve worked on so many cookbooks, but because I’ve never worked just on my own until Small Victories, I’ve never promoted a book, and I had no idea that it was a whole other — I think it’s gonna be really fun, I’m enjoying what we’re doing right now, this is great. I have a book tour and everything coming up, and I didn’t realize how much goes into all that, so that’s been a nice opportunity to learn something new, so I’m looking forward to it.
Greg: We know you love being a home cook, but do you go to a lot of restaurants, or do you compartmentalize restaurant going and home cooking?
Julia: Now that Grace and I live in upstate New York, we really don’t go out very much. Also Grace was diagnosed this year with Type 1 diabetes, so it’s changed a lot of what we eat and how we eat. It’s made me extremely grateful for the fact that we live in a place that makes it very easy to cook at home all the time. I kind of have this — this is a whole sidebar. I actually think it’s very difficult to cook in New York City. I think schlepping groceries — it’s often cheaper to eat out or to order food. But that’s another topic. So where we live, we don’t go to restaurants really at all. A really nice part of living where we live now is that all of our friends who also live upstate also really love to cook, so us going out means us going to someone else’s house for dinner, which I love. But when we come into New York together or separately, honestly, the only restaurants I want to go to are Jody and Rita’s. To me it’s like going home. I love their restaurants so much.
"I actually think it’s very difficult to cook in New York City. Schlepping groceries — it’s often cheaper to eat out or to order food."
Helen: I’m the same way, I go to the same restaurants over and over again.
Julia: Yeah. Theirs and Pearl Oyster Bar are my favorites, so it’s a little like my spillage corner.
Greg: There’s multitudes of cuisine in that little cluster of four though.
Julia: Yeah, totally, you can get everything.
Helen: So much fun. And this is such a cool book.
Julia: Thank you.
Helen: Julia, we have come to the portion of our podcast that we call the lightning round.
Julia: Ooh, I love it.
Helen: So we’re just gonna throw a bunch of questions at you, and see what sticks.
Julia: Okay, don’t over think, right?
Greg: Yeah, exactly.
Helen: You can!
Greg: Well, you can think, we have no time constraints here.
Helen: We certainly never over think anything.
Julia: Title of your book.
Greg: Yes. Okay, so, lightning round question number one is you’re in the airport, and you have an hour to kill, and you have $50 in your wallet, what do you do?
Helen: 50 books?
Greg: You have 50 to 100 bucks in your wallet. You can spend some money. And you have an hour to kill.
Julia: Ooh, okay.
Greg: What do you do?
Julia: Any specific airport, or just airport in general?
Greg: Airport in general, but if you have a favorite thing to do at a favorite airport —
Greg: That’s the subquestion.
Julia: Once — I’ve only done this once, but I would do it again if I had cash to burn in my pocket. I’m not into, I don’t know what to call this, spa stuff, very much. I’m not someone who gets like my nails done or wears makeup. I mean sometimes, clean them up, but anyway. Too much information and over thinking. I once got one of those 20-minute back massages at an airport. Which was the best thing to do in that time, and totally made me feel relaxed, so if that was available, I would absolutely do that.
Helen: Love that.
Julia: I can’t remember what airport, but it was great.
Helen: They’re in a lot of airports now, and I maybe look up whether they’re in airports before I go to them. Sometimes I try to build in extra time. Because it’s really fun.
Julia: It’s like Shake Shack.
Julia: It’s like, "Let’s go half an hour early."
Helen: "We’re gonna have fun." You said you studied poetry in college. Next lightning round question is what is your favorite poetic form?
Julia: To be honest, I like contemporary, not too much form. But I don’t know, there’s something pretty beautiful about a perfect sonnet, though that’s not something I would write. But I like reading them.
Helen: Petrarchan, or the other one, I can’t remember.
Julia: Oh god, I can’t either, I don’t know.
Helen: Dredging up my college poetry memories.
Greg: Petrachan or limerick, is that the other one?
Helen: Yeah, that’s the other sonnet, limerick.
Greg: Okay, so you’re driving in the car, you’re on a road trip, you’re by yourself, you’re speeding down the highway, and you’re listening to some music and singing along to it.
Greg: What is it?
Julia: I mean —
Helen: Which Beyoncé?
Julia: Lemonade right now is just our soundtrack.
Helen: What’s your favorite Lemonade song?
Julia: "Hold Up." It’s amazing.
Helen: Okay, I’m torn between "Hold Up" and "Freedom."
Julia: I don’t think we need to choose.
Helen: We don’t.
Helen: She’s given us so many blessings. So besides Small Victories, your own cookbook, what three cookbooks would you give to someone who is just learning how to cook?
Julia: Oh, great question. I would give them Ina Garten’s — I believe her second book was Parties? I love that one. I love them all, but I really love that one. I think that’s a real makes-entertaining-approachable kind of thing. My other favorite cookbook ever is Lee Bailey’s Country Weekends, which was sort of a precursor to Ina’s, I would say. I think she might agree with that. That’s a question for her. That, for me, was a really inspiring book, so maybe it would be inspiring to someone else, too. And the third one — I would go with Edna Lewis’. Just totally home cooking, great American Southern cooking.
Helen: Awesome. I’m going to buy all three of those.
Greg: Yeah, I actually had not heard of —
Helen: I think I have none of them, and now I need to get them.
Julia: Wow. They’re three really good ones, for sure.
Greg: They all sound like different journeys a little bit.
Helen: Greg, that’s so beautiful.
Greg: Hey, you’re good describing them. Okay, so next lightning round question is you’re at the bar in heaven, but you’re not dead, you don’t need to think about that. Just at a heavenly bar.
Julia: Just a bar called Heaven. Okay.
Helen: That’s a good name for a bar.
Greg: The bartender knows your favorite drink. You walk up, they pour it for you, what is it?
"Lately, if I want like a strong drink, I like a vodka on the rocks, with olives. But I just need half of one and I’m gone, I’m under the table."
Julia: I feel like I used to drink a lot more than I do these days. I think lately, if I want like a strong drink, I like a vodka on the rocks, with olives.
Julia: You get a little sting, I don’t know, it’s nice. But I just need half of one and I’m gone, I’m under the table.
Greg: If somebody’s like, "What vodka?" Do you have a vodka?
Julia: I like Ketel One, but I think I do because my dad drinks it, so I’m like, "Oh, that’s what my dad orders."
Helen: I love that. That’s the reason I drink bourbon, because my dad drinks bourbon, and it’s just like, "Oh yeah, dad."
Helen: I like that. What’s your favorite form of social media?
Greg: And what’s your handle?
Julia: @Turshen, just my last name.
Greg: Good handle.
Helen: Who are some great people we should all be following?
Julia: I think my wife Grace has a great feed, which is her site’s. @DesignSponge. She posts really beautiful stuff. I know I’m biased but I really like that.
Greg: Last lightning round question. If you could do something that other than being this cookbook author, collaborator, and former private chef, what would it be?
Julia: Lately I feel like everything goes back to this we’ve-moved-upstate-to-the-small-town thing. We’re getting a little bit more involved in local stuff. And right now, my answer to that question would be I feel like I’d be a teacher.
Helen: I love that. A teacher of small children?
Julia: Yeah, little small victories.
Greg: Small Victories is the name of your school!
Helen: Oh my god, and on that perfect close circle note — that was brilliant, you wrapped that up like a pro! You clearly know what you’re doing.
Julia: That poetry major really came in handy.
Helen: Oh my god, that was amazing, Julia, thank you so much for coming by the Eater Upsell studios.
Julia: You guys are really fun.
Helen: Check out Small Victories, which is available in stores and pre-orderable on all sort of book-selling websites right now.
Julia: Wherever books are sold. Thank you so much.
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The Eater Upsell is recorded at Vox Media Studios in Manhattan
Hosts: Greg Morabito and Helen Rosner
Producers: Patrick Bulger and Maureen Giannone
Associate Producer/Editor: Daniel Geneen
Associate Producer: Kendra Vaculin