I got interested in cooking around high school. It was a way for me to procrastinate, and it was easy for me to put off doing actual schoolwork for something that was actionable. I liked that I could do something creative and then have something to show for it at the end.
I was doing a lot of writing at the time, as angsty teens tend to do. It was a creative outlet that was just for me—I didn’t show anybody. Cooking was the creative outlet that I had for other people, and I was good at it. I wasn’t bad at school, it just didn’t excite me. Cooking did. I was like, Oh. This is something that I’m not only good at but enjoy doing, and other people enjoy it when I do it, too.
I don’t think I grew up cooking more than the average person. My parents definitely cooked more than we ate out, but there was nothing special about it. It’s not like every Sunday we did this ceremonious thing. But after I left home for college, I started falling in love with cooking. I figured that I could always go back to school, but if I was feeling a deep, burning desire to cook, then I should probably pursue it. So that’s what I did.
I really didn’t start setting longer, more life-oriented goals until about two years ago . . . and I’m 33.
At no point was I like, “Oh fuck, am I doing the wrong thing?” Or, “Oh shit! I should consider a backup plan, or I should go back to school, or I should figure out a new path.” I always knew that, at least career-wise, I was where I was supposed to be.
I’m definitely a pretty insecure person, but in the past few years, I’ve learned to accept and manage anxiety; that’s a big part of pretending that you’re confident. I’m still completely riddled with self-doubt, but I never really had a doubt that this was what I was supposed to be doing. Never, not at any point in my career. Not when I was cooking in restaurants for $7 an hour, or when I moved to New York with no job, or left my job to go freelance, or any of the moves that I made. I mean, I didn’t know that this would be the rest of my life until it start ed actually becoming my life, if that makes sense. When I started cooking in restaurants, I didn’t have a plan beyond “I want to get a job in a restaurant.” And when I moved to New York, I didn’t have a plan beyond “I want to live in New York.” I really didn’t start setting longer, more life-oriented goals until about two years ago . . . and I’m 33. I can’t explain it, but that’s how it worked out for me.
The writing process is impossible to feel good about doing alone.
I’ve been freelance for about four years now. It was definitely much harder at the beginning. It really took a toll on me—and my friendships—because I became really needy. The people in my life were spending all day with other people and would be drained or done, and I was like, “Hey guys! Want to hang out? Want to hang out?” I’ve actually thought about this a lot lately and I think the reason I cook for other people is because I’m alone so much.
But I’m also the kind of person who needs my own time. It’s really important for my creative process. With cooking, it’s very easy for me; I don’t mind doing that alone and I trust myself implicitly. Where it becomes challenging is the big picture process: I’m running my own business and I’m doing it pretty much by myself. So I’ll think, Is this a good idea? Should I say yes to that? Should I pursue this?
I only have myself to ask and myself to answer. The writing process is impossible to feel good about doing alone. You write this whole book, 360 pages of text, recipes, ideas, and thoughts, and the only person reading it is your editor. You tell yourself, I think it’s good and my editor thinks it’s good. But we’re just two people—and I’m one of them. And then you realize that the book is going to come out to the whole world and you’re like, “Oh, fuck. What if it sucks?” You really have to trust yourself, but it’s just so hard. There’s not that same comfort you have when you’re working at an office or a magazine, with a team of people whose job it is to set up the photo shoots and weigh in on the text and think creatively. It’s just you. That’s why I do it, though. I think it’s cool. Even when things aren’t perfect, I feel proud of the fact that it’s me. Even though it has flaws, even though I feel like I could have done better or done something differently, it’s me. It’s a snapshot of where I was at that time in my life. I just have to try to be okay with that.
I’m making recipes not for my own ego or for my own health, but because I really care about you cooking at home more.
A lot of people say they do what I do, but I don’t think that many people are really doing it. Everybody is like, “I write cookbooks and I develop recipes, too!” And I’m like, yeah, but you have a team of people. Or they claim they’re doing it even though they’re not and they can say that because they’re famous. I cook all the food in my cookbooks, for all the photo shoots, and for my New York Times column. I’m in charge of all the decisions, including the creative ones, and even though that’s oftentimes a lot more interesting than developing a recipe, it’s exhausting.
I think of myself as a service-driven person. I’m doing service journalism. I’m making recipes not for my own ego or for my own health, but because I really care about you cooking at home more. I want to teach you because cooking changes the dynamic of your home life, your personal life, your friendships, and your relationships. It changes your life if you make it a regular practice. I want to help people and the best way to do this is not by offering them the most complicated or intricate or fancy way to do something. It’s by doing it in the most reasonable and efficient and beautiful way.
I’m still figuring out what it means to have the lines be blurred between a business self and a personal self. People feel entitled to your life when you are on the internet. It doesn’t matter if you have 50 followers or 500,000 followers. If you’re putting something on the internet and you’re a person they’re interested in, they will ask you any question they want. There’s zero shame about it and they will harass you until you respond. Sometimes I wonder, Should I be more helpful? Should I be more present? Should I be more available to people? Then other times I’m just like, I can’t be more available to anybody because I can’t even be available to myself or my friends or the people that I care about. That’s what’s really tricky: the fine line between answering cooking questions from strangers on Instagram and then also answering the question of “Where should I eat when I’m in New York?” like I’m a concierge.
People feel entitled to your life when you are on the internet.
In a perfect world, I’d do it all because I think it’s fun and helpful. Of course I’d love to tell you all my favorite restaurants. But I could very quickly spend all of my time doing that, and then have no time to do my work. Or be alone. Or live my life. It’s very challenging because I want to be everywhere and I want to be approachable, but I’ve also realized that if I don’t draw boundaries, I’ll go crazy.
I feel like I don’t relax that often, but I definitely use food—eating and cooking and drinking wine—as a way to decompress. I do hot yoga. I love to go dancing. There’s this space that just opened in Brooklyn called Public Records that is super, super fun. But I mostly just like going to my favorite restaurants. I’m pretty boring and I’m pretty basic. I like to do a high-low situation: I love dive bars, nice wine, and cheap wine. I run the gamut.
My relationship with cannabis is a personal thing. It’s definitely not a party situation, unless I’m trying to get people to leave my house and then I’ll be like, “Let’s all smoke some weed” so everyone gets tired and goes home. I’m not a person that likes to be stoned in a social setting because I get really anxious. I know it’s supposed to alleviate anxiety, but it increases mine. That said, if I’m alone, it’s a different story. I mostly use it medicinally, like a sleep aid. It’s a ritual that I have. I have vape pens and they’re fine, but I really like rolling joints.
I’m not a person that likes to be stoned in a social setting because I get really anxious.
I’m anti-technology when it comes to cooking and weed. I feel like I’m compensating for how addicted I am to my phone by refusing to use a blender or a vape pen. I like to use a skillet, I like to use a knife and a cutting board, and I like to use weed and rolling papers. Similar to how people will make a cup of tea at the end of the night, I roll a joint. Or not, since it takes me, like, three nights to finish one.
I prefer a very, very skinny joint, which is also why I like to roll my own. I never buy pre-rolls from a dispensary because they will kill me. They’re too big! You can take one hit and be stoned for five days. I’m so sensitive to it. But if I’m going to do it during the day, I’ll definitely use a vape pen, so I can get very subtly high and go to a museum or get a massage in Chinatown. There is a time and a place where I do want to be stoned socially, and that’s on vacation or on days when I don’t have anything to do. But I typically have calls and emails to respond to and I haven’t yet figured out how to be my most intelligent, sharp, sparkling self while high.
The one thing I’m absolutely addicted to is this Dusk tincture. [EDITOR’S NOTE: We did not ask Alison to say this.] Oh my god, it is the best. The best, best, best, best. I am obsessed with it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Seriously.] It is my favorite thing I've ever had. [EDITOR’S NOTE: We swear.] Sometimes if I smoke weed before bed, I wake up feeling a little groggy or it can take me a little while to get back into the day, but this tincture is amazing. It’s like the perfect amount of sleep stoned. It keeps me asleep and I wake up feeling amazing. It does exactly what I want it to and I love the way it tastes. I fucking love this product. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, fine, we’ll admit we chose not to cut a single line of this section but that’s it.]
I prefer a very, very skinny joint, which is also why I like to roll my own. I never buy pre-rolls from a dispensary because they will kill me.
I also love lozenges and mints, and things that are really small with high ratios of CBD and THC. Those I enjoy. They’re great. But the idea of an infused dinner is not that interesting to me. Partly because of the aforementioned social anxiety I have about being stoned in front of other people, but also because it feels a little gimmicky. I would rather cook a sick dinner and have joints on the table. I want to be smoking weed socially with you and eating the food and enjoying ourselves that way. That sounds way more appealing to me than, “Oh, I drizzled some CBD-infused olive oil on top of your salad.” I don’t care. Again, that speaks to the way that I prefer to participate in the culture.
I had a popular recipe for these salted chocolate chunk shortbread cookies and people were constantly like, “Oh my god, could you make those with weed butter?” Yeah, you can use weed butter anywhere you would use regular butter, but that’s not really the point. Wouldn’t you rather just smoke weed and then eat some delicious cookies? Why can’t we just have things that are good in life, separately?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Alison Roman photographed by Eva Zar at her home in Brooklyn. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.