Down the Aisle:Helen Hollyman

Editor-in-Chief of Vice Munchies Interview and Images by Aimee Brodeur

Helen has been immersed in the food world as long as she can remember. You know those kids who don't figure out what they love to do until they are 30? That wasn’t the case for her. She has had a “hell yes” approach to almost any food job that landed in her lap. It may seem like a daunting task to hold the position of editor-in-chief at one of the most influential food culture outlets in the world, where, in today’s easy-content culture, there is an ever greater responsibility to showcase diverse and genuine voices. Luckily, Helen takes all of these demands in stride; and she is a charming, laugh out loud pleasure of a woman to grocery shop with. Despite her busy schedule at Munchies, Helen still takes the time to stop by her local butcher and farmer’s market to make at least one special meal for herself each week. I was lucky enough to join her in that endeavor this week at Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side. Pozole and enchiladas were on the menu...

What are you currently working on at VICE MUNCHIES that you are really excited about?

We have our first cookbook coming out in October. I’m so excited to release it. We will feature 65 different chefs from all over the world. We gathered these recipes from one of the first shows we launched our website with call “Chef’s Night Out”.

When it comes to trusting the places and people you get your food from, do you rely on specific brands, farms, or by word of mouth? Who or what do you rely on to help steer you towards buying from suppliers you can trust?

It’s a very long, complicated answer. When I was working for Mark Bittman researching food policy, I would spend hours a day doing research. I was freelancing from my apartment and home alone for many hours on end at that time, and I would call my parents and say, “Did you know that in certain instances there’s small traces of gasoline in your Luna Bars?” And they would be like, “Dude… just chill.”

In terms of food and the media, what do you wish would get more attention?

Diversity. There’s this talk that there are not enough people of color in the industry, but that’s just not true. The job of the media is to support and showcase people in this industry and beyond. We’re not just chefs, but artisans and makers of all kinds…food writers, etc… Talking about these things through the lens of food is really important right now because of how big food is. Celebrating diversity is my biggest focus right now. I see other outlets doing the same, and I think it’s about time.

And what do you wish received less attention?

To speak to things that I could do without… Poke Bowls. With headlines that suggest that fish might go extinct by 2050, it’s hard to rationalize consumption at the rate we’re doing so. The seafood industry is in a really tricky place, and until we figure out how to have a better relationship, mindfulness of consumerism is something I try to exercise, but I get that it’s not that simple. Then there’s other issues that make me feel like a guilty consumer, like drinking almond milk or avocado toast—it takes so much water to grow both almonds and avocados. Basically, I’m the Woody Allen of food. I’m constantly pointing out reasons why I can’t fully enjoy this or that! (laughing)


“Food has always been about origin stories, and now more than ever, those stories are important for us to celebrate.”

 

 

I really appreciated the article on immigrants within the wine industry. I posted that on Facebook for the Trump supporters in my extended family who also love wine.

Food has always been about origin stories, and now more than ever, those stories are important for us to celebrate.

It’s inspiring to talk to you, a young woman works to highlight these conversations, and through an influential channel.

We’re trying… We don’t always get it right, but when we do, we feel a little bit better, even if just for a moment.

What are the biggest shifts that you have witnessed over the last 10 years in relation to food and how it is consumed both through media and in our homes?

I think people are still caught up with trends… like this idea of the “foodie”, which is in a way about classism. I think that people who call themselves foodies are people who want to self-identify with a group instead of just saying, “I like to eat food and I’m conscious about where it comes from and who is making it.”


“I think people are still caught up with trends… like this idea of the ‘foodie’, which is in a way about classism.”

 

As someone who is so involved in the world of food, how do you approach cooking for yourself, and what does a trip to the grocery store look like for you?

A lot of people I know in this world, including myself, eat out so much that cooking at home has become a luxury. I go through times where I’ll make elaborate meals at home, and then times where I’m more bare bones about meals, like cereal for dinner. I work near Marlow and Daughters, so I’ll head in there at least 3 days a week to pick up meat for the house.

I love that place, I wish I lived or worked a bit closer to it.

They are so sweet! The other night, their butcher TJ was like, “What do you want tonight?”  I was like, “I’m going to be boring and basic.” … And he goes, “Chicken breast?” I was like, “You know me so well!”

So what part of the city do you live in, and where are your go-to markets?

I live in Nolita, so I make a regular routine of going to the Union Square Farmer’s Market. I get Flying Pigs Farm eggs, which are the best. But I love it here at Essex Market. It’s a real New York market experience. I’ve been in New York for 10 years, which is frightening to me. I have no idea how that happened! I’m like Chris Farley on the Japanese game show, thinking  “I’m not supposed to be here!” When I first moved here I came to this market and I remember the feeling… oh this is New York City food.

I come here any time I want to make anything Tex-Mex or of the Southwest. I like to make a carne at home that has like 8 kinds of chilies, so I come here for everything. They have a lot of great Mexican products. And then cheese… at Saxelby Cheese. The essentials, you know.

The fact that Essex Street Market has Tapatio in a gigantic bottle is VERY exciting to me.


“I don’t shop on a practical level. If I find something I like I will just buy it and figure it out later. That’s why this market is so great.”

 

 

Right? Why is the Tapatio bottle so small? I will use half a bottle of that stuff in a sitting.

Well, this is my big question… is this Jared Leto on the Tapatio bottle?

It’s rare to talk about Tex-Mex with someone in NYC. I love like learning about this.

Well, I’m 7th-generation Texan… Oh yeah, my aunt makes really good green enchiladas. Every once in awhile I’ll make them, but mine are a bit different.

What do you do for you enchiladas to be different?

She does a spinach enchilada with green sauce. I add tomatillos and I char them- obviously.

(Putting copious amounts of chilies into her basket)

This is what happens. I don’t shop on a practical level. If I find something I like I will just buy it and figure it out later. That’s why this market is so great. If you went anywhere else for this stuff around the city, you will probably end up spending so much money for the same item, and the quality might not be as great.

 


“I’ve been in New York for 10 years, which is frightening to me. I have no idea how that happened! I’m like Chris Farley on the Japanese game show thinking,  ‘I’m not supposed to be here!'”

 

That’s one thing I continually hear from people when I shop with them. Whole Foods is a great backup if other places are closed or if they are in a pinch, but the quality of the product just does not match the price point.

Totally, it’s true.  

How does what you buy at the market reflect who you are?

I’m basically an impulsive Texan shopper.

Favorite item to splurge on?

Wine! I live by this great place called Wine Therapy. They know me now by my first name. They’re like, “Hi Helen!” I’m like, “Great what does this say about me?” They have a great selection of natural wines that are really affordable and delicious. Many people I know have been really getting into natural wines lately.

So, final question. If you were stranded on an island, and you could only bring 5 ingredients with you, what would you bring?

Is it an infinite supply?

Sure, why not.

Natural wine. And let’s just pretend the island has water too. Some sort of chili spice, preferably this special spices I get in Austin. Coffee- it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures besides wine. Good bread, probably from Balthazar… or from Tartine or Gjusta if we’re being bourgeois about it. And lastly, avocados.