Is this your typical market run?
This is my ritual every Saturday morning. I usually come here with my husband and our dog pretty early, but this weekend my husband is out of town.
Is there any big difference in your grocery routine when it’s just you in the kitchen?
I usually end up eating out every night! (Laughing)
Who does most of the cooking?
I usually cook- although when we first met he cooked more, and was amazing at it. Over time we ended up dividing the cooking duties. Somehow, when I’m stressed, cooking relaxes me. When he is overloaded with work, cooking is just one more thing he has to do.
Let’s talk about your blog, Salad for President- it’s such a unique and beautiful platform to collaborate with artists on. How did those early conversations begin?
A lot of the conversations began around why, as an artist, I got into doing something like this.
There can be lot of frustration among artists about how to position themselves and participate in the commercial side of things. It’s necessary if you want to have a career, but you also don’t want to lose what’s at the core of what you love to do.
So there was an immediate sense of camaraderie with the people you worked with?
A lot of my questions ended up being something like, “How did you find a way to maintain this practice?” A lot of people that I have cooked with have a very unique grasp on their individual creative practices. That tends to extend not just into what they do professionally, but what they do every day- how they keep their homes- how they structure their social world. It’s a very holistic view of what it means to be an artist. I have always tried to do that too. It’s a common concern for most people. How can you do what you love and what nurtures you and still continue to support yourself?
Did the blog allow you to have a conversation that you didn’t feel was being had in an art world, one that could flourish in a setting that you could create?
Yeah. It’s definitely disarming. A lot of the socializing in the art world happens at openings or other impersonal events like that. I’m a one-on-one kind of person- it’s the format that feels best for me. It’s less formal. I tell people that making a salad together could take 1 hour or it could take 6 hours, though it usually ends up being 6 hours. (Laughing) We just end up hanging out.
“I’m a one-on-one kind of person- it’s the format that feels best for me. It’s less formal. I tell people that making a salad together could take 1 hour or it could take 6 hours, though it usually ends up being 6 hours.”
Do most artists already have a salad in mind when you meet with them or do you guys figure it out on the fly?
I definitely try to get them to think of something before we meet up. It’s always interesting because there are different kinds of artists. There are some who say, “I’m an artist, but salad isn’t my medium- that’s your thing. So here is my idea and tell me how you think it can work…”
I try to get them to think about the conversation that will come up, and how it’s an opportunity for them to talk about the things that they are into and aren’t usually asked about. Maybe that person loves tennis. No one would ever think that because they are a highly academic artist, but in reality that’s what they live and breathe in their free time. It ends up not being a frivolous topic at all because you start to see how that connects to the rest of the life and eventually their art. Artists are always thinking. They don’t do anything that’s not also a part of their work. When they make a salad they are thinking about it the way they would think about what they make in their studio.
Have you lived in New York your whole life? You give me that kind of impression- it suits you well.
I grew up here, but I haven’t lived here my whole life. I went to school in Ohio for a year and then Providence for 4 years. My husband and I moved to Los Angeles briefly, then back here again for grad school. We never left, though we are technically always trying to! (Laughing)
I always joke about how having an exit strategy is just part of living in New York.
It is! Everyone is wondering how they’re going to get out.
How often do you typically find yourself at the market?
I go too often, sometimes multiple times in a day! I come here to the Fort Greene Farmer’s Market, but since I work in Union Square, I end up going there too. There’s a fish market I go to as well, Mermaid’s Garden. I’m addicted to it! I also frequent our Key Foods, which is actually pretty good, and lastly I go to Mr. Melon- a really great and well-priced Korean market. They have great organic produce, and sometimes they’ll have deals on stuff that’s nearly expired but perfect for eating that day, like $2 boxes of organic strawberries. It’s a great place to find good food that’s affordable.
“Artists are always thinking. They don’t do anything that’s not also a part of their work. When they make a salad they are thinking about it the way they would think about what they make in their studio.”
Since you’ve moved around a lot, what are some things that have stayed consistent for you and your routine around buying food?
Markets, especially farmer’s markets, have always been very calming to me. My husband will always laugh and say, “Well today we went to 6 different markets!” The Los Angeles farmers markets were amazing, and we would go to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market almost daily. I also loved how in LA there are so many small Hispanic and Asian markets.
I used to live on top of a great Asian market in LA, on Sunset in Echo Park.
I know that one! It’s called A Grocery Warehouse. I love that one!
You do know your grocery markets, I’m impressed!
Grocery shopping has become a ritual for us over time. We both travel so often for work that it’s special to have the time to come to the market together.
Like a reset button. How was it for you growing up? Did your parents instill that love for the market in you, or was it something you found?
They really did. I grew up on the Upper West Side, so we spent a lot of time at The Vinegar Factory. It’s Eli Zabar’s store, and it has that warehouse type of vibe. He’s kind of the Godfather of fine food shopping in New York. He was one of the first people to start importing a lot of specialty foods, and has his own greenhouse on top of the store. He has around 10 different markets in upper Manhattan- as well as a few restaurants. He is a genius. It’s definitely pricey but it’s worth it to shop there.
I can imagine that frequenting such an amazing specialty food shop shaped a lot of how you viewed food at an early age.
Well, we definitely ate strawberries out of season and huge grapes from Guatemala- it wasn’t all perfect and seasonal.
“I told myself that if this is going to be my thing… that I really have to own it. I’m going to work so hard at it that making salads with people won’t even seem weird.”
Did you ever have a moment where you looked back and it all seemed to come full circle, that it makes perfect sense that you are making salads with other artists?
Yes, totally. I just finished my book, which will be out in the Spring. In writing the intro to the book, I kind of realized all of that. I had a moment where as I wrote, I thought, “Whoa, I have always been doing this!” When my husband and I lived in Los Angeles, we had an artist-run project space, and I was in this intense place in my life where I was trying to figure out, “What is my practice?” I was spending insane amounts of time in the studio with other artists, and after these really long days we would go back to my house. I would go into my garden and make these really big crazy salads for everyone. Long before the blog, if you would have told me that I would be working in food, I would never have in a million years believed you.
Or write a book about making salads with artists.
Oh my God, no way! Once I began, I told myself that if this is going to be my thing- and I’m a pretty intense person- that I really have to own it. I’m going to work so hard at it that making salads with people won’t even seem weird.
So you’re an all or nothing kind of woman.
Yes, all the way. I was always obsessing over what objects I was making in the studio and thinking about how to turn these ideas into something that you can put into a gallery and that people will buy. Then I realized that wasn’t the important thing at all. I was doing all of the things I needed to do through this platform.
- Pre-order Julia's CookbookSalad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists
Salad for President’s “Leeks for Dinner”
- 6 thin leeks (roughly all the same size), roots trimmed
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup homemade chicken stock
- 1 tbsp parsley leaves
- 1 tbsp small nasturtium leaves (optional)
- 2 soft boiled eggs, sliced in half lengthwise
- Remove the tough outer leaves of the leeks and discard. Trim the dark green tops off of the leeks and wash the remaining stalks thoroughly.
- Heat up a large sauté pan on the stovetop on medium heat. Add the butter and swirl it in the pan until it melts and starts to bubble. Add the leeks in a single layer and brown them, cooking on one side for 3-5 minutes. Flip and brown on the opposite side. Season with a generous pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Add the chicken stock. Cover and lower heat just a smidge. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until 90% of the stock has evaporated.
- Remove the cover from the sauté pan. Squeeze the lemon juice over the leeks, drizzle in the olive oil, and toss to coat.
- Transfer to a small platter, top with parsley, nasturtiums and soft boiled eggs, and serve immediately.