Down the Aisle:Sierra Tishgart

Senior Editor of New York Magazine's Grub Street Interview and Images by Aimee Brodeur

As senior editor of NY Mag’s Grub Street, Sierra has both highlighted some of my favorite chefs and establishments in the city and taken on the specific mission of telling the stories of women in the restaurant world today, and she has done so with a voice that is both compassionate and clever. I couldn’t wait to hear more about her day-to-day, all the while wishing I could turn the tables and write a “Grub Street Diet” profile on her. Instead, we caught up about some of her current favorite go-to recipes, jotted down a pretty extensive list of well-vetted recommendations from her most beloved NYC markets, and discussed her own personal definition of “healthy” eating.

As a food editor for New York Magazine, you probably go out to eat often. Growing up, was that also the case?

We ate at home a lot. My dad is an exceptionally skilled home cook. He even built his own pizza oven!  Going out to eat was a treat, especially being from a loud Jewish family where it was always a big debate where to go.

What got you into writing about food?

I really wanted to write about women’s political issues, specifically to a young audience, but I was a little bit ahead of my time at Teen Vogue. They were very nervous about it. I ended up writing more about entertainment and the Olympics. But when I moved to New York, eating was the greatest way to see the city. Cooking was a challenge in my tiny apartment on MacDougal Street — there was just no space! I was so fortunate to live in this neighborhood but that was the trade-off. I often went out to eat alone because I didn’t know that many people, and that was my way to see the city. I learned about New York through the lens of restaurants.

How did that transition happen, going from culture and entertainment to GrubStreet?

GrubStreet was really the only food publication I wanted to work for. Restaurant culture and gender were the things I wanted to touch on. My interests in gender, I realized, were particularly focused in the gender inequalities in the food world. I felt like NyMag was culturally the right fit. I sent them a cold email, saying that I was at Teen Vogue and if they’re ever hiring to please let me know. A couple months later someone left and I got hired.

What are some of your favorite stories that you’ve worked on?

I really enjoy profile writing, interviewing, and talking to people who are on the rise. I did a story with Christina Lecki from Reynard recently. She’s the new chef, and I think she’ll do great things there. It felt like my type of story, touching on politics in the kitchen.


“My interests in gender, I realized, were particularly focused in the gender inequalities in the food world.”

 

I was one of the first to cover High Street on Market in Philadelphia at a national level. And I’d seen (Eli Kulp) after the accident, once the lawsuit had settled, and he was comfortable talking about it. That was really important. (Kulp suffered a spinal injury while a passenger on the Amtrak train that derailed in 2015 just outside Philadelphia, killing 8 people and injuring over 200.)

Another article that I was fascinated with and inspired by was a piece on the rise of Israeli cuisine. At first it didn’t seem very complicated- We had Nur and Dizengoff– but it turned out to be much more than that. It’s a contentious country, and what we call “Israeli” cuisine is very hotly debated with so many influences from Palestine. Working on that piece was a great crash course in Israeli politics. Even hummus has roots in different places. I actually went to this really interesting meal at Lalito, where different Palestinian chefs were doing a pop-up, and their intent was basically to say, “We don’t want our food to be erased by being called ‘Israeli’”.

The other article I wrote this year that I really connected with was about the cookbook industry and how difficult it is. It’s about the increase in cookbook deals, but I specifically focus on chefs that were early on in their careers, and it ultimately hurt them to have a cookbook. Chris Fischer was one of the lead sources. See, you get this advance, often people are like, “100,000 dollars! Wow, this seems like a good deal.” But then you have to pay your photographer, graphic designer, and buy all the ingredients. Often people get in the red from working on them. Publishers often don’t even help with promotional costs. I love cookbooks, so I didn’t want to be like, “This is fucked.” But the thing I try and let drive my work is that opening a restaurant is so, SO hard. But we also live in a moment where our culture is food-obsessed, so I try to write in a way that is informative but not depressing.

Has anything recently surprised you in the food world?

Its long been known that kitchens are terrible places for women, but I felt like there was this moment of internet surprise when all of this stuff started happening. I think people have dug deep in the past, for example, Charlotte Druckman’s  “Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen,” goes into it. But people weren’t caring then. It’s nice that there have been repercussions, finally.


“Seeing how these ingredients are commodified is fascinating, but also sometimes disheartening, because sometimes now when you get a Matcha latte it tastes like green food coloring.”

 

In terms of surprises, also the wellness thing came to a point. I remember going to Bosie Tea Parlor, and at the time, it was the only place you could get Matcha. Now there’s this fast-casual boom. Seeing how these ingredients are commodified is fascinating, but also sometimes disheartening, because sometimes now when you get a Matcha latte it tastes like green food coloring. Wellness has exploded, and it’s like, “What ingredients are next?” I am curious to see if these restaurants will be around in 10 years. It’s a combination of Instagram, people copying each other’s ideas, and tying yourself to a trend. What’s the longevity of that?

What defines your idea of health? How do you find a way to eat healthy when you are eating out so regularly?

I can’t be out every single night, always trying new places. I balance it out with meals at home. I try to cook every other night. That’s a huge thing. When I’m eating out, it’s different portion sizes, and I am not sampling twelve different dishes. Specifically if I need to hit reset, I go to Souen. It’s like OG New York healthy- nothing is intentionally trendy there.

I was listening to an interview where you were talking about your column, GrubStreet Diet, and you were talking about how you were most interested in how people manage their time when they have such busy schedules. What were some of the things you took away from that?

I always admire someone with a really strong breakfast routine. I wish I could do that. I get bored with sticking to one routine. Also, I am always impressed with how much people can squeeze into their day. It’s comforting in that everyone’s a little of mess… when you read about people just grabbing something on their way out the door. But I also really admire people who have prepared snacks to go. My favorite GrubStreet Diet was with Samantha Bee. She just dictated it over the phone. She was so funny and wonderful, with her two kids running around. She was so charming about it all.


“I am curious to see if these restaurants will be around in 10 years. It’s a combination of Instagram, people copying each other’s ideas, and tying yourself to a trend. What’s the longevity of that?”

 

Let’s talk about your local grocery store and shopping routine.

I come to Hudson Charles like twice a week. I dread the big grocery store experience, but the specialty grocery store is like the best version of a concept store. I love this smoked ricotta from Salvatore Brooklyn. I love this kimchi kale– I just throw that on rice. They’re great at explaining the meat here whenever they have a new cut of something. I was thinking of making Melissa Clark’s feta-brined chicken… I also love Murray’s feta- I have to give a shout out to Gerardo at Lalito for this recommendation- the Bavarian sheep’s milk feta at Murrays is really good. I also pick up this olive oil there called Merula. It’s super luxurious so I’ll drizzle it on the smoked ricotta. I go out of my way to find Hodo Soy products. 

What are you favorite gems in New York?

I mostly stick to my neighborhood. I do so much running around when trying restaurants. I love a trip to the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, but that’s a treat. I’ll go to Ippodo every couple months and stock up on tea. My fancier provisions are from LifeThyme.

Do you have any self made rituals around cooking?

Sunday is my non-negotiable cooking night. For a while I was just cooking for myself, but I enjoy cooking with my boyfriend, especially this time of year. It really feels good mentally to cook with each other. He’s a golden retriever of a man, and gets very excited by the things I make.


“I always admire someone with a really strong breakfast routine. I wish I could do that. I get bored with sticking to one routine. Also, I am always impressed with how much people can squeeze into their day. It’s comforting in that everyone’s a little of mess.”

 

What are your favorite items to splurge on?

Really good maple syrup- I have a major sweet tooth. I’ll make a trip to Russ & Daughters for smoked salmon. Not necessarily the most original pick, but I love it. There’s a baked harissa tofu Bon Appetit recipe I use a lot. I have a lot of constraints in my kitchen, as so many people do. Haven’s Kitchen just came out with a line of sauces that are fresh and go in the refrigerator. Peanut lemongrass-  that’s often the savior, because pulling out the blender and making a sauce is the last thing I want to do. 

There’s probably an over-saturation of expensive handmade granola right now, but this one is really the best. It’s by a friend of mine and it’s called Augie Granola, I like the original flavor the best.

Best items to have if you were stranded on an island?

I would pick the Augie granola, Buvette’s walnut pesto- which they will sell you in bulk if you ask them to, bread from Tay company, whitefish salad-I guess from Russ & Daughters, Sqirl’s jam, and Bjorn Qorn popcorn.