opinion

It's time to start looking beyond celebrity cookbooks for your next recipe



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Chrissy Teigen arrives at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 26 at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Tribune News Service

A controversial interview with New York Times Cooking columnist, bestselling cookbook author and Instagram sensation Alison Roman was published May 7 by the New Consumer. 

The controversy arose from comments Roman made about organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo, who she called a sellout, and model and author Chrissy Teigen, whose recent projects involving a cookbook, a line of products and a very popular Instagram page she called horrifying. 

People were initially angry at Roman for attacking other successful women, noting that Roman, who is white, chose two Asian women to criticize. This developed further into criticism of some of Roman’s recipes, such as a stew with clear Indian influences that makes no reference to any cultural origin, and then into broader criticism of who gets to tell stories and obtain success in the food world at large. 

As a half-Asian woman, committed home cook, foodstagrammer and casual Roman fan, I considered being offended, but I’m not really. Her comments weren't well thought out, but that’s one of the dangers of an interview. You don’t get to edit or revise your instinctive responses. She apologized, and the Roman-Teigen internet feud should be left to die. 

However, the larger critiques made about the food and culture industry in general remain. It is a white-dominated, exclusive field. It's one that's challenging to succeed in without the right connections, locations or background. 

While most of us have no say in who the New York Times hires, whose books get published or who is hired to be a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant, our consumption choices matter in these internet-heavy lockdown days. 

What if we looked further afield for our next recipe? While these concerns about diversity and access deserve a real reckoning, one easy way to start the process on a small level is to follow new people on Instagram, use their recipes and make them the new food trend, at least in your smaller circles of friends and followers. 

For example, Taku Sekine, @taksekin on Instagram, is a Paris-based Japanese chef, who, since shortly after the pandemic began, has been posting short, immaculately photographed recipes, a mix of Japanese, Chinese and various European cuisines, often serving two to four, perfect for a lockdown household. 

While some of his recipes are a little vague, and all of them use grams and Celsius temperatures, if you have a bit of experience or an instinct for cooking, you’ll have lovely results, and, as the videos of his adorable child cooking show, anyone can do it with a little help. My favorite so far was the leftover okonomi-yaki, which, as the title would imply, is a great way to use up some fridge leftovers.

Sara Ahmad, @addalittlelemon on Instagram, is a Los Angeles-based Iraqi food evangelist, with a page full of recipes ranging from relatively simple comfort foods, such as her chickpea, tomato and fennel stew, to more labor intensive projects such as fried kibbeh, perfect for a long day in social isolation. 

While she doesn’t post pictures that often, her Instagram stories are full of ways to incorporate Middle Eastern ingredients, such as za’atar and farro, into your everyday diet, and also feature other chefs to follow. This week she shared an interview with Bay Area-based Palestinian chef Reem Assil.

David Zilber, @david_zilber on Instagram, is the head of fermentation at Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen, and posts a wide variety of content, from museum visits to the fermentation experiments that I originally followed him for. 

He occasionally posts ridiculous recipes, such as a recent one that called for yeast and chicken garum, a fifth of a chili, ramsons and pine vinegar. Sometimes you follow a food person just to remember the immense variety of things on this Earth that you could eat, not necessarily that you will eat. 

Of course, these three are a drop in a puddle of people cooking online, with thousands and tens of thousands of followers already. I have not “discovered” them, and we’re still pretty solidly based in the US and Europe here. Nonetheless, they’re fun, inspirational and good starting points on your journey into the weirder and more distant, delightful and delicious corners of the earth and the internet.

Katharine Khamhaengwong (she/her) is a master's student in Central Eurasian studies. Her focus is on interactions between the former Soviet states and the Islamic world.

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