Cookbook Celebrity Samin Nosrat on Writing, Eating Healthy, and Trader Joe's Frozen Food

The James Beard–award winning author and host of the Netflix's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat comes to Revolution Hall on Monday, March 11.

By Jackson Main March 8, 2019

Samin Nosrat is the James Beard–award winning cookbook author and host of the Netflix's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The instructor, writer, and cook rose to fame in 2017 after the publication of her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking—the home cook’s bible of sorts. And after months of publicity, when you didn’t think her life could get any busier, Nosrat is taking the show on the road.

You can find her in Portland at Revolution Hall Monday, March 11, in conversation with Eater’s Erin DeJesus or maybe hanging around town with her old friend Troy MacLarty of Bollywood Theater. We caught up with the Berkeley-based writer while she was on a conference/ski trip in Montana to talk about plans for her new book, Trader Joe’s, and how there’s no shame in a classic PB&J. Here's what she said:

On skiing…

"I went skiing for the very first time in my whole life. Pretty awesome. I didn’t fall and break anything. I’m basically a pro."

On relaxing…

"When I’m home my very favorite thing to do is hang out with my friends and their kids because that is just the most automatically grounding thing. Children don’t care about your book or your TV show, they just want to play with their Legos, or whatever it is. So it is this, like, very, very grounding and normalizing thing. I’m really into making my home very cozy. It takes so much energy the rest of the time to be out in the world."

On home cooking…

"I have this very funny narrative arc in my cooking life. I ate at home what my mom cooked for us. Then I was at college eating grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas and pizza, and then I was at [famed Berkeley restaurant] Chez Panisse. So I never had that period in my 20s figuring out how to feed myself something relatively healthy. I never had that because I went sort of straight to this mega level.

"But then in 2009, I stopped working in restaurants, and for the first time I was a person who had to come home and make myself dinner. I started working in an office with all these writers and realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t eat lunch out every day, for a) it was expensive and b) I would get like food coma and I couldn’t write after that. So I had to learn what real home cooking was. And a big part of it was just watching what my friends at work brought for leftovers. At home now I have a rice cooker. Pretty classic dinner at my house is rice cooker grains, broccoli or some vegetable, little bit of chicken, little bit of tofu or an egg or something. It’s super, super simple." 

On the ideal office meal…

"The weird thing right now is I travel so much and so I don’t have groceries. But in the freezer I have a whole Trader Joe’s situation. My very favorite things from Trader Joe’s are these green chile and cheese tamales that are so good. I love those. And I always have several packages of those for, like, deep emergencies.

"I also always need a vegetable or otherwise I feel like I’m going to die. Also at Trader Joe’s they have that weird microwavable pack of brown rice and they also have those funny Indian dinners—you know, they’re called like 'tasty meal.' Those are my desperation situations that are just for like ultimate backup. If I’m going to work and I do have leftovers at home I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out things that will be good without having to go in the microwave because I feel like the microwave destroys flavor most of the time [laughs].

"A lot of times I’ll bring something and just slowly let it come to room temp and eat it warm, like my leftover chicken and rice or something, but also there’s no shame in a PB&J. I basically wrote my whole book on PB&Js [laughs]."

On writing a new book…

"It’s brutal, it’s the worst ever [laughs]. Maybe this is foolish, but I have the feeling that there are very few books out there that could be harder for me to write than the one I already wrote because it was my first one. It didn’t have a traditional format that it followed, so I had to work really hard and basically write it four times until I found the right structure. It just was so comprehensive, and that took everything I had. In a lot of ways I feel this one is not going to demand as much, but I also know writing a book is hard. I’m really excited I get to work with an editor I’ve always wanted to work with who’s just a really wonderful human—I get to work with Wendy McNaughton, the wonderful illustrator who illustrated Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and so we’ve built up some muscles. The nice thing about having the [New York Times Magazine] column is it’s forced me to keep writing every month for the last two years through making a show, doing six months of publicity. I’ve never taken a month off. So there’s no great distance between me and writing right now which I think the hardest part of writing is just sitting down and writing. So I think just being warmed up is making it seem a little less terrible, but also I just sold the book last week so I’m still on a high. Call me in six months, and I’ll be in a deeply other mind-set about it."

On what to expect in Portland…

"I think Portland’s going to be a really fun one. I had a little prep chat [with Eater's Erin DeJesus] a couple weeks ago. She asked, 'Is there anything you don’t want to talk about or is there anything you’re afraid to talk about?' I said, 'You know what, it’s Portland. Let's talk about cultural appropriation.' I think she’s going to sort of push me to go into uncomfortable places, and I’m actually kind of excited about that. Maybe uncomfortable for me and for the audience.

"One thing I would say is pretty important to me in all of my work is to have the sensitivity and the empathy to be able to understand and make space for other people’s experiences. I feel a lot of responsibility to make use of people’s attention that they’re giving me. It’s important to bring humor to the stage and compassion and kindness and goodness, and also challenge people to ask each other and themselves a little bit harder questions about the role that food plays in our lives."

On speaking live…

"I’m excited. I’m a ham [laughs]. Honestly, it just feels like such a huge honor. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that people want to pay money to come sit and listen to what I have to say. I just feel the weight of responsibility to show up for people and to really give them a true and honest and deeply emotional and powerful experience. So it’s really funny … this is something that happens in my writing, too … my editors are really pushing me to be more myself and I’m like, really? Does anyone really want to hear my [stuff]? Like, don’t you want me to be more New York Times-y? I spent my whole life sitting on the outskirts and being on the corner and being unsure that anyone wanted to hear anything that I wanted to say. So, I’m still mostly surprised that anyone cares and am very delighted."

Samin Nosrat

8 p.m. Mon, Mar 11, Revolution Hall, $48.50

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