5 Questions. 4 People.

We can all agree that 2020 was a wild ride of the year. But the good news is, it’s over. And while 2021 has posed its own host of challenges, we’re looking forward to a new year of possibility—both in the kitchen and outside of it. To reflect on what we’ve gotten through and get us excited for what’s to come, we spoke to four people we’ve been inspired by over the past ten months, to see what they’ve learned and what they’re excited for in the coming months.

John DeBary

Mixologist, author and hospitality expert. Co-Founder of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.

What is one way that the turmoil of 2020 changed the way you see your work?

This is really hard to say because even setting aside global events, 2020 was the culmination of years of work: I released a cocktail book and launched a line of drinks. On top of that, Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation experienced about five years of growth and fundraising in the span of seven months. Truly the best and worst year of my life. 

Who are the people who inspire you as of late?

Everybody who showed up to support RWCF this past year. We launched a Covid relief fund in March of 2020 and since then have raised nearly $8 million towards relief efforts for restaurant workers in crisis. It took a ton of people working countless hours to make that happen, and we had the help of existing RWCF volunteers and board members as well as an amazing group of people who reached out last year to lend a hand.

What's the thing you cooked the most while staying at home?

I was one of those people who learned how to make sourdough last year. I “accidentally” bought 100 lbs of flour from a wholesale supplier without really realizing it, and so I had a lot of opportunity to practice. I’ve dialed in a really simple no-knead recipe that makes a bangin’ boule that freezes wonderfully. I just make a bunch and coast for a few weeks. I love it. 

What's the thing you never want to cook or eat again after all this cooking?

Anything made by people who make less than $15/hr.

What's one thing you want to see happen this year?

Medicare For All

Sarah Hussaini

Potter and creator of Not Work Related

What is one way that the turmoil of 2020 changed the way you see your work?

There were times that I thought my work was silly in the past, that I wasn't doing something important. But this year has really shown me that my work can be a source of happiness and joy for people. It's been really heartwarming to realize that people are excited about what I do and it feels much more impactful than the career I had before turning to ceramics.

Who are the people who inspire you as of late?

I am constantly inspired by the work of Diaspora Co. I love that they support their farmers and stand by their values publicly. The owner Sana Javeri Kadri has been the face of their brand and I think has done a really great job allowing people to get to know her and her business. It's amazing to see a woman that is an immigrant, a poc, and part of the lgbtq community be such a force.

What's the thing you cooked the most while staying at home?

Marcella Hazan's lentil soup. I grew up eating lentil soup and lots of lentils, so this recipe with Beyond Sausage (because I'm vegetarian) has been a comforting staple. WIth oyster crackers, of course.

What's the thing you never want to cook or eat again after all this cooking?

We did a produce box from a farm this year, kinda like a CSA.  We got so many damn carrots and potatoes, vegetables I usually love, but more than I ever needed. I would be happy if I never ate another roasted carrot again. Send me your carrot recipes...they keep coming.

What's one thing you want to see happen this year?

I want to see more compostable food packaging, I'm sick of all of my trash being the plastic wrapping or bagging around food. There needs to be biodegradable/paper based products that can be used in take out food/coffee and also in large scale food production. At a smaller scale, I would really like it if people who had access to neighborhood composting made the effort to save their scraps and carry them over to drop off sites. This needs to become normal.

Erin McDowell

Cookbook author, recipe developer, and food stylist. 

What is one way that the turmoil of 2020 changed the way you see your work?

My favorite part of what I do is teaching people to overcome issues in the kitchen they've faced before - or whatever makes them scared to try again. With so many folks spending time in the kitchen than ever before, my work has felt valuable in a new way this year. Helping others on their way to success also gives me renewed joy.  

Who are the people who inspire you as of late?

Several of my neighbors are healthcare workers, and one of my best friends works for a company providing school lunches even to children attending school remotely in NYC. Their incredible hard work in the face of so many challenges continues to amaze and inspire me.  

What's the thing you cooked the most while staying at home?

Toast. So much toast. It's my ultimate comfort food. Yes, a lot of it was homemade sourdough. 

What's the thing you never want to cook or eat again after all this cooking?

I can't necessarily think of a dish I've made I wouldn't want to make again - but I've tried to recreate some of my favorite restaurant dishes since I can't go to them in person, and it's just not the same. I'm supporting them however I can, especially with takeout orders - but I'm eager to be back in their dining rooms, sampling my favorites again.  

What's one thing you want to see happen this year?

In general for food, I hope everyone continues to spend time in the kitchen with renewed energy and creativity. I'm hoping to see new, diverse voices represented in food media - there are so many incredible stories and recipes to devour and share. On the baking side, I can't wait to see what the next baking trend will be (and oh, how I hope it's pie). 

Eric Kim

Food writer and soon-to-be cookbook author

What is one way that the turmoil of 2020 changed the way you see your work?

In 2020, the sudden lack of other human beings (i.e., actual physical bodies) in my day-to-day meant that my mental energy was mostly spent, for better or for worse, on my computer screen. On the news, mostly, but also on my work. A blessing and a curse for sure; I found myself turning even more inward than I already do, which meant that I was able to slow down and focus on — at the risk of sounding precious — the craft of it all. Syntax-level stuff. Which is hard to do when there's more noise, you know? I've realized in this extended period of solitude that if I can just focus on the words and the sentences, then the rest will fall into place. This mind game has worked for me so far, and it's kept me from imploding, so I'm running with it.

Who are the people who inspire you as of late?

Bryan Washington's writing, not just his gorgeous new novel, Memorial, but also his New Yorker columns. I love the way he says things, especially when he writes about food (better than most food writers, in my opinion, and I only say this because I doubt he considers himself a "food writer," which is precisely why he's the best at it). Shane Mitchell's reported essays (especially her Bitter Southerner features) read like epics to me, and I long for the day that I have the skill to write something as poetically ambitious as those. Jia Tolentino's essays I also love and draw inspiration from. This piece is the reason I'm in the mountains alone right now finishing up my manuscript and living off of spaghetti alla carbonara, hunk of guanciale in the fridge and all.

What's the thing you cooked the most while staying at home?

I have this one gochugaru-buttered shrimp and grits dish in my book that my family's been obsessed with. I've made it for so many people already: my Aunt Joy, who likes soft food; Uncle Louis, who likes soft food; in general, I guess, people who like soft food. To be clear, the grits are what are soft, and the shrimp are velvety (but you do have to chew them a little). Of course now I'm absolutely sick of cooking and eating them, so when I'm promoting this dish in March 2022 when my book comes out, you'll know that all the "I'm not sick of this recipe at all!" copy is an outright lie. I'm sorry, but that's show business. My other answer is: vegetables. I've never cooked so many vegetables than I have this year, and it's changed my life.

What's the thing you never want to cook or eat again after all this cooking?

Other than the shrimp and grits, there's this japchae-style pasta dish I developed for the book that I've always hated — no matter how many times I’ve tweaked it (and it’s been months). Even my mom agrees that it's the least delicious dish we've made during our quarantined cookbook writing together down here in Georgia. But we kept it in because we thought it was what the people wanted. Even if that's true, we both know by now that us not loving the dish will reflect in the writing and in the cooking (however objectively good the combination of ingredients might taste). So while drafting this response to you, Mom and I just nixed it from our master spreadsheet and replaced it with a salt-pickled cucumber instead. Don't worry: There's still an actual japchae recipe in the book, and it tastes really good.

What's one thing you want to see happen this year?

I want to see Michelle Branch come back with another studio album, and for the restaurant industry to finally get some relief from the government.