Connection: with Julia Sherman

Author + chef Julia Sherman in her Los Angeles kitchen

Julia Sherman is incredible at making things. Whether that’s an inviting dinner spread, a lovingly curated guest list, a bountiful at-home garden, or two successful cookbooks (and counting).

The author of Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists and Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook sat down with us for a casual, enlightening conversation.

CIANA ALESSI: So we'll start with: do you prefer Saturday nights or Sunday mornings? 

JULIA SHERMAN: These days? Sunday mornings. 

CA: What would your 18 year old self think of your life today?  

JS: I think well, surprised, for sure. Surprised and impressed. I think mostly that I'm, very far away from where I came from. 

CA:  What is your one hosting trick, if you have one? 

JS: It's usually to invite an equal number of strangers and people who know each other really well, to keep the mix. Always have it as a balance, where there's always the opportunity to make a new friend, but nobody's the odd man out, or everybody's known each other forever and you're the one person who's not familiar or kind of on the outskirts. So I think social engineering in that way. 

CA: I like that. Yeah, it's a little bit of human curation. 

JS: Yeah. 

CA: When are you the most inspired? It can be like a time of day or a season, anything. 

JS: I feel most inspired on the East Coast in the fall. I think that for me, it feels like a really kind of productive time. Like, maybe you've hopefully taken it slow during the summer, and then everybody's kicking back into gear and getting a little bit more focus. I live in LA, so I'm a little bit more detached from that seasonal shift these days, which can be actually quite disturbing. But I think the fall is, when everybody's kind of done fucking around and [getting] back to work, and usually in a way that feels really good. 

CA: I also live in LA, and am from the East Coast, and I agree that fall in the East Coast is really the only way to feel that energy shift. 

CA: Would you rather skip breakfast or lunch?

JS: Breakfast these days. It's funny, I was just saying how I used to be somebody who never skipped a meal and woke up first thing in the morning starving, and could not imagine doing anything without having a proper meal. And something shifted since I had my last kid, where I'm just not at all interested in eating in the morning. Or maybe it's just that I'm so focused on getting everybody else fed. But yeah, breakfast. But I have, like, a shockingly civilized lunch every day. 

CA: What does shockingly civilized mean, if you don't mind me asking? 

JS: Like, multicourse, multiple things. They're well plated and big, like, a pretty big lunch, a lot of vegetables. My husband now works from home as well most days. So we sit down to a proper meal in the middle of the day. 

CA: If you weren't a chef/writer/photographer, what would you be doing? 

JS: That's interesting. Let's see, what would I be doing in another life? I definitely imagine being a professor, so working in academia or at an art school, teaching. I've always imagined I would have some kind of brick and mortar, until I actually realized how hard that is. The idea of having my own grocery store is a fantasy, or even also private chefing. Being able to cook as much as I cook, but on a small scale and working around somebody else's specific needs. That sounds very exciting to me. Yeah, I don't know. There's a lot of things I feel like I could do.

I've been working on developing a TV show and writing treatments, and pitching is really fun and surprisingly natural, like, given my previous experience. So that's pretty fun if it wasn't such a gnarly industry, right? I feel like I know too much about the ins and outs of all my potential careers, and it makes me happy where I am. 

CA: Do you have a weeknight go-to  meal?

JS: There's a recipe in my book for a pasta with sardines, currants and caramelized onions and saffron that we eat a lot because we always have tinned sardines. And that's one thing it really doesn’t depend on the season. Or a big Greek salad is a big one for us. Of course, you can do it any time of year so that becomes less specific than a Greek salad, because that I would really only do that in the summer. Yeah, I would say that would be our go-to. I also just, like, make tons of different pestos, so pasta. Or rice bowls, [since] we generally have enough pickled things, fermented things and mushrooms, or some kind of a squash or heartier vegetable. And so rice bowls with this really delicious rice from Koda Farms here, we do that a lot as well. 

CA: This is a fill in the blank, so every kitchen should have ___________. 

JS: Multiple vinegars, a really nice olive oil... And fish sauce.

CA: Do you prefer to be the host or the guest?

JS: In general? I do prefer to be the host, but actually — not last night, but the night before — we went over to Nick and Paul's house, and it was so nice to be a guest and just show up with a bottle of wine. It felt so foreign, and so I felt like a princess, and [that] really never happens. So I don't think I would want to make a habit of always being on the guest side of things, because hosting is one of my favorite things to do in life as a regular weekly practice, but it is really nice to be a guest, especially when people put so much thought and energy into it, and you really feel so special. I'm jealous of all the people I cook for on a regular basis. 

CA: Do you have any family holiday traditions? 

JS: Well, we do Shabbat every Friday, with two other families that are very close to us and have children, young kids. And so that has been a really wonderful weekly event. And we rotate houses so I don't always host it. I think both of our parents kind of own the bigger holidays still, we haven't taken those over yet. And so I feel like Shabbat is the one that we're like, “we're adults. We're going to really commit to this, and do it well.” 

CA: What is your favorite way to unwind? 

JS: Cooking for sure, yeah. Like, the other day, I just got stressed and I was like, “I just need to cook a big meal.” And also gardening. That has been the immediate way for me to chill out and stop a racing mind. 

CA: Yeah, that totally makes sense. I would have been surprised if it was anything besides cooking, but you never know. 

JS: Exercise, too. Definitely. 

CA: What's the biggest learning experience that you've had so far? I know it's a loaded question. 

JS: Yeah, so many. But I'd say right now, in this moment, I'm finding that as a parent, I'm learning that my reserves of patience are so much deeper than I ever thought they were. I'm finding it very challenging, but I have a three year old and a one year old, so it's like full on. And one thing I've learned is that I'm so embarrassed that I used to think that stay at home moms didn't work. It is the most terrifying prospect. I could not imagine that being 100% on you. It's crazy. So I feel like I need to retract any previous thought or comments I might have made in my life, because it's a job I could never do.

And then I think just having to practice and commit to just radical empathy all day, every day with small people and really meet them where they're at and really put your own ideas of how things should be aside is how we should treat everybody. It really has changed all my relationships. It feels funny to be like, “I just treat everyone like a toddler,” but it's kind of true. [Treating everyone like a toddler] is just like the raw form of emotion and social behavior that we all come from. And I think just finding myself able to deal with those moments and I really don't feel like I can do it anymore. It's very rewarding, even if I want to scream into a pillow a lot of the time. 

CA: Where is one place that you believe everyone should visit?

JS: Oh, my God. I mean, so many places, right? Well, in the US, I would say Marin County, like, Point Reyes and up there is an incredible place to return to that has really wonderful people, great food, incredible landscape. I'm about to go to Madrid to write a story for Departures magazine, and I do feel like that is a city that is just so livable and manageable and has everything you need. And people seem to skip it in favor of Barcelona. Then also on the Spain tip, Costa Brava, North of Barcelona, is the most chill, beautiful beach area with amazing food and people. I haven't traveled as much around Spain as much as I would like, but Spain is definitely heaven. 

CA: Are you currently reading anything? If so, I would love to know what it is. 

JS: I just started reading Braiding Sweetgrass

JS: Oh, and I just read this book, Vladimir [by Julia May Jonas]. That's a novel that was amazing. But I tend to read a lot of novels where the writers are writing about writing. I realized that's because I usually am asking other writer friends for suggestions. And so it's like, female writers writing about their interiority and experiences and struggles being a writer. So that has inadvertently been, like, the theme for most of the fiction that I've been reading. But Braiding Sweetgrass is nonfiction. 

CA: And are you enjoying it? 

JS: I mean, I've just read like, 20 pages — I started it yesterday. But am I enjoying it? I think in this moment, I feel so much panic about what's happening to our climate in our world. It's like a Native American experience or perspective on how we relate to the earth. And it is optimistic. It feels like the first positive, optimistic thing I've read or listened to or anything in such a long time. And I think I need it right now. 

CA: Yeah, there's only so much, like, panic that you can take. 

JS: I can't take anymore. [Braiding Sweetgrass] is really beautifully written and felt like a reprieve. 

CA: Do you have a playlist that you find yourself going back too often or, like, constantly listening to? 

JS: No, I have become what my husband called a "passive listener,: which is, like, much to my dismay because I used to really seek out new music and be very active. But he works with music brands and used to run a music festival, so he really curates and does it for me, which is good and bad. I think in a pinch, if I'm writing, I always put on Nils Frahm, the composer and pianist, or Arthur Russell. I'm generally looking for music that I can write [to], or do something that isn't going to compete too much with my brain, or something that my daughter will like. But she really likes [sic] now and John Kale, so that's my weird musical world right now. 

CA: I mean, I'm sure that your morning routine is heavily tied around your kids, but what would you say your morning routine is? 

JS: My morning routine is, I desperately try to sleep as long as I can, but end up getting up around six. And I try to usually organize the breakfast the night before, so either make pancake mix or oatmeal for the kids or whatever, get them fed. I have various face regimens that I do. And yeah, pack my daughter's lunchbox, get everybody out the door, and then try and find some way to exercise and onto my day. 

CA: Sounds like a proper LA morning. 

JS: Yeah, it is. It works, though. Very chaotic. 

CA: Organized chaos. 

JS: Yes.

CA: Which part of your home is your happy place? 

JS: Definitely the kitchen. And then I would say my front garden. My vegetable garden is in the front yard. 

CA: Oh, cool. What do you have growing in there? 

JS: Oh, my God. So much. I just harvested hibiscus. We have African tree tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, lots and lots of strawberries, curry leaves, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, mustard greens, all different types of herbs, beans. Yeah, it's pretty active in there. 

CA: Is there an artist that you feel like has influenced you or your work the most? 

JS: I would say Laurie Anderson. I feel like her approach to kind of just, like, adopting new media and being very flexible and open and incorporating language into her work, while also kind of teetering between things being very abstract and then also other projects being very accessible. Yeah, I mean, she's definitely like, my idol. 

CA: I like that you had an immediate answer. Okay, last question. Do you have a guilty pleasure? And if so, what is it? I hesitate to ask or to phrase it as a guilty pleasure because, you know, you shouldn't feel bad about things you enjoy, but interpret that how you will. 

JS: Guilty pleasure — wine, for sure. I mean, every night I eat some cannabis, which is probably not the greatest, although it's good for me. I find it really cured my postpartum depression and allowed me to really enjoy having newborns, and that is an incredible gift. So I'm very pro edibles.


Julia Sherman in conversation with Ciana Alessi, our Copywriter + Content Manager.