“People Love Priya Krishna” Transcript
Athena Calderone: Hello. I am Athena Calderone of EyeSwoon. Did you know that over 25% of New York City children are living in poverty? Many rely on free schools when class is in session. But during the summer months their families look to soup kitchens and food pantries to eat. The folks at Food Bank for New York City want you to know that unlike school, hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end child hunger by providing meals to families and children in need during those challenging summer months. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word, and more.
Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe and I'm your host Kerry Diamond. Each week we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. Let's thank today's sponsors Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Traeger Wood Fired Grills. Housekeeping, we have so much housekeeping. The Food For Thought tour is gearing up for its second half. Can you believe that? We will be doing live Radio Cherry Bombe episodes in Asheville, North Carolina, hanging with our pals Vivian Howard and Katie Button. We'll also be in Philly, Miami, and ready for this one, Columbus, Ohio. And our event is taking place in the home office of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. It's going to be huge. And yes there will be ice cream and other cool stuff. For tickets to all of these tour stops and more information, visit cherrybombe.com. Thank you so much to Kerrygold for supporting our tour.
Kerry Diamond: On Saturday November 2nd we are hosting our first ever Jubilee Seattle. We can't wait to meet up with the pacific northwest Bombesquad for a day filled with delicious food, networking, wonderful talks and panels. Early bird tickets are almost gone so be sure to grab yours today. Also our volunteer and scholarship ticket applications are now open. Visit cherrybombe.com.
Kerry Diamond: For today's show we are getting a double dose of Priya Krishna. We love Priya Krishna. She's a journalist, Cherry Bombe contributor, and author of the hit cookbook Indian-ish, Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family. She's also a very good friend, which I should note. I sat down with Priya at Cherry Bombe HQ to catch up on how her life has changed since her book was published this past spring. Then in the second half we'll hear Priya's talk from our Jubilee 2019 conference. Is there such a thing as too much Priya? We don't think so. Before we get to our conversation here's a word from Le Cordon Bleu.
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Kerry Diamond: So Priya's here and we're looking at an article she wrote for the new issue of Cherry Bombe. Thirteen things she learned from her mom, in honor of our 13th issue. What is your favorite piece of advice from your mom?
Priya Krishna: I really do think that it's the two and a half inches is as high of a heel as you'll ever need. Anything else is a recipe for bunions. My mom loves her shoes and has bought many shoes over the years. And I feel like that is not sexy advice, but it's very practical advice. And I love it. And I've discovered there are so many great two and a half inch heeled shoes out there.
Kerry Diamond: I feel like you can find a sexy two and a half inch heel, but I don't wear heels anymore. I decided they're a tool of the patriarchy.
Priya Krishna: Two and a half inches I feel that I'm not subscribing to the patriarchy because I'm so comfortable.
Kerry Diamond: It's somewhere in between patriarchy and matriarchy.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Anyway, we're going to talk about food today. Because we're so excited you're back from your massively successful tour.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I am kind of astonished at the response to the cookbook. It's been awesome.
Kerry Diamond: Well I feel like I have been intimately involved in the cookbook for a while just because cookbooks take longer than people realize to work on. So you have been working on this cookbook for quite some time.
Priya Krishna: A fun fact is that I found out that the book sold sitting in this very office.
Kerry Diamond: Aw, that's nice. That's nice. I don't know if I remember that moment.
Priya Krishna: You weren't in the office. It was just me and Donna.
Kerry Diamond: Because I was like if we shared that moment and I forgot, I apologize. So I'm happy to hear we didn't share that moment. You and Donna did. Okay.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: And we miss Donna all the time. I mean the book has done really, really well. I do not think your publisher was anticipating that in the beginning.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I mean it's hard to tell what they were anticipating. I think-
Kerry Diamond: Because you didn't communicate that they thought it was going to be this major best seller.
Priya Krishna: And I didn't really have much of a following when I sold the book. It was definitely more of a theoretical thing. It wasn't even my idea. It was another editor who had come to me. But it was almost as though as the book kept going and as I kept writing it, it felt like oh, this is what I need to be doing, like this feels like a very obvious next step for me. And as I started leaning more into the subject of the book, it seemed like people were listening and more and more people were listening and paying attention.
Kerry Diamond: So there was momentum?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, I think so. And I think by the time the book came out there were a lot of people who already knew about it because I was sharing all of my failed attempts at making dal chawal on Instagram and sharing pictures of my dad washing the dishes wearing a lungi. People kind of already felt like they knew about the book and they knew about my life.
Kerry Diamond: Wait, what was your dad wearing?
Priya Krishna: Wearing a lungi. It's kind of like a loin cloth, but longer. It's like a long skirt. It's very breathable and it's worn a lot in India.
Kerry Diamond: And Dallas?
Priya Krishna: Yes. And Dallas.
Kerry Diamond: In your parents' home. I mean what I loved about the book from the beginning is that it's such a tribute to your family. And I know how much you love your parents and that's so sweet.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I was one of those classic angsty Indian American kids who just totally rejected my culture and was so embarrassed of my parents and the fact that they had an accent and they didn't make spaghetti and meatballs. They made dal and sabzi. But I feel like many people go through this. As life has gone by I've realized that both of my parents are pretty remarkable people. My mom being this woman who was kind of breaking the glass ceiling before that was even a thing. And my dad who made all of these sacrifices and kind of let his career take a backseat to my mom's because my mom had these really wild ambitions.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us how your parents wound up in Dallas.
Priya Krishna: It's a sort of sad story, but now looking back on it it's kind of happy. We were living in New Hampshire at the time. My parents went to school in the northeast after they immigrated to the US in 1980. And the plan was always to have my mom's parents move to the US from India and take care of my sister and me. They died really suddenly in a car crash together. And they had sort of told my mom that if anything happens to us we really want to make sure you and your brothers are together. So my mom's youngest brother had just moved to Dallas because he'd just gotten a job there and so my mom and her other brothers, with no job prospects, no nothing, just up and moved to Dallas to be all together.
Kerry Diamond: Wow, I didn't know that.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Did you ever meet your grandparents?
Priya Krishna: I guess technically, but they died when I was about two years old so I don't remember them.
Kerry Diamond: Oh gosh, and they died together?
Priya Krishna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kerry Diamond: That's heavy.
Priya Krishna: Well it's funny, my grandfather had written in a journal that he thought that he and his wife would die at the same time. It was really eerie.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. From all the stories my mom tells me ... And it took her a long time to be able to talk about her parents. But now she talks about them more and more. It seems like especially me and my grandmother would have gotten along really well.
Kerry Diamond: She was the cook?
Priya Krishna: No. She hated cooking, but she was very sassy.
Kerry Diamond: Well, we love that you're sassy Priya. All right, I want to talk about the Bon Appétit videos because this has just catapulted you to a whole new audience and a whole new level.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I mean I kind of didn't know what I was signing up for when I agreed to do those. I had seen one or two of those videos but I don't think I realized the viewership that Bon Appétit has been able to get from those videos and so the first one went up and it was me making this basically Indian grilled cheese that has curry leaves and mustard seeds on top.
Kerry Diamond: The famous dahi?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, dahi toast. And it was like every day I was getting 10 DMs of people who had made dahi toast. People who were like, "I can't believe I'm seeing curry leaves in the Bon Appétit test kitchen." People who were like, "I've never made Indian food before. This feels so doable." It was kind of amazing.
Kerry Diamond: And the viewership, you're getting hundreds of thousands of views per video.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Over half a million for most of them.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. There was a video where I made my dad's-
Kerry Diamond: It's Seth watching over and over again isn't it? Your boyfriend. Clicking.
Priya Krishna: No, he doesn't watch my videos. He watches the baking ones.
Kerry Diamond: He watched his own.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: We'll get back to that. But has it been fun being part of the Bon App video team?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, it totally has. And the entire production team is amazing. My producer Tommy Warner is just unbelievable. Rhoda Boone who does all of the food styling and everything. They just make you feel so comfortable and they make it so easy. I'm definitely someone who I think I'm a better storyteller than I am cook. So there's something really inherently terrifying, me not a professional cook, cooking on camera. But I think, one, they make it easy and two, they always tell me, "Lean into exactly the cook that you are. People aren't looking for professionals who have perfect knife skills. It's okay that your knife skills aren't good. A lot of people at home's knife skills aren't good."
Kerry Diamond: But I can tell your knife skills have improved watching your videos.
Priya Krishna: I'm really glad to hear that because I've been working very hard on my knife skills.
Kerry Diamond: What I love about the success of Indian-ish and the success of your videos is you do have people making Indian food who I think just had never even thought about it. I love on your Instagram stories when you share everything that people are posting of what they're making.
Priya Krishna: And that's every day and I don't even have time to share all of the things that people are making. It's the best problem to have.
Kerry Diamond: But the saag paneer, or feta, your saag feta.
Priya Krishna: Yeah, saag feta.
Kerry Diamond: The dahi toast. All these things that people didn't even know the names of. And I hope you are able to ... I know you've been so busy with the book the past few months, but I hope you're able to sort of realize the impact you're having and what you're doing for Indian cuisine in America.
Priya Krishna: I hope so. I mean I also feel like I am benefiting from a wave of people and books that came before me that sort of fomented this happening. I feel like my book sort of arrived at the right time where you had Preeti Mistry, and Nick Sharma, and Asha Gomez that sort of paved the way and showed that there isn't just one type of Indian cookbook and that we all have these really unique perspectives to share. I try to make it so that my book isn't, this is how you make Indian food, this is the definitive take, but this is the Indian food that I grew up with and I think it's really tasty and really accessible so maybe it'll help you get into Indian food.
Kerry Diamond: Do you think it's also part of a bigger appreciation just for Indian culture and Indian American culture? You know you've got Priyanka Chopra on the cover of InStyle and Vogue.
Priya Krishna: Yeah, I was thinking about that. I mean I 100% think that there is a relationship between Priyanka Chopra, Mindy Kaling, and the popularity of Indian food. I mean I never-
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, it's a cultural moment.
Priya Krishna: It really is. And I never in a million years ever thought that Priyanka Chopra, someone who I grew up watching and Bollywood movies, would be considered a mainstream figure in America. But it gives me a ton of hope to see that too.
Kerry Diamond: Or that you would be discussed in the same sentence as Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra.
Priya Krishna: I mean I don't think I'm there yet.
Kerry Diamond: Priya Krishna, Mindy Kaling, Priyanka Chopra. There you go. You were just in a sentence with the two of them. It wasn't quite a full sentence but you know what I mean.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I hope one day I get to meet Priyanka Chopra. I met Mindy Kaling in passing many, many years ago, but maybe I'll get to meet her again.
Kerry Diamond: But it is an interesting dilemma for you because you gave that wonderful talk at Jubilee about not wanting to be pigeonholed or tokenized and now you have become an Indian food expert, which is something you were kind of trying to avoid.
Priya Krishna: Well it's funny because it's almost as though as a home cook I'm totally fine being the Indian food expert, but as a journalist I don't just want to be the Indian food expert. And I try to make that really clear because at Bon App they're constantly asking me, "Are there other dishes you want to make?" And I'm like, "I don't think that me making pasta will contribute much." But I think me making Indian food, I think that's where I have the most to offer. Whereas as a journalist I don't think that I have the most to offer just by writing about Indian food.
Kerry Diamond: And have you been able to maintain that?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, totally.
Kerry Diamond: What are some of the more recent pieces you've been able to do?
Priya Krishna: I did a profile I'm really, really proud of of the chef Kwame Onwuachi. I read his memoir a really long time ago and thought it was really special and this was kind of before he started blowing up. So I started writing this profile and it started as a 700 word sort of brief on his book. And as his star kept rising, it went from 700 words to 1,000 words to eventually it was 2,000 words. And I was just really taken by his story and what it takes to succeed in this industry as a black man coming from the circumstances that he came from.
Kerry Diamond: Who did you write that for?
Priya Krishna: For The New York Times.
Kerry Diamond: You really have made a name for yourself by chasing stories and pushing for stories that other people don't want to write. And you have been such a champion for the underdog in this industry, a champion for people who don't have PR, can't afford PR, don't have the fancy website, don't have all these things. You're willing to still do the work of being a journalist and go find them.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. In fact the majority of the people that I cover, I feel like one, either haven't heard of New York Times or Bon Appétit, or two, they think they're being punked. So I don't know. I kind of love covering someone who doesn't want to be covered. Those are my favorite stories.
Kerry Diamond: Give us an example.
Priya Krishna: Right now I'm working on this profile of this farmer. His name's Zaid Kurdieh, and he grew up in the middle east and he is basically, name a restaurant in New York that's popular and he supplies their produce. He has this unbelievable ability to know this variety of kale or eggplant is going to be popular. He just kind of has an amazing sense of what will be trending in produce. And he does it by, he brings basically these farmers from Egypt who are really, really well versed in organic farming and Egyptian technology. Egypt is one of the oldest agricultural nations in the world. And he and his wife Haifa basically run this organic farm that's powered by Egyptian farmers and technology. And when I first called him he was so hesitant. And apparently he called the friend who connected me and was like, "I don't know about this Priya."
Priya Krishna: But he was like, "Yeah, it's for the New York Times." And he was like, "I don't know."
Kerry Diamond: You wore him down.
Priya Krishna: I wore him down. This friend who introduced me, he drove me to the farm and I was like this is happening.
Kerry Diamond: But I do admire your journalism skills because it's so easy today to just pluck something off Instagram or stumble upon something, but you still really go out there and kind of act like a sleuth.
Priya Krishna: Well isn't that more fun? That's the whole point of reporting is to uncover something that no one else has found yet and to feel like you're sort of holding on to this treasure. Like when I find a really good story I get really nervous. I'm like, someone else is going to find this obscure restaurant in Salt Lake City serving Hawaiian food. Someones going to beat me to the punch. But I'm like yeah, no, very few other people are seeking out these stories.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. And it's amazing that there are still those stories to uncover because you can sort of feel like every story's been told today and because of social media we know about everything. But that's not true.
Priya Krishna: No, it's totally not true. Especially in the middle of the country. Like everywhere that's not LA, San Francisco, and New York there are so many fascinating food stories. Like at a wedding I met this guy from Indianapolis and he rattled off three food businesses and each of those food businesses could have been a profile.
Kerry Diamond: All right, let's talk about some food stuff. Chonk life. For those who don't know what that means, what is chonk life?
Priya Krishna: Well chonk is a Indian technique wherein you basically just temper or fry spices in oil. The idea being you're sort of creating this crunchy, flavorful oil that you can then pour on top of any dish. And I've used it in everything from dal to nachos and it works great.
Kerry Diamond: And chonk life is your hashtag?
Priya Krishna: I did not create that hashtag. Someone else made that hashtag. Yeah, like SethBakes, not my hashtag.
Kerry Diamond: It's not?
Priya Krishna: No.
Kerry Diamond: Seth is Priya's boyfriend who we all love so much and who is obsessed with making really complicated baked goods. Where does that obsession come from?
Priya Krishna: His grandfather was a baker so I think it's in his blood.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay. And the whole video thing, was that his idea, was that your idea?
Priya Krishna: I just kind of started last Christmas, I started documenting him making a cake and then on New Years Eve he really wanted to make croissants and so I started documenting those. And I was getting DMs from people being like, "I'm so invested in these croissants."
Kerry Diamond: Laminated dough. Not easy.
Priya Krishna: Exactly. And then the croissants turned out so beautifully and people were so excited. So I don't know. I just kept documenting them and now when I'm too busy and I don't have time to document people are like, "Where's the Seth bakes?"
Kerry Diamond: And you make him dance to Bollywood songs.
Priya Krishna: He voluntarily dances.
Kerry Diamond: And sing Bollywood songs.
Priya Krishna: Again, voluntary.
Kerry Diamond: And Seth looks like ... I know he's an architect and architects work really hard, but he looks like he has a lot of time to work out.
Priya Krishna: He makes time to work out. He wakes up very early in the morning. It's like his meditation.
Kerry Diamond: Is he a good influence on you?
Priya Krishna: He's a very good influence on me. We go to the gym together quite a bit.
Kerry Diamond: All right, a splatter guard. Do you own a splatter guard.
Priya Krishna: No I don't, but I know you do and I know how much you love yours. I saw you using one in your apartment and I was like I need to get this.
Kerry Diamond: I thought that it would improve your life immensely if you had a splatter guard.
Priya Krishna: It definitely would.
Kerry Diamond: It wouldn't have helped you when you got the cilantro in the eye.
Priya Krishna: Oh god, yeah that was tough.
Kerry Diamond: A famous Bon Appétit video moment. Did you know they were going to run that at the end?
Priya Krishna: I mean, whenever I do something remotely embarrassing you just know it's going to end up in the video. It's just inevitable.
Kerry Diamond: It's just the way it is. Anyway, splatter guard. I should buy you one to congratulate you on all the success on the book. Dahi toast, which we talked about earlier, I mean I'm so tickled now when I see it all over Instagram. I feel like that is something you have completely created.
Priya Krishna: Well I mean many, many Indian families make something super similar. I just-
Kerry Diamond: No, I mean the craze for it.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I mean it's funny, one of my friends went to this bakery in LA called Fiona and they have a dahi toast on the menu and who knows, dahi toast is so common it's very likely it could come from elsewhere, but it was the exact dahi toast that I make but like an open faced version.
Kerry Diamond: Can you tell people what it is exactly?
Priya Krishna: Yeah. So it's basically sourdough bread filled with yogurt that's mixed with cilantro and onions and chili's, and you sort of griddle it on both sides like a grilled cheese and then you top it with a chonk, or tempered spices, of curry leaves and mustard seeds so it gets all crunchy and earthy and delicious. And then you eat it. My mom and sister eat it with cilantro chutney. My dad and I eat it with ketchup. Sometimes I swirl the two together. It's just the perfect dinner. It is like the classic my mom came home from work, she doesn't have any time, you throw together dahi toast.
Kerry Diamond: I mean that is just flavors firing on every cylinder.
Priya Krishna: Yes. It is so good. And people don't believe me about the ketchup. The ketchup I think is so key.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, it looked kind of gross, but I know you well and I've eaten with you so I trust your palate.
Priya Krishna: I've had many people kind of approach the ketchup with skepticism, but they always convert.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. I believe you. Always toast your spices. That's a big message that comes through in all your videos and in the cookbook.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I mean sometimes I feel like people just kind of haphazardly put spices in a dish, but toasting them or at least heating them up is what activates-
Kerry Diamond: Is half assedly a word?
Priya Krishna: Haphazardly. Is not the right way to-
Kerry Diamond: Wait do you say haphazardly?
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I thought you said half assedly.
Priya Krishna: Okay.
Kerry Diamond: I like half assed.
Priya Krishna: Well I mean that too.
Priya Krishna: And the reason Indian food is so good is because they're activating those spices. They're heating them. That's what brings out those essential oils and kind of permeates the whole dish with that flavor.
Kerry Diamond: So always toast them. You said something very funny and I don't think you fully meant this, but you said, "Indian food is very forgiving, it's basically just dumping a bunch of stuff into a pan."
Priya Krishna: I mean, I kind of stand by that. It is extremely forgiving. When I was testing stuff sometimes I would run out of a spice or I wouldn't have enough and it was fine. You're adding enough stuff in there and kind of stirring it all together that ... It's going to taste good whether you add one lime or two limes, whether it's a half tablespoon or a full tablespoon of coriander seed. I do think it's one of the most forgiving cuisines. It doesn't have the precision of French cuisine or pastry. That's what I like about it. I'm definitely one of those people who plays fast and loose with recipes.
Kerry Diamond: You've also shared with the rest of the world your roti pizza, which we originally ran in the Cherry Bombe cookbook. So I feel very proprietary toward that recipe. But you love this recipe.
Priya Krishna: That is probably ... If there were a recipe that's like the nearest and dearest to my heart from that book it is the roti pizza because it is one of those things that was true compromise. We wanted pizza. My mom didn't want to make pizza. And so she-
Kerry Diamond: Because?
Priya Krishna: Well she didn't know how to make pizza and she thought it was unhealthy so she thought she'd put pizza toppings on roti.
Kerry Diamond: But you and your sister wanted American food and your mom made Indian food every night. And that was the compromise.
Priya Krishna: Exactly. That was the compromise. And now roti pizza is ... It's well known in our family, our extended family, our friends, everyone knows about roti pizza.
Kerry Diamond: So you came over and made it didn't you when Bern and I were testing the Cherry Bombe cookbook recipes.
Priya Krishna: And I remember that was one of the first times that I had shared one of my mom's dishes sort of outside the family and seeing the joy on your face when you ate the roti pizza I was like, oh, okay, my mom's food might have some wide appeal. That was the first hint of that.
Kerry Diamond: And do I remember correctly you had to get your mom's permission to run that recipe in the cookbook?
Priya Krishna: Oh yeah. Definitely. But now she's very free about giving out her recipes. She's an old pro now.
Kerry Diamond: Well I would hope so. I mean Indian-ish is a tribute. I mean the subtitle is about ... What is it, the misadventures of the-
Priya Krishna: Recipes and antics from a modern American family. And my mom's my coauthor so she wrote 100 recipes for this book.
Kerry Diamond: So she's used to it.
Priya Krishna: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: How does she like the attention?
Priya Krishna: I think she's just so excited about it. I mean every time my mom and I talk on the phone she talks about how the other day she was giving a big presentation to all of the executives at her company. She works for a tax software company. And she gave the presentation and she was like, "Any questions?" And someone raised their hand and was like, "I just found out about your cookbook. I just want to say I'm a huge fan. I've cooked these recipes from it. I want to share on my Instagram." And my mom is like, "I've just never had work people come up to me and say they made my aloo gobi or my roti pizza." That is very surreal to her.
Priya Krishna: I mean also her job is so not cooking related.
Kerry Diamond: Tax software, yeah.
Priya Krishna: So seeing those things intersect I think has been really cool.
Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. So let's talk about your talk from Jubilee since everyone's going to hear that next. Of all the things you could talk about why did you choose to talk about that?
Priya Krishna: That's a hard one because there are a lot of things ... As you know I have lots of opinions. But I was sort of at this moment in my career where I basically thought that I was going to have to choose am I the person who covers Indian food or a generalist and I sort of made the decision that I didn't want to choose at that point. And I had also come off having all these conversations about my cookbook with magazines in which they were like, "This is too complicated." A magazine that regularly runs 15 ingredient dip recipes telling me this. And I felt really strongly that there was still so much work to do in media in terms of accepting the cuisines of communities of color. And I felt like there were a lot of things that maybe people subconsciously do that they don't realize. Not realizing that their networks are mostly white. That they need to reach beyond that. Only cooking what they know, which is European food, and not attempting to learn other cuisines or source outside contributors.
Priya Krishna: And I also felt like they were pretty simple, straightforward things that can be done to address these. And I was like okay, this is going to be a room full of people who have a lot of influence. People who are shaping the food world. If I could tell them something, what would it be? And it was that. It was like how do we make our world more inclusive? The specific food world that we occupy.
Kerry Diamond: Aside from your own personal contribution to this change ... I mean you are the change in some respects. Are you seeing other signs of progress?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, I am slowly but surely. Like at Bon Appétit I feel like that's been a big thing that I've tried to advocate for. The test kitchen as a lot of people know is super white. So it's like how can we bring in more perspectives to the test kitchen. How can we not just write about restaurants run by people of color, but source recipes from people of color, from communities of color. I think the biggest thing that can be done with most of these publications is normalizing other cuisines, or Indian food or Vietnamese food as just everyday food. Like you're doing a salad package, why not include a kachumber from India, a fattoush from Iran. These things will sort of help to normalize these cuisines in the minds of people and not make them feel like other.
Kerry Diamond: You know what's been so interesting to me is as more people of color get cookbook deals, which I'm happy to see but I still think it's not quite enough, I realized for how long we only ever saw white hands in magazines and cookbooks and now to have books like Nick's book, like Black Girl Baking, books like that and you realize god, we still have so far to go. For that to be startling and to realize that you really only ever saw white hands in magazines is crazy.
Priya Krishna: Yeah, I mean even still when people do retrospectives on the cookbooks that shaped my life, most of them were cookbooks by white authors. And it's because those are the people who were publishing cookbooks back then. There were people like Madhur Jaffrey that were publishing cookbooks but they were few and far between.
Kerry Diamond: Right. And Edna Lewis, but again she only had a handful of cookbooks.
Priya Krishna: Right.
Kerry Diamond: It was really fun seeing you with Padma and Madhur at Jubilee.
Priya Krishna: Yeah, that was unreal.
Kerry Diamond: Because she called you out from the stage and I think I saw your face when she did that.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I think someone snapped a photograph when she said that. Because I was sitting with the team that photographed and designed me cookbook and we were all freaking out.
Kerry Diamond: She's amazing. It was really fun to have her stay for the whole day.
Priya Krishna: I'm so, so happy that you all got her and got Padma to interview her. I was just-
Kerry Diamond: That was her idea.
Priya Krishna: Yeah, it was amazing. I mean, just the energy and sass the Madhur has at her age is just remarkable. I think she's amazing. I can't even imagine what it was like being in the environment that she was in being edited by Judith Jones in that era. One thing that she said in that talk that was really interesting is ultimately she hates the word curry, but one of her books has the word curry in it and she felt like she didn't even have a choice. It was either that or the book doesn't get published.
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And also all the regional cooking and how Indian cooking is like Italian cooking in that respect. That it's not just one big thing.
Priya Krishna: Totally. And I'm really excited to see more chefs and more cookbook authors lean into that.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. I mean it was fascinating hearing about her working with Judith Jones. But even going back to prayer protests with Gandhi. I mean to have this woman who actually was in the same room as Gandhi was pretty mind blowing.
Priya Krishna: I mean her life has been just unbelievable. I can't believe she's seen all the things that she's seen.
Kerry Diamond: Same. Yeah. I could have listened to her talk for a few more hours actually. Is it weird for you to think you're literally now following in her footsteps. I mean she had a TV show. We didn't have cooking videos back then. You had cooking TV shows. And you are teaching a whole new generation how to make Indian food.
Priya Krishna: I mean it would be amazing and so flattering if I could follow in her footsteps. They're huge, monumental footsteps. But yeah, that would be a dream. I don't think I'm Madhur Jaffrey and I don't think anyone can be, but if I can do something anywhere similar to what she did for Indian cooking I think I'd be really happy.
Kerry Diamond: And as long as those footsteps are only in two and a half inch heels right?
Priya Krishna: Yeah, exactly.
Kerry Diamond: To bring it full circle. All right Priya, I love you. I could talk to you forever. We're going to do a little speed round.
Priya Krishna: All right.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen implement.
Priya Krishna: My garlic press.
Kerry Diamond: Dream vacation destination.
Priya Krishna: I'd love to go to Turkey. I've never been.
Kerry Diamond: Oldest thing in your fridge.
Priya Krishna: A jar of kimchi gifted to me from a friend.
Kerry Diamond: From how long ago?
Priya Krishna: Like a year ago.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Priya Krishna: But kimchi could last forever right?
Kerry Diamond: Right.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. It's only getting better with time.
Kerry Diamond: If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be and why?
Priya Krishna: One food celebrity. Probably Dorie Greenspan. We became friends at Jubilee and literally by that dinner that we had for the speakers I was like, I don't want to go anywhere without you Dorie. And now I'm plotting ... If Dorie's listening to this, I'm plotting some kind of potluck situation with you and your family and me and Seth. I really want us to just bake together.
Kerry Diamond: I think she brings that out in people. I had to interview her at the 92nd Street Y and then we went to dinner. And by the end of the night I was like, "Can I come live with you and your family?"
Priya Krishna: Yeah. I'm just obsessed with her.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, absolutely. But who would do all the work on the island? I feel like you two would probably divide it evenly. You two seem very practical to me.
Priya Krishna: Yeah. And I think she'd be a really amazing resource to have on a desert island. She seems like she really has ... together.
Kerry Diamond: I feel like you two could survive for a while on that desert island.
Priya Krishna: I really do think so.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back after this quick break.
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Kerry Diamond: And now, here's Priya's talk from our Jubilee 2019 conference in New York City. Introducing Priya is Brooke Caison, who today is part of the team over at Ovenly.
Brooke Caison: Okay, good morning Bombesquad. My name is Brooke. Hi. Good morning. Thank you for saying it back. You may know me as a super overzealous Cherry Bombe Jubilee volunteer, but today I also have the privilege of introducing the next speaker. And I want to share a little bit about how I got to this point. First of all I realize I'm not that old, but growing up I didn't see a whole lot of black women in food. And whenever I did it seemed like they were only interested in the sort of slave descendant, southern fried fare that my family and I ate at gatherings, holidays, social things like that. And it bored eight year old me to death. And my interest in cooking and creating might have completely withered and died had it not been for my mother, my precious mother, who she nurtured that and from the time that I could see over the countertop she would have me at her side absorbing everything that I could. And she was always eager to expose me to different kinds of eating and it led us to try out a bunch of different recipes from all over the world, including a biblical recipe that led to a chicken dish that had 40 cloves of garlic in it. Whole cloves.
Brooke Caison: And despite that nurture I still struggled a little bit with that newfound love. Because how could I be a cook, how could I make that a real career and not end up just another black cook who's only cooking soul food because that's all that was expected of her? And how could I also shake the feeling that I was letting down all the people that have fought so hard to make sure that I did not have to spend my whole life in a kitchen? How could I shed that skin of feeling like I had to create feasts from scraps of food that were deemed only fit for a lesser human being?
Brooke Caison: But by the time I got to college I had none of those answers to any of those questions so I did what any self respecting, strong black woman would do and I ran. And I ran so far and so fast that by the time I looked up I had two engineering degrees and I was looking at a schedule of missile test firings for the upcoming year. So that was great. And then I thought about the eight year old me that fell in love with cooking and was excited to try her first vegan entrée. And she was disappointed in me. And I realized that I let my fear of somebody telling me that I couldn't completely overcome the only thing that bought me joy. So I couldn't stand that idea of letting myself down even though it was eight year old me. I couldn't stand that idea. So I quit my job and I moved out of my dad's house and I moved four states away to enroll in culinary school. And I also applied to a bunch of restaurants that had no business hiring me.
Brooke Caison: Because if I was going to do it I was going to go all in. I was going to do it right. And nine months later I emerged from culinary school stronger and more stronger like mentally physically than I had ever been. And I had that confidence knowing that nobody could tell me no you can't because I had a piece of paper now that said yes you can. And I was excited to be seen as just a cook and not a black cook. But then I was sort of uncomfortable with that excitement. Like what's wrong with being seen as black? Why am I so eager and hellbent on being seen as black? And why should I have to be shy about hiding where I come from and how do I still come off as palatable to people who come from somewhere else? So how do I find that balance between my heritage and my true self? And as someone who still struggles with that balance, I'm really, really excited to hear from our next speaker, Priya Krishna. In her newest cookbook Indian-ish, she explores the intersection between her Indian heritage and her American upbringing.
Brooke Caison: And to me she is a shining example of how to take responsibility for the proper spread of knowledge about a cuisine that can sometimes fall victim to appropriation. And at the same time she reminds us all that one of the best things about being an American is getting to experience the blend of cultures that has become American culture. So as the world has gotten smaller, our exposure to all those cuisines has gotten larger. And sometimes that blurs the line between proper tribute and uninformed parody, especially in an industry that I feel like suffers from lack of inclusion. And voices like Priya's have become and will continue to be the standard for making sure everybody feels like they have a seat at the table. So now here is Priya Krishna on the importance of diversity, inclusion, and knowing your own history.
Priya Krishna: Hi. When I started my career as a food writer, the first piece of advice most people gave me was this. Find a specialty. It's not good enough to just be focused on food, you have to be someone's go to on a topic, whether it's tea or ice cream or pastries. The problem was I didn't know what my specialty was. I just pitched every kind of idea I could think of. I would pitch stories about restaurant dishes. I loved ingredient trends, interesting people, and I would pitch stories of course about Indian food because that's what I knew. A profile of my family's favorite grocery store, Patel Brothers, a guide to chutneys and achars. And one thing I noticed was that without fail nearly all of my pitches about Indian stuff would get accepted. For my other stories I was far less successful. It was kind of disappointing. I didn't just want to write about dosas. I had broader, loftier ambitions. I felt tokenized.
Priya Krishna: I got my foot in the door at places like the New York Times and Bon Appétit writing about Indian food, but at times I just felt I wasn't good enough to write about other things. But I was a freelancer who had just quit her full-time job. I needed to pay rent. This paid the bills. This was also a time when hipster coffee shops were starting to churn turmeric lattes and hipster yoga instructors were preaching about ayurveda and getting their chakras aligned. These things had existed in India for centuries and yet they were only getting attention when white people talked about them. I thought if I had this opportunity I should take it. If I wasn't going to be the authority on Indian culture, who would be instead? Some white guy who still says chai tea and ghee butter?
Priya Krishna: In our field the question of who gets to write, cook, and be an authority on what is something that comes up a lot. I think about it literally every day. I think about when I see a profile of a lady who started a tea company claiming to have discovered chai or a video that tells you you're eating pho wrong. We're all told in school that when we reference a statistic we have to cite it. So why when it comes to food culture and recipes are we so bad at giving credit to other communities when it's due? One big solution to this isn't rocket science. Do your research when you use a new ingredient or are writing on a community that's different from your own, give credit on recipes where credit is due, have someone from the culture you're writing about give your story a read or your dish a taste. Understand the context of what you're writing or cooking and don't take that context for granted.
Priya Krishna: The flip side of this of course is that publications which were mostly still run by white people often feel like they can't write about other cultures without being called out for appropriation ended up being chock full of roast chicken and pasta recipes. American food is only seen as white food. Everything else is the other. And writers of color are further pigeonholed into only writing about their heritage. Here's a fix to that too. Hire people from all backgrounds. From different ethnicities, different socioeconomic statuses, different parts of the country and the world. The more perspectives represented in a kitchen or a publication the less these places will tokenize food that don't fit under what I like to call the boneless skinless chicken breast genre. The more inclusive our respective restaurants and companies will feel, the more normalized it will be for curry leaves and tahdig and fufu to be part of the mainstream food conversation.
Priya Krishna: But as people of color we're not off the hook. I realized that part of the reason I was being pigeonholed into writing about Indian food is because those really were some of my best pitches. I know Indian food. Those are the ideas that felt the most nuanced. My other ideas just didn't go deep enough. I didn't know the subject matter well enough. I started putting a little more reporting into my pitches. I made phone calls, I read local news, I would go down these deep rabbit holes. I got to write about the opioid crisis in Kentucky. The intersection between pastry and architecture. Some of my favorite pieces I've ever written. But I did tons of research in the lead up. I criticize white dudes all the time for writing in a misinformed way about Indian food, but just because they're the ones doing this most often it doesn't mean that no one else is prone to making those mistakes. We all have to do our homework.
Priya Krishna: When the discussion for my cookbook, Indian-ish, first started, editors seemed the most jazzed about me doing something Indian. I was really hesitant. My first cookbook was about dining hall food and to this day people still think it was an Indian cookbook. I wanted to do something that was personal about the food that I grew up eating, but I didn't at first want the word Indian in the title. I hated the idea this book would be slotted in with all the other international or ethnic cookbooks in stores and that it couldn't sit alongside the Ina's or the Nigella's. In fact I put Indian-ish on the proposal and then underneath I wrote, "Better title coming soon." Because I was out of ideas but also unwilling to have the word Indian in the title.
Priya Krishna: But it turned out publishers really loved that title. And as I started to think about it, it was a fitting way to describe my family's identity. We're Indian by heritage. We speak Hindi at home. We watch way too many Bollywood movies. We eat a lot of dal. But we're also American. We wear our printed pants with hari mirch necklaces. We made it all the way to season 10 of American Idol. We adore Pizza Hut garlic bread. I made the subtitle of the book, recipes and antics from a modern American family because this book doesn't just have paneer and kitchari, it has dump cake and dip and pizza and all the things that make our food our food. This is not an international book. It's as American as it gets. And yet, have I been asked where is the curry in the book or told that my recipes, most of which have five to 10 ingredients, are too difficult for the readers of a publication that regularly publishes 20 ingredient sandwich recipes? And received a response to a pitch that read, "We've told a lot of immigrant stories that are similar to this so we can't cover your book."
Priya Krishna: Yes on all counts. I was on a panel two days ago and someone came up to me and uttered the words stay in your lane. ... still happens. I'd like to think that things are slowly but surely getting better. The James Beard award winners last year were more diverse than ever. We have several major critics that are women of color. These are evolutions that'll help build a more inclusive world of food writing and cooking. But there's still a lot that needs to be changed. Mastheads can't all be people from the same background, the same part of the country. The people that are looked to as culinary greats can't all be old white dudes. There should never, ever, ever be an award called best female chef. I don't think I'm even close to having all the answers, but here's what I hope. I hope that as women, as one of those historically marginalized groups, we'll go out of our way to make our respective work environments more inclusive on all levels. I hope that when we ascend to leadership roles we'll lift up others who aren't in those privileged positions.
Priya Krishna: I hope that we'll patronize and put on our publications lists the kinds of restaurants and shops that maybe don't have the PR resources of a big company but are no less deserving of our attention. I hope for a day when dal chawal is as normalized as spaghetti and meatballs in a cookbook or a food magazine. Some days I feel like these goals are really far away, but today being here in this room with all of you isn't one of those days. Thanks.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Priya for sitting down with me and for her fantastic talk at Jubilee. If you don't have a copy of Indian-ish, what are you waiting for? Make sure to grab a copy wherever you get your cookbooks. Thank you also for Brooke Caison for her wonderful introduction. We're so happy to have you in the Bombesquad. Don't forget tickets are on sale for our fall radio tour and for Jubilee Seattle. Also, if you don't have the most recent issue of Cherry Bombe magazine with Samin Nosrat on the cover and our first ever bakers survey, be sure to snag a copy at your favorite book or magazine shop or on cherrybombe.com. Speaking of our survey, thank you to all the bakers who participated in it if you're listening. There were over 100 bakers in that survey and it's pretty awesome.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to today's sponsors, Traeger wood fired grills, and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Also we would love if you could support the Hunger Doesn't Take A Break initiative from the Food Bank For New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Our special projects director is Lauren Paige Goldstein. Our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer. And our director of happiness is Audrey Payne. Our intern is Julia Fabricant. This is Julia's last week so goodbye Julia. We expect big things from you. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening everybody. You are the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Lauren Elyse Garcia: Howdy. My name is Lauren Elyse Garcia and I'm a writer living in New Orleans by way of the Rio Grande Valley. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Michelle Zauner, writer and front woman of the band Japanese Breakfast. I admire her for her absolutely breathtaking memoir writing on the food of her Korean mother and also for her current reporting on fusion cuisine and what that says about our American identity. Also Michelle is just really cool. She has this music video where she just goes hard on a breakfast sandwich and then shotguns a beer, and it is just nothing short of iconic.