“Live With Samin Nosrat!” Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. More 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.

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Kerry Diamond: The new issue features Cover Girl Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and our very first baker survey, which includes more than 100 Bombesquad bakers.

Kerry Diamond: If you can't get enough Samin, you're in luck. On today's episode, we're airing a conversation between Samin Nosrat and New York Times journalist Jazmine Hughes. We recorded this episode at a special Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat screening we hosted during jubilee weekend earlier this spring. The two sat down at the Wythe Hotel to talk about Samin's show, her hit cookbook, and more. Before we get to Samin and Jazmine, here's a word from our sponsor.

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Kerry Diamond: Enjoy this conversation with Samin Nosrat and Jazmine Hughes.

Jazmine Hughes: I'm only going to ask you a couple of questions, because I feel like I really want to hear from everybody in the audience.

Jazmine Hughes: So I was in an episode of ... I was in “Salt” of this. It's no big deal. I'm a little famous, but we shot that a little over a year ago. So talk to me a little bit how your life has changed over the past year.

Samin Nosrat: Oh Lord.

Jazmine Hughes: We were in Times Square together. There was a billboard of Samin's face in Times Square. We went to Times Square together to see it and it was unbelievable. We were screaming in the street, and everyone was like, "What's wrong with crazy ones?" But you are a famous person now.

Samin Nosrat: I kept saying, "That's me, that's me," to the tourists from another country, and they were like-

Jazmine Hughes: They're like, we don't speak English. We don't know what's going on.

Jazmine Hughes: But how has your life changed?

Samin Nosrat: I don't have any more anonymity. I get to do whatever I want.

Samin Nosrat: I think for sure the loss of anonymity is the thing I'm like dealing with the most and sort of trying to process the most. And it was in some ways gradual, at least in my own, like small Bay Area world, I had lost the anonymity long time ago, and then the book came out.

Samin Nosrat: But the show is just to another degree, and I think the difference between a book and a show is we all feel like we know authors, or narrators, or people on the page, but when you see me on on screen, and that's really just me, you really feel like you know me. And so, in some ways people, and it's a hard thing to have negative feelings about because there's so much love, but people just come up to me on the street and hug me. You know, and I'm like, maybe I don't want to touch you right now. You know?

Samin Nosrat: So, I'm just trying to sort of figure that out. I have some friends who are actors, and even for them, I think it's different. Because if you see, I don't know, the guy who plays Spider Man on the street, you don't think you know him because you saw him on the screen. And people feel like they know me, and in some ways, you know part of me, but also I'm like a grumpy person who just wants to like buy my eggs and go home. And so, I'm just trying to figure it out.

Samin Nosrat: I was talking with a friend right before this, and she was like, "Oh, I think a lot of people who have to go through this, they start to only hang out with other people who are going through it." And you understand like why celebrities and actors and stuff like clump. Because also it's hard to ... I can't go home and complain to my office mates. Like, "Oh guys, I had to go to another thing honoring me." Right? And they're like, "I hate you. I'm just writing this dumb blog post or whatever."

Samin Nosrat: You know, I have all the real humans in my life and there has to be room for everyone, and some of my things don't really make sense to them. So that's something I'm trying to deal with, is how do you stay in it? Because I can totally understand the urge to surround yourself with other people who are going through the same thing, but I don't think it leads anywhere good.

Jazmine Hughes: No. I don't think so.

Jazmine Hughes: So one of the things that's happened after the show is that everybody's covering it and everyone's either written about the show or did an interview with you and all this stuff. Have you learned anything about yourself or anything that surprised you in all these analyses that are coming out of it?

Samin Nosrat: I really don't look at most of them. I mean some of the stuff makes its way back to me. There was one really funny one. I mean, actually really special, but the photo was really good, where Karl Marx had been photo shopped, like my arm around him or his arm around me.

Samin Nosrat: That was a pretty good one. And at first, a bunch of people sent it to me and I was like, "I can't tell. Is this like a negative thing about me, or positive?" But it was really positive, and it was this amazing thing where they had seen how carefully I had worked to at the same time tell a story that was meant for all, accessible to all, and also still honoring the work that's done by hand, by people around the world.

Samin Nosrat: And that unfortunately now we live in a world and in an economy where that work is typically, well A) disappearing, and B) when it is around, it's really expensive to buy that soy sauce or that Parmesan cheese or whatever thing, and so it's not available to all people. But to devalue that would then be to devalue the person's work and the generations of history and family labor that went into that.

Samin Nosrat: And so, I've always struggled as a person who came out of Alice Waters kitchen. How do I stay true to this philosophy that I so deeply believe in, and also broaden our audience so that everyone can feel welcome? Because I think for me as a person who grew up on the margins and feeling like I wasn't included, the thing that I want most in anything that I put out is to make everyone feel welcome. And so, it's a tricky thing.

Samin Nosrat: So to see that people picked up on these things that I might not have had words for myself, that's really powerful. And again, I don't read a lot of the stuff, but I know there's been articles written about my body and the fact that like I have one.

Samin Nosrat: You know? And again, I think when we were making the show, I couldn't think too hard about who was going to watch it or how many people, I had to just do the work. Right? So, of course I knew there were cameras there taping me eating.

Samin Nosrat: And oh, actually one really funny thing about the eating. This is good, because you know like in food TV, the crowning moment of a dish or whatever is always when the person tastes and makes a yummy sound or whatever. Like it's considered incomplete without the eating of the thing that you've watched being made. And so, not so much the actual eating of the thing ever made me uncomfortable, but the fact that I was expected to have some sort of a visible, reaction that could be documented.

Samin Nosrat: So in the beginning, I didn't know, I was like, how do I convey that this is good, on my face? So in the beginning, you know how little kids do that where they close their eyes and they're like savoring the thing? So I was doing a lot of closing my eyes and savoring, and we filmed this episode first, so I did it a lot in this episode. But I never do that in my real life. It was fully like my version of acting, and then by the time we were filming in Japan, I think, I saw the first cuts of this and I was horrified. I was like, "I have to keep my eyes open."

Samin Nosrat: But what's been amazing is that people everywhere are like, "Oh the joy, like your unadulterated joy in eating is so amazing."

Jazmine Hughes: And in everything. We can all feel it in here right now, you know?

Samin Nosrat: Yeah, and so thanks.

Samin Nosrat: On the one hand I've spent a lot of time reading and watching and like being an avid consumer of all things food related for so long that I'm keenly aware of what's not there, but then I don't think I allowed myself to view my own self and body with that same critical lens. So when those things filter their way to me, I'm always like, "Oh that's an interesting take." But I think if, to read all that press or your Instagram comments or your Twitter, A) It would take all day, I don't have enough time, but also I would have to be some sort of megalomaniac.

Jazmine Hughes: Well, what has been the most valuable feedback that you've gotten? I'm wondering especially about the people who have been in the show, like the artisans with whom you worked.

Samin Nosrat: Oh, thank you for asking. Wait, do you know what the answer to this is already?

Jazmine Hughes: No.

Samin Nosrat: Oh, I'm so excited.

Jazmine Hughes: No, I'm just a great interviewer, Samin.

Samin Nosrat: I was like, wow, something magical has happened. Yeah. Because people, a lot of times like they just want to eat what you put in front of them. So I knew that they would want that soy sauce and that whatever and that that cheese and that salt. And so, I wanted to make it easy for them, because I also wanted these people who had shared with us their stories and their time and their faces to benefit in some way economically from this because they didn't get paid to be in the show. We just took from them. Right? We went there and we took their stories, and they gave them to us and we took them. And you know, Netflix profited off of that and the production company profit off of that, and to a lesser degree, I profited off of that. We can talk about that later.

Samin Nosrat: But those guys did not profit off of it, so I wanted them to profit off of it, too. So I set up a website. I also knew people would want to cook the exact food in the show. We made the recipes, and then we put links to whatever I could find links to, to encourage people to support these artisans. And within a day, the soy sauce sold out globally, which was awesome. I mean, it takes him four years to make that stuff, so you can't just whip up more.

Samin Nosrat: But I've heard back from everyone. Lydia's daughter-in-law is how I met her, and Lydia's daughter-in-law built her website, lydia.com basically. You know? You can go to it. That's not what it is, but it's something ... Yeah, I can't remember what. And everyone's getting feedback and love.

Samin Nosrat: And the people that I was the most invested in trying to get them something because they were the ones who I felt deserved the most was the beekeepers in Mexico. The indigenous women, who of everyone that we visited was the poorest, and they were incredibly generous with their time and their faces and their stories. And I was really conflicted when we were down there. I was like, "What are we doing? We're showing up here with like a million of equipment and 20 people in three vans and this place, they don't have soap, you know? And I was just like, "What's the ethical thing for me to do in this situation?"

Samin Nosrat: And you know, probably I could have done more research before we went. I could have made sure we brought things to help them, and I will do that next time, but also I knew that the power that I had was possibly to help them in some economic way. So I hired somebody to try and figure that out for those six months before the show came out, and she was in contact with the nonprofit organization that supports these women and their project. But the laws of selling stuff and the website, the logistics of it were almost impossible, and we just couldn't do it in six months.

Samin Nosrat: I did get them to put up a donate button, so there's a donate button that people have donated to, but I've just been sort of sitting here being like, "What can I do for them?" And after the show came out, I got so much email and so much feedback.

Samin Nosrat: I honestly don't remember answering this, because I've gotten so much email that I don't know how I had the time, but this one guy emailed me and he was like, "I'm a retired tech investor, entrepreneur guy." I was like, "Okay," and he was like, "We can build you a business that sells all the products from the show. People will love it." I was like, "Dude, it already exists. Here's my website." And so I sent him there, and he wrote me back and he was like, "Oh, thank you so much. I'm really interested in the honey ladies. Where can I find them?" And I was like, "Oh, here. Here's the foundation."

Samin Nosrat: I don't even remember emailing them back, but there's like in October I have a series of emails with him, and then a month ago he emailed me and he's like, "My life will never be the same. You've changed the lives of these women. I went down there. I was so curious. I went down and found them. I spoke with them, and the shaman, like the head woman beekeeper, and they told me about how they've been taken advantage of by honey brokers."

Samin Nosrat: Who, you know, like every rural, basically every rural ... Anytime some rural craftsperson or artisan is selling something, in order to get it to rich white people or travelers, they're almost always is a middle person, right? Like when you buy your beautiful Moroccan rug at the souk, some guy got it there from the ladies who are illiterate in the village, right? And he probably paid them like 5% of what he's charging you, and so he's getting all that money.

Samin Nosrat: So all these brokers have showed up after the show and are taking advantage of these women. So he said, "I got so upset about this, so now through blockchain technology ..." I was like, "I don't know what that is." He was like, "I was so inspired, so we're setting up a fair trade type organization and I already have contacts at Whole Foods." And you know, he named a whole bunch of bougie places, and I was like, "Okay, cool."

Samin Nosrat: And then I was like, "What if this guy is evil, too?" So then I put my people ... I was like should I put my people on him to police him? And then he emailed me yesterday. I haven't read the whole email, but he's like, "Our first shipment is here."

Samin Nosrat: So, if these women could get something out of this, I will be so, so, so, so grateful. It's been a good lesson for me to understand what my responsibility is going forward, and also really amazing to see the power that I have and that I can use it to empower rural people, like awesome.

Jazmine Hughes: Ooh, girl. Okay, we're going to do rapid fire.

Samin Nosrat: That was a long answer. Sorry.

Jazmine Hughes: No, it was an amazing answer, I had like a funny question now, and I feel like an asshole. So, I'm going to do rapid fire real quick, and then-

Samin Nosrat: Was it about Chris Evans?

Jazmine Hughes: No. Oh, oh, oh. Well, now I have to ask about Chris Evans. So, are you dating Chris Evans? What's going on?

Samin Nosrat: That that was so weird.

Jazmine Hughes: That was so weird. All right, tell them what we're talking about.

Samin Nosrat: Okay. So last week I was on an airplane, and when I landed I got this text from Helen Rosner, and it was like, "Allow me to be the 50th person to send you this," and it was a tweet that this woman Nicole Cliff, who's this great journalist and just general silliest person on Twitter, who is also a super fan of mine I guess, or the show or something.

Jazmine Hughes: She really wants to set you up with everyone. We talked about it.

Samin Nosrat: Yeah, yeah. But I didn't understand where the Chris Evans thing originated, but she out of the blue said, "Chris Evans should be with Samin. She deserves somebody, like honestly someone way better, but I guess Chris Evans would be okay. And then, and I was like, "Who's Chris Evans?", and then I had to Google it. And I was like, "Oh, he's like a famous guy." And then everyone was like, "He's Captain America."

Samin Nosrat: I don't know what that is. But yeah, it was just so funny, and then like the investment of people on this thing. I was like, "If we can use this to get me a boyfriend, that wouldn't be bad. Yeah."

Jazmine Hughes: If you guys know Chris Evans, come up to us after the show.

Samin Nosrat: I mean, it doesn't have to be Chris Evans.

Jazmine Hughes: Any attractive rich man, yes.

Samin Nosrat: Kind, nice, gentle.

Jazmine Hughes: A rich shepherd would be great for Samin.

Jazmine Hughes: Okay. What's the most memorable meal you've had lately?

Samin Nosrat: Ooh, I have a funny answer to this. It's not a great one. I had to go to Nashville last week for a minute. I wasn't there long enough to eat the delicious foods of Nashville, which was very sad. But I really wanted to eat hot chicken, because that's like what is it to be eaten in Nashville. So I told the people I was filming a episode of a show.

Samin Nosrat: So I told them, and they were like, "Oh we'll get it for you. Do you know what kind you want?" And I was like, "I don't know what kind. What kinds are there?" And they're like, "Oh, there's Princes, which is like the original sort of institution, and then there's Hattie B's, which is the like hipster upstart." And I was like, "Oh, I want Princes." And they're like, "No, but Hattie B's is so good." And I was like, "Well, get both."

Samin Nosrat: So they both, and then I thought that they were going to bring it, like we were all going to eat hot chicken for lunch or whatever. But then, the people showed up and they had brought me just enough for me, and also they had put on full makeup to go on the show, and so I started eating, and it was the spiciest thing. And they didn't even get me the spiciest. They got me the baby person one. It was so spicy and they were like, "You have to stop eating it because you're ruining the makeup."

Samin Nosrat: So then I ate it on the plane, which was equally a bad idea. And I very much have remembered that meal all week long. It's very memorable. Yeah.

Jazmine Hughes: Do you have a go to drunk food that you make for yourself?

Samin Nosrat: Oh. Wait, what? Oh drunk, or drug?

Jazmine Hughes: Yeah, drunk.

Samin Nosrat: Oh, I don't really get drunk, but the other day I did get stoned in my bed. I was like, "Oh, I'm ready to go to bed." And then I went downstairs and I was like, "What can I eat?", and I ate a bunch of peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Jazmine Hughes: All right. That's seems very easy to replicate.

Jazmine Hughes: And then lastly, do you think Antony on Queer Guy knows anything?

Samin Nosrat: Oh, I think Antony a lot. Because I think there's a lot that's involved in making a show, that you don't understand as a viewer, which maybe that just means we need to tell you what's involved in making a show so you understand some of the limitations a little bit better.

Samin Nosrat: But when I think about what I would do if I had that job, it's not really that ... I mean, I really can't forgive him for putting yogurt in guacamole. That was just wrong. But, food is so complicated, right? Teaching a cooking lesson, and he has to do something that he can do in a relatively quick time, that's something that this person can replicate, that fits into their lifestyle, and often that those are really varied. I mean sometimes the food is a little more integral to the story, but sometimes the food is like the least important thing in those people's stories, you know?

Samin Nosrat: And so, I think he has a hard job. I think he has a really hard job, and I have a lot of compassion for him. I haven't watched a lot of the new ones, but I did watch the one with the huntress. You know, and like where he takes her to like a nice restaurant, and he's like, "Let's change the language here. Let's not call it fancy, let's just call it special." And he teaches her how to use her silverware, and she's comfortable when she goes there on her date. That's really sweet. Yeah, so I'm pro Antony.

Jazmine Hughes: Okay. That's not where I thought this was going to go, but we can talk about Antony later.

Kerry Diamond: Before we get to our audience questions, let's hear a little bit about the newest mini series from Cherry Bombe.

Jess Zeidman: Grab your notebooks, Bombesquad. We're going back to school this summer with a brand new radio show, Cherry Bombe University. Each week we'll be offering crash courses taught by your favorite members of the Bombesquad to get you cooking, eating, and thinking like the smart cookie you are. Thank you to Le Cordon Bleu for making this series possible. You can learn more about Le Cordon Bleu at cordonbleu.edu. See you in class!

Kerry Diamond: Following Samin and Jazmine's conversation, we took some questions from the audience. Since we screened the Fat episode, which takes place in Italy, one of the audience members wanted to know how Samin mastered Italian.

Samin Nosrat: I didn't learn Italian for the show, thankfully. I lived in Italy from 2002 to 2004, and before I went, the reason I went ... Well, I had a culinary internship, but I also went there with the idea that I would use the three months of my internship to do the research so I could apply for a Fulbright Grant to study and document traditional Italian food making methods that were disappearing.

Samin Nosrat: And part of applying for a Fulbright Grant is you have to demonstrate linguistic proficiency. And so, this is like what a person can do when they're 22 or 21 years old. I had this crazy job at Chez Panisse where I had to be at work at 6:00 AM. I worked from 6:00 to 2:00, but because I was saving my money, the $10 an hour I made, so that I could have money to live off of when I moved to Italy, I had given up my apartment, and the chefs were helping me sort of patch together a bunch of different house sitting gigs, and so, I was like this like itinerant house sitter lettuce washer.

Samin Nosrat: And so, I'd have to get to work at 6:00, but because the house sitting places were sometimes really far away. Like one of the places where I stayed the longest was an hour drive away, so I'd have to wake up at like 4:15 and then drive to work. Then peel the garlic and wash lettuce until 2:00 PM, then get in my car and drive across the bridge to San Francisco, because the only accelerated Italian class that I could find that would get me to that level of having the form signed for the Fulbright was in San Francisco, not in the East Bay. And so, then I would sit in traffic, drive across, take four hours of Italian every night, and then drive all the way back to the place and do everything. And I'm like, what a crazy person I was.

Samin Nosrat: So I did that for probably four months or something, and that got me to where you are after a semester and a half of Italian, and then I lived there. I ended up living there for almost two years, and part of the part of the time I lived in a really rural place where no one spoke English, so I really learned a lot there. But I was very surprised that after 13 years I still remembered as much as I did, because I hadn't been back since 2004. So it was kind of a miracle what was hiding under there. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: If you've watched all the Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat episodes, you know that Samin's mom has a favorite place to shop. One audience member asked if she really does love Marshalls.

Samin Nosrat: Oh totally. A hundred percent, yeah. T-Fal. That's the one she likes. Calphalon, T-Fal, or whatever. The thing with my mom is so funny, she maybe in December, Marshall's sent her ... They wanted to send me one too, but I was like, "Send it to her." So they sent these huge gift boxes, and she called me and she was really confused. She was like, "I don't understand. There's these packages here. What are they about?" And I was like, "Oh, it's a present." And she said, "Why would they send me a present?" And I was like, "You talked about liking Marshalls on the show." And I was like, "Next time you should say you like Neiman Marcus."

Samin Nosrat: So then it took her a day to get around to opening. She just was so suspicious, and she said, "Well, there's one for you." And I was like, "Oh, you can have it." And she said, "Well, what are we going to do with all this stuff?" I was like, "I don't know, give it away. Whatever." So she opened it and I said, "Oh, what's in there?" And she's like, "Oh, like a Le Creuset and nonstick pans and kitchen towels." And she was like, "Yeah, I told totaled up the approximate value," and she's like, "It's approximately $800. If I return this I'll get so much store credit."

Samin Nosrat: I was like, "You can not return that. They will know with the gift." I was like, "Promise me you will not return it." That was a classic immigrant move. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Another audience member who was sitting in the front row wanted to know about being authentic as a woman in a professional kitchen. Samin had this to say.

Samin Nosrat: Oh God, that's a hard one. I wish I could help you, because it's really a systemic issue rather than anything you can do. I would encourage you to try to be yourself as much as you can, and if you find that you're in a toxic environment to get out.

Samin Nosrat: I also think ... Here's a few other things. One is, I've noticed, I'm so proud of the young people, like you guys who are in restaurants now because I think your tolerance is a lot lower than ours was. And that's going to be really important to sort of gently stretch barriers and boundaries.

Samin Nosrat: I also think Charlotte Druckman, do you guys know her? She writes about a lot of things, including women in the food world, and she has a new book coming out. I can't remember what it's called but it's interviews of women in restaurants. And so, she sent this questionnaire last year and there are all these questions on it, and one of them was like write about a time you were made to feel aware that you have breasts in the kitchen. And I was like, I'm just trying to think of that, and what's interesting in my history is that I've worked in relatively progressive places, and still there were things that were not okay, which I only realize now, because we just all took it, because this is what we are going through.

Samin Nosrat: But when I sat down to answer that question, I was very moved to answer that question, but then I was like, I don't remember really anyone talking about my breasts or feeling like ... But I was like, you know what I do know what I was very aware that I had in the kitchen was a vagina, because there's a thing about cooking where ... Well, there are many things, but a big part of being a cook is proving yourself physically and proving yourself that you have endless stamina because it's required, like you just have to keep going.

Samin Nosrat: And that, I think was where a lot of the like machismo comes from, is that sort of like one upping and one upping and one upping. And sometimes when you're a lady you have a period, and sometimes when you have a period your tampon starts to leak, and yet you're not really supposed to go to the bathroom and change that.

Samin Nosrat: And so, every female cook I know has stood there through leaking tampons for hours and hours, you know, to have to go back to a mess. Or has it gotten multiple urinary tract infections simply because of the way our bodies are built, and that there's no forgiveness or space for that in a kitchen, and in a world where the way you prove yourself is your physical stamina and stuff.

Samin Nosrat: And so, a big part of what I do now and what I've done since I've gotten out of kitchens, is to go to therapy and undo so much. I think I came from a family and a culture that was all about proving myself, so I don't know if I was driven, if I was well made to then go into this thing that then became into doing it further.

Samin Nosrat: Which so much of being a professional cook is about shutting down your actual feelings and just getting the work done. You know, someone says something nasty to you, but you don't have time to stop and think about that because you need to make that clam pasta.

Samin Nosrat: And so, so much of what I've done as a human is try to, and what I do every week when I go to therapy, what my therapist tries to get me to do is to like actually sit with the feelings and recognize whatever feelings, instead of ignore them and be like, "Let's go onto the next thing."

Samin Nosrat: And so, you will probably save yourself thousands of dollars of therapy if you would just feel your feelings and articulate your feelings. I wish I could tell you how to do that in a workplace, but it also sucks because when you're not in power, you don't always have the room to do that. So, I would say get out of a toxic environment if you find yourself there, if you can.

Kerry Diamond: The next question was about Samin's facial expressions on film.

Samin Nosrat: Oh, I'm really bad at second takes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm really, really bad at it. Even the gelato thing, where I had to eat ... And they were all first takes of the individual gelatos, but I was like, "How many facial expressions can one person have?" It's good gelato.

Jazmine Hughes: All right. I think we're going to wrap up. Thank you so much for coming, Samin.

Samin Nosrat: Thank you.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Samin and Jazmine for such a wonderful conversation, and thank you to the team at the Wythe. It was wonderful to see Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on the big screen after watching it on my tiny laptop. If you haven't seen the Netflix hit yet, be sure to check it out, and don't miss Samin on the cover of the latest issue of Cherry Bombe.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you to our sponsor Handsome Brook Farm pasture raised organic eggs for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. You folks are egg-cellent.

Kerry Diamond: Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered and produced by Jess Zeidman, and 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.

Maia Welbel: Hi, my name is Maia Welbel. I'm a sustainable food activist, yoga teacher, and writer for closedloopcooking.com. You know who I think is the bombe? Rhonda Welbel, the owner of Kopi Cafe, because she's been making vegetarian food cool since it opened in Chicago in 1991.