Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
If you’ve been reading my pieces for a while (thank you, dear reader), you might remember last year’s isolation brought a revelation: I’ve been in love for a long time with food. Over the past few months, this affair has intensified as I’ve eaten, cooked for others, and even started growing my own herb garden. Along that unexpected journey, cook, writer, and educator Samin Nosrat has been my kind (online) companion.
Many people became fans of Samin Nosrat in 2017, when her New York Times–bestselling book Salt Fat Acid Heat helped them gain confidence in mastering flavor, but as usual, I was late to the game. One morning last year when I was feeling especially proud of an oatmeal pancake breakfast, I tuned in to her cooking and travel show of the same name and watched her traverse Italy. Witnessing her bake focaccia and pound pesto filled me with a pure joy I hadn’t felt in a while, and soon I was following her public life.
I grew up watching the whole spectrum of cooking shows, but Samin’s distinct approach as she navigated a fish market or harvested olives captivated me with its simplicity and attention to power and equity. Samin listened as local cooks shared their homes’ dishes, not exoticizing or misappropriating recipes. She was content to marvel and learn alongside us instead of being the expert at center stage. Her humble wonder and curiosity is key to her process, which she describes by saying, “before I ever pick up a knife, I taste countless dishes, read books and recipes, watch videos, and interview chefs and home cooks.” Samin’s intentionality involves heavy effort, but funny enough, her understanding of cooking as connecting, learning, and repairing produces a final result that brings such joy.
Through it all, Samin’s idea of good food is accessible. She isn’t demanding that everyone use only farmer’s market produce; instead, she is counseling us past soggy vegetables and undersalted pasta to cooking without fear (which she hopes will lead us to pay more attention to where good food comes from and whom we are sharing it with).
I’ve wondered how much of Samin’s accessible, open approach is influenced by being the daughter of immigrants. In her Iranian-American family, as in my Ghanaian-American one, food was one of the predominant ways to connect with culture when many other aspects were hidden to the white American gaze.
I’ve also paid attention to how many of Samin’s creative projects are molded through public partnership—and are thus credited to her and someone else. Yes, everyone’s work comes from collaboration, but the way Samin publicly honors that shared ownership stands out to me in a society where individual triumphs are emphasized.
The book Salt Fat Acid Heat is the beautiful result of both Samin Nosrat’s cooking guidance and artist Wendy MacNaughton’s watercolor illustrations, depicting stages of browning butter and spatchcocking chickens. Then in one of my favorite productions of 2020, Samin joined forces with friend Hrishikesh Hirway to launch the podcast Home Cooking. Home Cooking was part answering quarantine pantry questions, part solving family culinary mysteries, and part overindulging in puns and laughter. On paper, Samin is the food expert and Hrishikesh is the musician and producer, but it never felt like either person’s show—rather, a delightful blending of two friends who loved food. The show has instantly lifted my mood, led me to learn about new ingredients (hello, za’atar), and motivated me to create something beautiful for myself even in the most lonely of times.
I’ve hesitated while writing this piece to ascribe “celebrity” status on Samin Nosrat, partly because I get the sense that she doesn’t want to be foremost perceived in that way. I also know how often women of color whose work is in the public eye are commoditized as spokespeople for their culture and not given room to morph. Some succumb to this pressure; others may even feel threatened by other people of color emerging into “their” field. But from what I’ve seen, Samin uses her large platform to expand the list of people invited to the table.
She is part of a collective of women that I admire for publicly delighting in all their interests and refusing to be just one thing. In doing so, they help spark new ideas for what might be possible in my own life (from starting a garden to starting a new field of study).
I confess at times I get carried away and focus on the kind of salt Samin uses, the ceramics she likes, the poems she shares. But then I am reminded of one of Samin’s defining decisions as she worked on her first book. It was unheard of to publish a cookbook without photos, but she insisted on illustrations because she wanted to free readers from the pressure of visual perfection—from feeling an attempt was only worthy if it replicated her creation. Samin recalls, “I wanted to give [people] a way to use whatever they had on hand and not feel tied to a recipe.”
Sound advice indeed.
Comfort Sampong’s heart is sparked by fried plantains, tropical foliage and the stories of women thriving and creating a way out of no way. She graduated in 2018 with majors in economics and international development. Now she lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works on English communications for the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-profit fighting for justice and peace.