Apron Anxiety is a memoir by New York Magazine’s Grub Street writer, Alyssa Shelasky. Throughout the memoir we learn about Alyssa’s home life as a child, adventures as a teen, her journeys as an adult, and a relationship with Chef that turns her life around. We see how Alyssa overcomes trials and tribulations and some of life’s hardest decisions. It’s an Amazon best seller and has been big buzz in the food world since it premiered in bookstores in late May 2012.I was fortunate to get an exclusive interview with her where we discussed: food, writing, careers, dating, and success!
SCBD: Alyssa I’m honored that I am able to interview you today. Thank you again for being so open to me interviewing you. You are truly an inspiration to a fellow writer like me. For any of the readers who haven’t read the book, when did you know you wanted to write as a career?
AS: I’m lucky because I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and knowing that has guided me from a very young age. The majority of people really stress out over ‘what to be” when they grow up, and that’s a legitimately tough issue, so I caught a break there. One less point of confusion in my life! Maybe I would have made a great private detective/FBI agent too. SO random, but it’s just the only other job I’ve ever even considered for like 2 seconds. No clue why?!
SCBD: I love the fact that you are down to Earth and honest throughout the entire novel. Many people have a certain idea or stereotype of food writers being experts out of the womb, but like anything it takes time to really know your craft. Do you agree?
AS: Oh totally! I am not a natural born food writer, it’s just the journalistic “hemisphere” where I wound up recently – and I’m trying to do a good job with it. I try to relate food to things I feel very comfortable with - like relationships, sex, sense of self. Even comparing food to TV, or wine to music…that makes it more fun for me. Otherwise, honestly, it’s just food. And it’s kind of boring. Actually, the food “scenes” in my book were harder than anything else for me to write…like, I could much easier express the saddest break up of my life, than the smell of slow-roasted tomatoes.
SCBD: In the book you mention doing some public relations work as well, I am currently working for a firm and took courses while I was in college. Do you think it’s good for a food writer/blogger to know it works and have those skills?
AS: It’s daunting figuring out where you belong creatively, especially in NYC where there are infinite opportunities. So it’s great to try out all sorts of jobs, that’s the only way you’ll know what’s right. PR seemed like a glamorous media-type gig, where I hoped there would be writing, but I honestly had no clue what the difference between PR, advertising, and editorial work was back then. What happened was, I kept pitching stories to these writers and reporters, and I was pitching them amazing stories because I was pretending to be on their end, fantasizing about how and what I would want to be pitched. Ultimately, I connected with the writers and reporters in a strong way because of that, so I was actually really good at PR. But the envy just kept growing. I wanted to be on the editorial end so bad, that was my calling and I knew it. But yes, VERY happy I worked in PR. I made incredible friends (all my best friends are in PR still – it’s crazy!). And knowledge is power.
SCBD: Like you, I’m still learning in the kitchen, in the book there are tons of recipes, what recipe do you recommend I try making first? Why?
AS: The chicken for “hungry and important” people is turning out to be one of the star recipes in the book. Delicious, healthy, easy. Or the Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip cookies. Or the banana bread. Impossible to mess any of those up!
SCBD: What’s your personal secret to success? What do you think attributed to your success?
AS: Courage is Grace Under Pressure — it’s Hemingway, but someone I love and admire very much always said that, and I try to live by it. Because here’s the thing: life is hard. And life can be cruel. But I’ve always kept moving forward. Always held my head up high. And I think that mentality has kept me from getting stuck in bad situations, or buried in self-doubt. I’ve had just as many hardships and disappointments as anyone else, but I’ve always been resilient. I bounce back. The only tricky thing with that kind of inner-strength, as a writer or an artist, is preserving a certain inner-spirit too. Because you need both. You need to be tough, without being hardened. You need a thick skin but a beating heart.
SCBD: Working for New York Magazine is a big deal and writing for Grubstreet is a big deal in the food world, when you started your career did you ever think you’d end up there? Why?
AS: Writing for New York Magazine was definitely a dream. Grub Street was a big decision for me…I had a book coming out that demanded a ton of time and energy, and a personal life to rebuild after a bad breakup…However, I’m a major “When opportunity knocks” person. And I just knew that was an opportunity I had to grab hold of. Job offers like that don’t come around often. Even if I was scared (I was). Even if I felt completely out of my comfort zone (big time). I had to take it; there was nothing to discuss.
SCBD: I love going out to eat, which is why I started my blog and every so often I cook. Before Apron Anxiety was a book, it started as a blog. What is your advice for young blogger like me? What do you think will happen in the blog world in the future? Do you think blogs can expand into more?
AS: I don’t think I would have gotten a book deal if there weren’t a blog. Having that platform is so important. It makes all the difference these days. But a blog is definitely a commitment, it comes w/ all those nonstop social media obligations, and a responsibility to your readers. It’s not as breezy as non-bloggers think!
SCBD: If the world was ending tomorrow where would you have your last meal out and with who and/or what would you cook/bake for? Why?
AS: Wow. It would be so much more about the company than the cuisine. It would be me, my family and my boyfriend, and maybe it would be like big, fresh delicious sandwiches on a picnic blanket somewhere, along with my mom’s brownies, and Dorito’s for my Dad and sister, and some old-fashioned bottles of Coca-Cola. But the thought of that makes me sad, actually. So, another scenario could be me and Clive Owen, and a lot of chocolate cake.
SCBD: Apron Anxiety also discusses dating, what’s the best dating advice you ever received? From who? Do you think what your boyfriend/girlfriend does can make a big difference in a relationship?
AS: I’ve always had a few older girlfriends who I think are just innately cool, unique people. And in awkward dating moments, I’ve sort of just pretended to be them. Yes, of course, you should always “be you,” but it’s only human to get scared and nervous around boys/girls you like. It 100% helps to channel women you look up to. My friend Pippa Lord from SousStyle.com asks herself, “What would Madonna do?” I love that! And I know there’s a “What Would Gwyneth Do?” blog. Those little psychological tricks work!
SCBD: In part of the book you go on tons of dates with a man who loves dive bars and restaurants off the beaten track in NYC. What’s the weirdest thing you ate? What’s your favorite?
AS: I’m not into weird foods. That in itself makes me a shitty food writer but I don’t care! I’m never going to choose goat brains over grilled cheese. But the best off-the-grid discovery was this Thai place called Sripraphai in Queens. Freaking insanely delicious. I dream about it.
SCBD: Is there a movie in the works?
AS: I have agents in LA working on things, so we’ll see!!!
SCBD: I would recommend Apron Anxiety to any of my friends whether they cook or not. Food and fellowship with loved ones is a heavy theme in the book. In one sentence why should someone read Apron Anxiety?
AS: Thank you so much. I’ve been getting the most amazing feedback. But every now and then someone will say, “Your book was really cute!” or “You’re book was like candy!” – and while I’m thankful for the kind words, I also think to myself…okay, they didn’t totally get it. Because it’s not all about sex and cupcakes or whatever. There’s a tenderness to those pages…a quiet depth. The best readers are like you…people who enjoy the lightness and sweetness of it all, but are also deeply sensitive to the struggle.
Thank you again, for letting me interview you tonight! Reading Apron Anxiety has inspired me in so many ways as a budding food writer and has been a huge encouragement to me to not give up trying recipes in the kitchen. Apron Anxiety has made my top ten favorite books to read. Congratulations on the success of the book, you deserve it!