Julia Gartland is a food media polymath. The food photographer, stylist, and recipe developer has cooked, styled, and shot for clients like H&M and Vogue.com; her blog, Sassy Kitchen, has garnered a ton of press and an impressive following, and was just nominated (again) for Saveur’s Blog Awards (please vote for her here!).
Working out of her light-filled Park Slope apartment, Gartland develops innovative recipes that also consider dietary sensitivities (her recipes are either gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, or vegan). And her kitchen is pristine. The space brings satisfaction in order: knives cling to their magnetic holder; props and dishware are stacked on open shelves, the kitchen table—where Gartland styles and shoots—absorbs just the right amount of afternoon light.
Below, Gartland discusses her blog, cooking inspiration, and how to differentiate between work and play when spending all day in the kitchen.
I’m a self-taught cook. From the beginning it was mostly trial-and-error, and figuring out how I could feed myself. For a really long time, I had health issues and digestive problems—totally undiagnosed, no doctors could help—so I tried tons of different diets. Eventually I landed on being gluten-free. At the time, I got all of my information about being gluten-free from food blogs. Having had such a restrictive diet—I was also vegan—I wanted to show my process. I started the blog at the end of 2009. When the site first began, the recipes were more niche than they are now. I’m no longer vegan, mostly because I wanted to be more diverse with my recipe development, to learn new techniques.
I get a farmer’s market box from Quinciple every week. It has meat, cheese, produce, grains, beans. They source directly from farms and it’s almost all local. It’s a great starting point for recipe development, because the ingredients are always specific to this moment, which is great for new blog posts. I also look at the markets, or I’ll have an idea or a technique that I want to try. I try to use seasonal produce but it’s not always easy.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SASSY KITCHEN
I start with inspiration and prep, and then develop the recipe. I’ll always test out the recipe at least once beforehand. I shoot both prep and process shots, so I spend most of the day moving between the camera and the kitchen.
Writing recipes is a learned craft. You want to keep them as concise as possible, but at the same time you want to give your readers all the information they need. There are ways to word recipes that make them easier for the home cook to follow. And recipe development depends on the audience. When I develop for Quinciple’s blog, for instance, I know that their audience is much more foodie, so making something with nettles isn’t crazy. But when I contribute to Camille Styles, I don’t want to use anything that is too off the beaten path; I want to make sure that readers can find the ingredients, or that I can provide easy substitutes. The best part is getting feedback from people who have actually made the recipe.
When I cook and shoot for the blog, I am in food-stylist mode, hyper-aware of every detail. So many of my props feel irreplaceable. My boyfriend has given me a lot of beautiful ceramics as gifts over the years, and my mom is really into antiques and is always sending me utensils. I’ve bought a lot off of Etsy as well.
Cooking for myself is like putting on leisurewear—I don’t have to worry about the food looking perfect. I spend all day in this room, so I need to set a different tone for the rest of the night. After shooting, I’ll clear the kitchen, clean everything like it’s new again, and then put on music and have a glass of something alcoholic and start cooking for dinner. I cook almost every night; every night is an opportunity to recipe develop and experiment. I try not to make anything more than three times. That’s enough for trying new techniques or variations.
That said, I really like making soccas. It’s chickpea flour with a cup of hot water and anything else that you’d want to put in it—herbs or onion or garlic. You bake it at high heat with olive oil. It’s hearty, simple. You can really add anything to it, and it can be made into a pizza crust if you make it thin enough.
ADVICE TO GET PEOPLE COOKING
If you’re a home cook, cook as much as you can, have fun, try things, follow recipes and pay attention to what you’re doing. I listened to this great spiel from Mario Batali recently, about teaching people how to cook, and how everyone is trying to feed themselves for dinner and it’s so exhausting. His answer was so simple: Anything that’s not a light leafy green, you can roast simply and it will turn out good. Make a salad. Make a protein. I think eating seasonally, at the very least, gives you a starting point for what to cook, especially when grocery shopping. It’s like, where do you start? Setting parameters like that, or having set dinner nights like Taco Tuesday, is a good place to start.
The people whose work inspires me, their food takes me to a place where I want to make it, to taste it. Part of why people don’t cook is because it feels scary. I would love if I could inspire people to try a certain ingredient, or if I could demystify certain elements of cooking. If people want to cook my recipes, that’s a good day.
JULIA’S KITCHEN ESSENTIALS
A Mandoline has such a variety of uses.
Fish Spatula: I never even use it for fish. It has such a thin rim so it does a really great job.
A cast iron: if it’s well-seasoned, you can make anything in it.
FAVORITE COOKBOOKS FOR INSPIRATION
Nigel Slater. He’s such an amazing source for anyone who wants to grow their own food, but at the same time is an encyclopedia of how to cook simply & well. He’s so knowledgeable – I love his book, Tender.
Canal House: Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer were both food editors before they started Canal House. They got a studio in New Jersey and started working together—developing the recipes and shooting them. They have a really good sensibility.
At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen: I’ve been obsessed with Amy Chaplin’s cookbook recently. She was a line-cook at Angelica Kitchen. It’s luxurious hippie food—I keep joking to people that I had a food renaissance after I got this book. It took me back to when I was vegan and gluten-free and was like, sprouting things and doing super weird hippie things, eating goji berries and such. I had kind of shed that skin a bit, and reading this cookbook felt like coming back to my roots.