Over the course of her career, Andrea has been a lawyer, a restaurant manager, a waitress, a farm hand, a humanitarian activist, an advocate, and for the past two decades, a journalist.
Known for her pioneering food blog, The Strong Buzz, Andrea covers the intersection of food, business, culture, policy, and the law. Her work appears in The New York Times, Food & Wine, New York Magazine, Heated, Eater, and more.
1. What is the importance of your kitchen in your house?
The kitchen is the heart of our home. I live in a garden apartment in Carroll Gardens with my two kids Sam and Eiji who are 9 and 13 now. I am always in the kitchen, probably because it’s the biggest room in the house. It’s large enough to fit my desk where I write and work, and a big, old well-loved (marginally destroyed) dining room table where we eat all our meals, but also do homework, play board games, and have fierce games of cards. It’s where the kids can sit around with their friends and be ridiculous when they are not in front of the TV and their phones. I love to read and the kitchen is full of bookshelves stuffed with novels and many cookbooks. The front door opens right up into the kitchen, and it’s very homey and warm, and that’s important to me. When people come over I hope they feel the warmth and the love that’s in this room.
2. What’s the best part of the day for you to cook?
I have two kids so I cook all the time – particularly during the pandemic, it was three meals a day, for everyone, every day for months. It was a bit bananas. But things have smoothed out now, thankfully, and mostly I cook in the late afternoon. We eat dinner together as a family every night we are home, and the kids get hungry early (well honestly they are hungry all the time), so I cook around 4ish and we eat by 5:30pm-6pm. But I am always putting out snacks, slicing veggies and fruit for them, or making them toast, or bagels or what have you. I’m a very good short order cook.
I should also say that both my kids can cook, particularly my older son Eiji. Both kids have been cooking with me since they could stand. They started out putting flour in the bowl, stirring, adding chips to cookies, and as they got older, they did more. Eiji went to the Dynamite Shop, a tween and teen cooking school in Park Slope, and thanks to that he can cook anything. He cooks once a week for his Volleyball team. He’s amazing. Sam is also getting good—he can make scrambled eggs, fried fish, and lasagna. They both love to bake. Sometimes I’ll wake up to them in the kitchen making muffins. Lest you imagine some dreamy scene, you should know they are not particularly tidy cooks. The kitchen is usually a massive mess, like a tornado has blown through. But I don’t care. I am happy to see them cooking and enjoying being together. These are the memories that they’ll have forever. So if we have to clean up for a while, so be it.
3. Are you a creative chef or simply love to follow recipes?
I’d say I follow recipes and then create. I like the NY Times Cooking and Smitten Kitchen in particular. Once I have cooked a recipe once, I’ll put my own spin on it. I tend to like things with high acidity and some heat so I’ll usually add a squeeze of lemon juice and red chile flake to nearly every recipe I make. And I’ll play with different vegetables or grains or proteins, whatever is in season and in the house.
4. Three ingredients that are never missing from your kitchen cabinet?
As I mentioned I like heat, so I always have a jar of Onino on hand. This is an amazing crunchy chili made in Brooklyn by Cristy Lucie-Alvarado, a recipe developer who has worked most of her life in food marketing. It’s nutty, spicy, garlicky, and just amazing on EVERYTHING. I eat it by the spoonful. No that’s not weird; try it and you will too.
I love good salted butter so I always have that out on the counter. I really don’t like cold butter, so it’s never in the fridge.
I love pesto, so I try to have pine nuts, or even pistachios or almonds in the pantry, some sort of nut that I can toast, toss in the food processor with a clove of garlic, some good Parmesan cheese, lemon, olive oil, and basil and make a quick pesto. Sometimes I’ll add some avocado or a zucchini or half a chili pepper. I told you, I like it spicy. And pesto is so versatile and forgiving. It’s also one of those sauces that’s just great on pasta but also as a sandwich spread, or on fish or chicken, even with raw veggies.
5. How did your passion for cooking come about?
I’d say I first had a passion for eating and for food and restaurants that grew into a passion for cooking.
My parents divorced when I was very young and my dad did not know how to cook. We’d see him once a week at his apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and he’d take us out for dinner, sometimes to neighborhood places and diners, but other times to really wonderful restaurants like Rumplemeyers and Maxwell’s Plum (I am giving away my age here). I was captivated by the food and the dazzling rooms, the magic of restaurants.
I studied law and practiced for a while and my passion for restaurants only grew – I was lucky enough to be eating out at the best restaurants in the city. Then I ended up working in restaurants and writing about them. I did go to Peter Kump’s Cooking School for a semester (now Institute of Culinary Education) so I had the basics down, but honestly I didn’t cook much until I had kids because I was too busy eating out. Sure, I’d cook a special occasion meal, but mostly on the rare occasion when I was home I ate a bowl of cereal or ordered in sushi or Chinese. But when I had kids that all changed. I needed to cook for my family, and I learned to cook family recipes from my Persian grandmother, and the rest I sort of cooked what I knew I liked to eat and what I knew they would eat. I was never into making one meal for the kids and one for the grown ups. We all ate the same thing. (Even though Sam used to be quite picky — I’d just make sure to have rice and beans for him at every meal.) And we always ate together. Family meals are very important to me. Yes there are many pizza nights in front of the TV, but I really like the ritual of sitting down to dinner together. Even if it’s fast and furious, it’s together. There are some words of conversation even too.
6. What’s your favorite dish to cook that you know can never go wrong?
That’s an easy one—Persian Rice and Choresh. These are two Persian recipes that my Bibi taught me. Choresh is a stew, there are many variations on it, but every Friday night I make Chickpea Choresh and a big pot of rice with a potato crust. We are Jewish and while we are not religious, I like the customs and the notion of having a special Friday Sabbath meal where we eat Persian food that my mother and my grandmother used to make for me as a child, It makes me feel like I am creating this lineage of love through food and the generations.
7. Would you receive an entire TV crew in your kitchen for a day?
If they can fit inside, yes!
8. Do you follow any tv shows or have a favorite cooking book?
We love to watch “Nailed It” as a family. The show cracks us up. It’s great. We have also watched the Great British Baking Show but it makes me too hungry. I always want to eat many pieces of cake afterwards.