This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

Times Like These... With New York Times Food Columnist And Author Alison Roman

Times Like These

New York-based cook and writer Alison Roman was supposed to be in Australia right now. I was scheduled to interview her last week about her new cookbook, Nothing Fancy, the follow up to her wildly successful first book, Dining In. I’d even planned out the title for the final article already – ‘There’s Something Special About Nothing Fancy’.

But as we spoke over the phone last week, me in my dining room-slash-home-office in Melbourne, and her in upstate New York, the fact that only two weeks ago we were planning an in-person interview seemed completely ludicrous. Such are the strange times of COVID-19.

30th March, 2020

Spread from Alison Roman’s new cookbook Nothing Fancy, published in Australia by Hardie Grant and available now. Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

New York Times bestselling author Alison Roman. Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Alison Roman’s new cookbook Nothing Fancy, published in Australia by Hardie Grant and available now. Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Left: some photos from ‘the commune’ with Alison’s self-isolation partners! Right: An image from ‘Nothing Fancy’. Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Photo –Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

Sally Tabart
Monday 30th March 2020

‘People are more tense and edgy in one way, but more tender and vulnerable and open in another.’ Alison Roman.

Alison Roman is a food columnist for The New York Times, and a contributor to Bon Appetit, who is beloved for her casual, just-throw-it-together approach to cooking.

I hadn’t even made any of Alison’s recipes before kind of falling in love with her. Visiting her Instagram or reading her cookbooks feels like dropping by a friend’s house, and being invited to share the dinner or lunch or breakfast they were already making (but your friend also happens to be an incredible chef and best-selling cookbook author). It’s Nothing Fancy. But it is something special. Thanks for letting me repurpose that title.

So many people were disappointed when Alison’s trip to Australia was cancelled – she’s amassed quite the cult following here – but I feel so grateful to have had this conversation with her about how life has changed for her lately.  Instead of the chat we likely would have had – one sandwiched between dozens of others I’m sure she had scheduled for her book tour – I spoke to Alison about feeling all the feelings, finding the motivation to work, and (of course) cooking as a tool for connection.

Hey Alison! How are you feeling today?

Today I’m good, yesterday I wasn’t so good. It’s a day-by-day situation for sure. I think the mentality of truly taking it one day at a time and allowing yourself to not feel good when you don’t feel good, and not feel inspired when you don’t feel inspired, is key to surviving this.

Totally. What’s the vibe like in New York?

I’m actually upstate in Hudson right now. I had gotten a house sitter for my apartment in New York because I was supposed to be in Australia. So I decided to get out of town for what I thought would be a week or so, and then as things progressed it kind of became like, oh shit, this might actually be a longer term living situation.

The vibe in Hudson in mellow. People are staying home, there’s no sense of panic necessarily but it’s definitely eerily quiet.

So you were supposed to be in Australia right now, I imagine you’ve got a lot of time on your hands at the moment now that’s obviously not happening. What are your days looking like?

I’m finishing up some stories for the New York Times, and trying to work on a book proposal. Well, I say I’m working on it, but it’s on my To Do list, I haven’t actually started it yet. But it’s on the docket.

Right now I’m just trying to finish this Passover article that I basically had to rewrite, because we kind of have to rethink and redo all the stuff we’ve been writing about to be sensitive and mindful of the situation at hand.

It’s the same for us, it’s been pretty crazy having to completely rethink our content for the next few months because nothing we had planned is relevant anymore. Are you finding yourself inspired or creative?

It’s a true ebb and flow, you know? I’m staying with two of my dear friends, and we all cook and talk about food, and being around them has helped me stay considerate and mindful. We’re all trying to figure out how we can all help people during this time. It’s nice to have that.

But there are times I sit in front of my computer and I stare at a blank word document and I just refresh Twitter repeatedly because that’s all I have the energy for. I feel a bit defeated, like what’s the point of writing any of this stuff? Which isn’t really the spirit.

It kind of is the spirit right now.

Yeah. There’s also a real insatiable appetite for people going live on Instagram and answering questions, being there for the general public, fielding troubleshooting tips and being a resource to people. But also if I do that then I’m not writing or doing other things, and it’s a fine line between how can I be helpful and how can I preserve an ounce of my own space, and not feel like I’m pedaling myself. I don’t want to be like, self-promoting.

I feel like watching people cook has always been very soothing, so I’m sure that a lot of people are turning to you for comfort in a way. What are you doing to feel comforted and normal?

Cooking! It’s just something that I really enjoy doing – even though I do it for work, it’s still enjoyable to me not doing it for work.

Something that’s been hard to watch is the decline of the restaurant and hospitality industry. It’s the lifeblood of cities like Melbourne and New York. What do you think it’s going to look like after this?

I don’t know. It’s really sad. I think the ones that have a lot of money behind them will figure out a way to survive, but I think that for the most part the whole landscape has changed. It’s going to continue to change because they don’t have any infrastructure in place to protect them against something like this happening.

The whole industry is so precarious, I don’t think people realise that if a restaurant doesn’t do well three months in a row then they’re going to close. There’s not a tonne of safety for small businesses in general, but the margins for restaurants especially are so, so small that every bit counts. Especially in cities like New York, Melbourne, San Francisco, London, where the rent is insanely high and you just can’t afford to stay open.

I was listening to a podcast you did with Hilary Kerr on Second Life where you said something that really resonated with me – ‘I genuinely appreciate the bad because it means I can feel the good’. I know that was pre-COVID-19, but are you still able to feel that? What good are you taking from this time?

I still maintain that. I’m staying with my friends, and I’m spending time with them that I don’t normally get to. We’re really taking our time cooking and taking care of each other, and everybody’s being really considerate in a way that we usually try to be, but it feels extra nice. I’m FaceTiming with people that I haven’t spoken to in a long time, which is awesome. I’ve spoken with my family more than I have probably ever in the 16 or so years I’ve lived away from home.

People are more tense and edgy in one way, but more tender and vulnerable and open in another. I think that’s a real sign of progress when we’re able to be more honest and open with each other, and kind of level with one another when things aren’t going well. Because we were spending so much of our time being like, ‘Everything’s great! This is my life! This is so cool!’ and I think we’re being forced to come down and admit that things aren’t.

I can’t help feeling like there is some sort of prophetic energy that counters this #blessed life we were starting to feel was inauthentic, and now we’ve been confronted with this total authenticity that you can’t escape from. I feel good about that stuff too. You said your quarantine group has been cooking for each other, what have you been making?

We’re pretty much really going for it every night! We did steak night, baked potato night, fried chicken night, we had leftovers night, last night we took a break and did a vegan vegetable soup with mushrooms and noodles and broth. Tonight Amiel is making Chile Colorado, which is probably very American. Lauren’s making rice and I’m making beans. So it’s a real family affair. It kind of feels like we’re living in a commune.

What is the biggest challenge for you personally right now?

I would say trying to stay focused, which is something that I struggle with anyway. But also purposeful, because it feels a little bit defeatist to be like, ‘Is this the most important thing? Does anybody care? Will this matter?’ when you’re trying to plan anything more than a week in advance because everything’s changing so quickly.

And just staying motivated with regards to work. The three of us in this house have kind of unconventional jobs and schedules anyway so we work from home a lot. Self-motivating is the name of the game. But now it just feels more intense.

What are people making from ‘Nothing Fancy’ right now?

Everything, it’s crazy. Stuff that they weren’t making before, that’s for sure. People have time on their hands and they are just making it all.

What are you hopeful for?

I’m hopeful that this is going to repair the planet. I’m hopeful that we’re going to emerge from this a lot more compassionate to one another, and excited to actually be with each other once we can. I hope that it ushers in a new era of how people treat and communicate with each other, and value actual human connection. And like, going outside and going to the store and taking pleasure in things that we aren’t able to do right now.

I just hope that it restores a bit more gratitude for the boring, everyday stuff that we can no longer participate in.

Are you Listening to, watching or reading anything good right now?

I’m not a podcast person. I brought five books to my friend’s place and I haven’t read one of them! We’re watching old movies that are reliable and not going to make us sad.

Nothing that involves dogs dying or anything.  

No. No dead animals, no romantic comedies that make me wish that I had a boyfriend.

The commune sounds pretty great though.

The commune is great. But I can’t wait to have sex with a person once this is over.

Nothing Fancy is the second cookbook from New York Times bestselling author Alison Roman. Find it here and keep up with Alison via her Instagram!

This Week

Gardens

A WOW-Factor 'Secret Garden' In Blairgowrie

Ian Barker Gardens creates a private outdoor sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula.

Homes

A Remarkable Family Home Transformation

Maddie and Mike Witter transformed a mould-ridden, dilapidated house into a bright and breezy family home for six!

Interiors

A Joyful Home, Full Of Whimsy + Glamour

Scalloped edges and vibrant colours have elevated this Sydney terrace by Arent&Pyke.

Architecture

A 90m² Inner-Suburban Block Turned Multipurpose Family Home!

MRTN Architects have designed family home, office, and granny flat on a mere 90m² Brunswick East block!

Architecture

A New Zealand Villa Built For Hosting

Architecture firm Maud creates a home for a family of hospitality professionals, built around a generous kitchen, outdoor room + pétanque g...
51:47

Podcast

Country Road’s Managing Director On The Stickiness Of Sustainable Fashion, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, Elle Roseby talks leading one of the country’s most iconic brands through a new age in the fashion industry....

Interiors

11 Mirrors That Are Having A Moment!

Lauren Li's edit of her favourite mirrors out there right now, to take your space to the next level!
Lauren Li

News

An Online Super Store + Subscription Service For All-Natural Goodies

GoodnessMe carries over 3,000 products from snacks to ready-made meals – with samples delivered to your door every month!
Sponsored

Interiors

A Before-And-After Interior Renovation That’ll Knock Your Socks Off!

AMA Studio Interiors transforms a rustic, wood-panelled cottage on the NSW Central Coast into dreamy family retreat.

News

Delicious New Bed Linen From A Local Fave

Melbourne-based bed linen stars, The Sheet Society, launches a moody new winter range ripe for mixing + matching.
Sponsored

TDF Design Awards

The Most Fabulous New Furniture Designs In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021

There is no shortage of innovation and inspiration from the Furniture Design finalists In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards this year!

Architecture

A Modernist-Inspired Seaside Home

This adaptable, Victorian seaside home designed by Nest Architects and Placement blurs the line between modernism and contemporary design. ...

Interiors

A Glam ’60s-Inspired Makeover For A Drab Suburban Home

Kaiko Design transform a forgettable suburban space into a ritzy family residence, with big personality!
02:27

Travel

A Perfect Day in Daylesford & The Macedon Ranges, With Paul Bangay

Lucy joins legendary landscape designer Paul Bangay for a dreamy day trip in Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges, capturing the best that the

On The Market

A Light + Bright Beachside Home Hits The Market

This property in Sunrise Beach, Noosa is a full time home that feels like a holiday home - and it’s ready for new inhabitants!

View Comments

Similar Stories

Food

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's Seasonal Flavours: Strawberries

Strawberries are back in season, and Julia shows us how to make the most of them, baked in a strawberry galette!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Food

7 Days Of Home-Cooked Meal Ideas from Julia Busuttil Nishimura

The queen of comfort food gives us a menu of nourishing meal ideas, plus a mega shopping list for all of it!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Times Like These

Times Like These... With Artist And Designer Beci Orpin

Feeling weird? Us too. Welcome to our new weekly series to help us combat all the strange feels by sharing the experiences of creatives we k...

This Week

Gardens

A WOW-Factor 'Secret Garden' In Blairgowrie

Ian Barker Gardens creates a private outdoor sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula.

TDF Design Awards

The Most Fabulous New Furniture Designs In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards 2021

There is no shortage of innovation and inspiration from the Furniture Design finalists In The TDF + Laminex Design Awards this year!

News

Delicious New Bed Linen From A Local Fave

Melbourne-based bed linen stars, The Sheet Society, launches a moody new winter range ripe for mixing + matching.
Sponsored

Homes

A Remarkable Family Home Transformation

Maddie and Mike Witter transformed a mould-ridden, dilapidated house into a bright and breezy family home for six!

Architecture

A Modernist-Inspired Seaside Home

This adaptable, Victorian seaside home designed by Nest Architects and Placement blurs the line between modernism and contemporary design. ...

Interiors

11 Mirrors That Are Having A Moment!

Lauren Li's edit of her favourite mirrors out there right now, to take your space to the next level!
Lauren Li

Interiors

A Glam ’60s-Inspired Makeover For A Drab Suburban Home

Kaiko Design transform a forgettable suburban space into a ritzy family residence, with big personality!

News

An Online Super Store + Subscription Service For All-Natural Goodies

GoodnessMe carries over 3,000 products from snacks to ready-made meals – with samples delivered to your door every month!
Sponsored

On The Market

A Light + Bright Beachside Home Hits The Market

This property in Sunrise Beach, Noosa is a full time home that feels like a holiday home - and it’s ready for new inhabitants!

Interiors

A Joyful Home, Full Of Whimsy + Glamour

Scalloped edges and vibrant colours have elevated this Sydney terrace by Arent&Pyke.
51:47

Podcast

Country Road’s Managing Director On The Stickiness Of Sustainable Fashion, On TDF Talks

In this podcast conversation, Elle Roseby talks leading one of the country’s most iconic brands through a new age in the fashion industry....

Architecture

A New Zealand Villa Built For Hosting

Architecture firm Maud creates a home for a family of hospitality professionals, built around a generous kitchen, outdoor room + pétanque g...

Interiors

A Before-And-After Interior Renovation That’ll Knock Your Socks Off!

AMA Studio Interiors transforms a rustic, wood-panelled cottage on the NSW Central Coast into dreamy family retreat.
02:27

Travel

A Perfect Day in Daylesford & The Macedon Ranges, With Paul Bangay

Lucy joins legendary landscape designer Paul Bangay for a dreamy day trip in Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges, capturing the best that the

Architecture

A 90m² Inner-Suburban Block Turned Multipurpose Family Home!

MRTN Architects have designed family home, office, and granny flat on a mere 90m² Brunswick East block!

Similar Stories

Food

Julia Busuttil Nishimura's Seasonal Flavours: Strawberries

A delicious strawberry galette - perfect for Spring picnics and entertaining.
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Food

7 Days Of Home-Cooked Meal Ideas from Julia Busuttil Nishimura

The queen of comfort food gives us a menu of nourishing meal ideas, plus a mega shopping list for all of it!
Julia Busuttil Nishimura

Times Like These

Times Like These... With Artist And Designer Beci Orpin

Feeling weird? Us too. Welcome to our new weekly series to help us combat all the strange feels by sharing the experiences of creatives we k...

The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.