On this episode of Unlocking Us
Get ready for a delicious conversation. I am talking to Samin Nosrat, author, cook, teacher, podcaster, and the force of nature behind the revolutionary cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and its Netflix documentary. We connect on her work and the struggles and realities of creating connections in a period of great disconnection.
Listen to the episode
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat bridges the gap between home and professional kitchens. With charming narrative, illustrated walkthroughs, and a lighthearted approach to kitchen science, Samin demystifies the four elements of good cooking for everyone. Featuring 150 illustrations and infographics that reveal an atlas to the world of flavor by renowned illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will be your compass in the kitchen.
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: In this episode, I am talking to Samin Nosrat. Author, cook, teacher, podcaster, and the incredible force of nature behind what I think is probably the most revolutionary cookbook I’ve ever come across, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. She also stars in her own Netflix documentary, by the same name. And it’s just one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever watched… We watched it as a family. It was so much fun and we learned a lot. We’re talking about her work, and we’re also talking about struggle and the reality of getting through this pandemic. What happens when you are someone who is passionate about connection and feeding people and gathering… And we’re in a period of great disconnection.
BB: It’s a really honest and vulnerable and intimate conversation about life and about the importance of understanding that we are made up of many, many pieces. And it’s our whole self that we need to understand and see is beautiful. It’s an incredible conversation. So before we get started… If you don’t know Samin Nosrat’s work, let me tell you about her. She is just a badass. She is a chef, a teacher, an author of a best-selling James Beard award-winning cookbook called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. She has been called a go-to resource for matching the correct techniques and the best ingredients by the New York Times. And NPR All Things Considered, called her the next Julia Child. Samin is an Eat columnist for the New York Times magazine, and she can be found eating, cooking, laughing, and teaching in her Netflix documentary, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Welcome Samin.
BB: So we have to start here. I want to know your story. And I want to know your story from the beginning, from baby Samin.
Samin Nosrat: Wow, thank you for asking. Thank you. That’s amazing. People are always like, “Did you always want to cook?” But it starts so much… You know… I was a baby first. So my parents are from Iran, and they came to California to San Diego in the mid-’70s. And a big part of my story is that I think it’s true about a lot of immigrant kids, is there are a lot of holes. And there’s a lot of secrets in my family. I don’t know the full history of my family. I don’t know the full story, still. So I don’t actually even know exactly when my parents came, and I don’t know the full story of exactly why they came. I do know there was some religious persecution on my dad’s side. My dad’s side of the family is Bahá’i. But my parents came and I had an older sister at that time… I wasn’t born yet. And I was born in 1979 in San Diego.
SN: And when I was one, my sister died. She had a kind of a terminal brain cancer, that kids don’t survive. And so I think the move… The huge… The immigration and the loss of a kid really set the tone for my childhood and our family life in a lot of ways. In a way that I don’t know that I had an understanding of or context of until many, many years later that I… When I got to go to therapy. But there was definitely a lot of heaviness and grief and sadness that was not particularly resolved in our family. So that’s kind of where I come from. And also, I come from an amazing, very rich culture. A beautiful, beautiful culture that my mom really wanted me and my two younger brothers to be familiar with and love and fully understand.
SN: She worked really hard to fill our house with the senses and the flavors of our culture. And my aunts, and my uncles as they also came to the States they were always coming in and out of our house. And we celebrated Persian New Year, which is our big holiday. And so our house was full of family, and there was a lot of like… I was trying to fit in in Southern California and also be a part of my family. And so it didn’t always happen, but also I just was trying to be my best Samin self. Yeah.
BB: Tell me about elementary-school Samin.
SN: I definitely wanted to get the best grades. I wanted to be… Yeah… I wanted to be the best for the teacher. I was always the kid like raising my hand for sure like… At the front of the classroom. I grew up in suburban San Diego. And it’s funny too because sometimes I’m like, “Am I over-narrativizing this?” Sometimes I’m like… Sitting here where I sit now, have I created a story that I didn’t fit in? But now that I go back and look at pictures of my elementary school birthday parties, I definitely didn’t fit in. I’m the only kid with the thick brown eyebrows and the curly brown hair. And everybody else had fair skin, had blond hair and light brown hair. And I so desperately begged my mom to be a Brownie, a Girl Scout.
SN: And she did. And my mom… Oh man, she was so good. She signed me up for everything that I wanted to sign up for. And also she never wanted me to be too American. She didn’t want me or my brothers to lose our culture. And so all I wanted was a cake mix cake. I just wanted a Betty Crocker cake… You know? [chuckle] And that was not what we were going to have. And so I was being pulled in all the directions. I wanted so badly to fit in, and also never at the cost of my own culture. I never really wanted to hide who I was, it was just… I just so badly wanted to fit in. I was so painfully aware of being different. I was so, so, so, so, incredibly aware of that. And so my response became, “Oh, well then in that case, the only way that I can prove myself is by being the smartest, the smartest, the smartest… I have to be, the best possible student I can be.”
BB: Same experience in high school as well?
SN: Something kind of remarkable and amazing happened for me. I still don’t understand looking back what possessed me. But when I was in middle school… The middle school I went to is across the street from the high school. And so at some point… I don’t know, the sports coaches came to the middle school to recruit incoming freshmen. And I was never athletic. In fact, I was born with all these weird misalignments in my body. And I’ve definitely never enjoyed running, never. And yet something possessed me… I don’t know what, to cross the gym and go over to the cross-country team… To the cross-country coach recruiting situation. And…
SN: I joined the cross country team, which saved me in every way. I became part of a group of girls. And we had this incredible coach who later became my English teacher, who was the English teacher who changed my life, and who I’m still in touch with. The cross country team… People… Kids who run are weird. It was a group of weirdos…
SN: Who were misfits. And it was a group of weirdos who I fit in with. And I was still never a very good or fast runner, but I loved it so much. I loved being part of this strange thing that I felt like I could commit myself fully to socially, and that wasn’t just school, that wasn’t just my studies. And that I think in a huge way saved me. And having a coach who cared about us. Who really for me, and I think for a lot of us who weren’t white, gave us a love of the outdoors. He took us trail running and he took us camping. And I got to know so much of California because of our road trips. It was an incredible, incredible experience. And that changed me and taught me to be ambitious in kind of another way. Yeah, and to ask for more, I think socially, for myself. I had so much fun. And I don’t think I had ever had fun in that way before… Yeah, and I felt part of something. I don’t know what possessed me to cross that gym in 8th grade, but I’m so glad I did.
BB: Yeah, I keep thinking a lot of us walk across that gym, but nobody but you ends up at the cross country table. I just got to say, that’s a hard core table. That’s not like run a lap, that’s like run through the woods for miles… That’s the hard core table.
SN: Yeah, in that summer, between eighth grade and ninth grade, my mom and my brothers and I went to Iran for the first time. And part of the assignment of preparing to be on the cross-country team… Our season in Southern California is the fall, was to get in shape by running a few miles a day over the summer. And this is somebody who literally couldn’t run a lap… I don’t… I really don’t know why I made this decision. And so I was like, “Okay, I guess I’m going to start doing this.” And so I started running and trying to do other cardio. And I remember one day I was riding my bike with my little brother and we were riding bikes to go to the public library. I loved going to the library… And you know how in California it’s legal when you’re driving to make a right turn on red after you come to a stop. And so my brother and I were on our bikes and a car didn’t see us and he turned right into me… A car hit me on my bike. And so that…
BB: Oh God.
SN: And then the ambulance came… And it wasn’t that bad… Like, we weren’t moving. It wasn’t that bad. I just kind of got knocked over. But it was bad… And I think an ambulance came and took me back home. I was in a little bit of shock, but I was 14 years old. I wasn’t in Iran… Sorry. The Iran trip was the next year. It was just the preparation year and I was trying to get into shape for my first year of cross country. And so I just was like, “Maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t do cross country.” And I still did it. You know what I mean? Like I still was like… And I still showed up and I still did it.
SN: And then the next summer was the year that we went to Iran, and again, they were like, “Make sure you run every day.” And this is the first time I go to Iran. I have to wear covering, which is super stressful to me as now a 15-year-old. [chuckle] And my mom took me to Marshalls and I remember I got London Fog rain coat and I got head scarves, which was this whole thing where I was like, “I’m going to be so hot all summer wearing these things.” And I was like, “How am I going to run?” And I really couldn’t run in Tehran it was impossible. But in the countryside where my grandparents lived they had a huge citrus orchard. And so I would try and go running on the citrus orchard, which was its own really challenging thing because then I was supposed to be modest in front of the farm workers. And it wasn’t really considered modest to go running in your… Running tights or whatever. And I was like, “I’m going to still do it.” And it was still this clash of the cultures. And I still did it. I still pushed and somehow managed to show up and do this thing. So regardless of whatever weird or challenging thing was put in front of me it was so important to me to show up prepared that I did it.
BB: That’s amazing. I mean, hit by a car, you’re going to still to run… You have to dress modestly and run through a citrus orchard… She’s going. She’s going. It’s like a… Yeah, it’s Chariots of Fire.
SN: I know, totally.
BB: So tell me about this coach/English teacher that really change things for you it sounds like. A real sliding door moment, I guess.
SN: Yeah, I had always measured my value by my achievements. And one of my greatest achievements had always been academic. And even though I was a pretty good student, I switched to a far better school for middle school, and I was never the very best. I was all of a sudden, amongst way smarter kids. And I was really stressed out. I just wasn’t as smart as them, and I didn’t have the tools to figure out how to be as good as them. But I was kind of sneaky… And so I started doing these kind of sneaky things. Like in ninth grade, I did this thing where I went to the vice principal and I told the vice principal that the teacher of the super duper advanced level English class had told me that I could be in her class. And then I went to the teacher of the super duper advanced level class and told them that the vice principal had said I could be in the class.
SN: And then I got into the class… Like… I mean… It was just… I was like… And then after that, I was suddenly in that track, which didn’t end up actually being the best place for me to be. I am still friends with a lot of the kids who are in those classes, but after 10th grade I’d realized I was unhappy there. I was unhappy amongst those kids who were the super duper, the smartest. And so I defaulted and I came back down a level, which for me as a kid who was like, “I have to go to the best of the best schools. I have to do the best of the best. This is the only way I can possibly measure my achievement and my value,” was a really huge deal because Coach Dorman, our cross-country coach, didn’t teach in that program. He taught in the regular advanced program. And by then I had sort of been around him and other kids who had been his students enough to understand and see things that mattered to them. And what mattered to them was beauty and poetry, and lyricism, and happiness, and sensory joy, and reading beautiful books, and narrative. And I was like, “I want to be inspired like that,” because that was not what I was feeling in my classes.
SN: So I did this really scary thing and I dropped out of the fanciest stuff and I dropped down so that I could be in his class. And that, again, was one of the best things I’ve ever done. And he read us poetry every day. And he made us keep journals. And he told me I could write. And he encouraged me to write. And until then I had always told myself and thought that I would… Because my parents had come here for a better life for their children… I just assumed I would be a doctor or a lawyer… I didn’t know what I would be, but I just assumed I would be one of the sort of approved jobs of Iranian children. Doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
SN: And all of a sudden I was like, “Wow, I could maybe do something that makes my heart sing.” And so at that point I was like, I want to be a writer. I want to be an English major.
SN: Yeah. And he encouraged us.
BB: Yeah, when you describe what those classes were, right. It was beauty and poetry, and sensory delight, and nature. That so describes how I think of you today.
SN: Oh, thank you. I mean, definitely he formed me in so many ways. Or I would say he set me on a course, and I’m so grateful for the influence he had on me. I’m so grateful to still have a relationship with him. And it has taught me and shown me how important, that kind of support in a young person’s life is.
SN: And also, I know that families and parents for the most part are trying, and sometimes you can’t get everything from your own family and your parents. And so to be able to look outside of your own family and get that… I’ve always been looking outside. I’ve always been so… I’ve been starving. I’ve been starving. I’ve always been starving and there’s just been a series of people where I’m always like, “Can you feed me?” And he was the first for sure. And I’m so grateful he was there with a spoon and a bowl. Yeah.
BB: So do you feel any irony when you think about, “I was always starving. I was always starving. Can you feed me?” And then you feed us with so much joy and so much beauty, and that’s what you do for us.
SN: I have so much conflict and sadness in my heart about all this stuff… I go to so much therapy now. And sometimes I feel like a huge fraud. I remember at one point when I realized that so much of what I make and put in the world originates from a place of pain and sadness and is a response to pain and sadness. And that was a really difficult and sad realization for me. It still is. I mean, it’s like… There’s tears in my eyes now. It’s just a really hard thing to come to terms with. There’s just been a lot of grief in my life. And the flip side of that where I decide to sort of sit with it is that it’s a choice. It’s a conscious choice for me to make something beautiful and joyful for people out of that. I could be putting grief and sadness out, or my response could be this. And what I’ve noticed is that unconsciously, I’m really drawn to people who create beautiful things out of grief and pain. Often I don’t know that about their back story, but as I get to know people, I realize that resilience is often a part of people’s stories who I’m drawn to.
BB: There’s a quote that I think of when I think about you and I’m obsessed with you. And I’ve seen your Netflix special 15 times. I’ve gifted your book to everybody I know. And I didn’t know really anything about the grief and hard part, but I’ll tell you I assumed it. And I’ll tell you why. The quote is from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. And the quote says that stained glass windows are beautiful, but they’re especially beautiful during darkness when they are lit from within. And you seem to me to be a person who is very lit from within. And I’m curious about that light. I’m curious about that light that you shine.
SN: Thank you. Wow. I don’t even know how to respond to that. Honestly also, most of the time I feel like a huge fraud… Like I really do. I don’t… I…
BB: Wait, still? Still?
SN: Oh yeah, totally. I’m also like, “What do people even see in me?” I don’t know… I made one show. I wrote one book. What’s the big deal? How many times can a person walk around saying Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat? You know? There’s been so many wonderful things that have come for me as a result of the success and the attention, and also… It’s hard, it’s really hard. And luckily, again, I don’t know where I would be without therapy. I’m so glad I’ve been going to therapy now for about 10 years, and it’s life-saving. And luckily I had the foresight to address a lot of this stuff and be prepared for some of these things… I don’t know that I assumed or planned for any level of… This kind of level of attention. I mean, I think you’d have to be like a sociopath or something to assume any of this would happen, but…
SN: Even before my book… [chuckle] Or like a narcissistic maniac or something. But before my book came out… I had worked on my book and been thinking about it for a lot of years. And as I said, my whole life, all of my sort of self-worth has been tied up in my achievements. And I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy, trying to untangle my self-worth from my achievements. And probably I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to do that. And at least now I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t mean I’ve fully been able to undo that.
BB: That’s a big one for all of us, I think. I mean, that separation.
SN: Yeah. And so like… My therapist. I said, “You know, I’m really worried about this book coming out, and I don’t want to ride the waves. Whether they’re positive or negative, I don’t want to ride every single wave of feedback. I don’t want to read every review or critical feedback and go up and down and up and down. Like I won’t be able to survive that.” And my therapist was like, “Well, what should we do?” And I was like, “You tell me. How do I… What do I… How do I prepare for this?” He said, “I think what you need to do is come up with your own definition for success and preempt all of that with your own definition for success, so that you can measure success by that instead of some outside thing.” And so I did. For me, that meant knowing that I put that book out having done everything that I could and given everything that I could to make it as good as I possibly could have.
SN: And not that it would be mistake free. And it wasn’t mistake-free. I mean, on the first day of publication, we realized there were some mistakes. And some of them were kind of big and embarrassing. But even by then I realized I had literally done everything I could and mistakes are fine, and it didn’t crush me and I survived. And we fixed them and it’s okay. And I did do everything I could. I literally did every single thing that I could. And I don’t read reviews. I don’t read comments. I don’t read articles. I have to protect myself in some ways, and that’s been a big thing. So that’s helped a lot, for sure. And also just like trying really hard to just invest in the relationships and friendships in my life that were important before and continue to be important.
BB: I struggle with a lot of the same things you are talking about, struggling with still today. There’s still some days I wake up and I’m like, “Oh man, today is the day. The gig is up.” People are going to figure out that this is what’s behind it all, and they’re going to be, “Shit man.” I think part of what’s hard when I think about your work is you look at the way people talk about you, especially in the culinary world which I make up. Some of it… It’s a kind of hoity-toity criticism-based world. Sometimes I make that up. But it’s not… The separating you and me from what we do, and our self-worth being about who we are, not what we have produced gets tricky when people have fallen in love with you.
BB: We have fallen in love with you. And it’s not just what you’ve written and taught us, it’s who you are. And there’s such power and loveliness in that, but it’s also can be a Faustian bargain, right?
BB: Because people need you to be something.
SN: Yeah, yeah. I think it didn’t really hit me until it was too late that I was giving up what I was giving up, and that I had given up… Certainly my anonymity.
BB: Say more.
SN: I have to be so aware. I don’t really get to be the grumpy person in my pajamas at the coffee… Not that I go out to coffee shops right now, but I think people think I’m just the one version of me that’s edited and put out on a podcast or on a TV show. And the thing is is I’m not an actor… Like, that’s a really, truly me what you see on the TV show, it really is truly me, but it’s just one part of me. I’m also kind of a huge bitch. Like I’m really judgmental, most of all toward myself. I’m an incredibly critical person. You know, I’m not pure niceness and joy. There are a lot of difficult things in all of us. And so I definitely feel like I’m a character now. And a lot of it is stuff I did to myself. You know, I set out with that book saying to myself, “Oh, the thing I want to do in this book is be your kitchen friend.” And now I’ve done that. Now, I’m everyone’s kitchen friend and I can’t undo that. And that’s really wonderful. And also, I get creepy mail at my house that I didn’t expect, you know. So…
SN: Yep. I’m like, “Okay, that’s kind of weird.”
BB: My sister is in this room with me right now, and I’m looking at her because it’s funny, Samin because when I inevitably piss people off on social media, because… Especially around my politics, I’ll take a stand on something. And what I get is not, “I disagree with you,” it’s, “You’ve broken my heart. I’m so disappointed in you.”
SN: You’re not held to the same standard as anyone else.
BB: I can’t be your poster person for wholeheartedness because I’m a hard person sometimes. And I get pissed off and I get mad, and I am scary when I’m scared sometimes, and I’m shitty. And I so deeply feel kind of this strange form of dehumanization when people need you to be happy and perfect and joyful, and their cure for melancholy all the time.
SN: Yeah. It’s a big part of why I’m so open about being depressed. I talk about it all the time. I talk about taking anti-depressants all the time. I’m like, “This is also part of that person.” Being grumpy is a part of that person… That’s just one part of me. And I’m trying my hardest to figure it out. And… I don’t know, it’s a wild world. It’s a real wild world. I don’t know. [chuckle] I don’t know. I will say I’m really appreciating this conversation. I will… Yeah.
BB: No… I mean…
SN: So thank you. Thank you for making this space.
BB: Me too, because it’s real. And a part of my work with my therapist has always been about integration. There cannot be 20 Brenés. There’s got to be one Brené, and she’s a whole person, and she’s made up of a lot of parts. And I have to find beauty in all those parts. And that’s a little bit more challenging, I think, when you’re public, because all those parts are under scrutiny and people need you to be different things. But it’s funny because when I read your work and when I watch you… Even when I watch the Netflix special, there’s a wholeness about you. There’s a wholeness and an empathy about you that conveys to me that you’ve known struggle. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing. There’s a wholeness about you that’s very real to me that I just want to say I appreciate.
SN: Thank you.
BB: Do you ever get tired of cooking or is it always a refuge for you? Is it always pure delight?
SN: Well, so I think the thing to be clear about is there’s two kinds of cooking in my life. There’s the work cooking, and then there’s the home cooking. And for me, just like everybody else, I’ve been doing home cooking throughout the pandemic. And I live by myself, which is really lonely and really depressing… Depressing in this… During this time where I don’t really have any social interaction.
SN: And pretty boring. And I would say culinarily it’s not very exciting. I eat a lot of toast with peanut butter or an egg. And also very early in my career, I have always been a person who throws myself into something once I’m interested in it. So as a young cook, I really wanted to learn everything I could about cooking. I got all the books. I learned everything I possibly could. I wanted to travel and learn and eat in all the restaurants. And I really got super nerdy about all the terms and skills and techniques. But I would say by year six, seven, or eight, it stopped being about all of the stuff we were talking about, where you said… Like all the hoity-toity-ness. I just didn’t care about that anymore. I think I realized what I cared about was people and their stories. I cared about the people who are growing my food, about the people who are cooking my food.
SN: About the people I was cooking for and eating with and sharing my meals with. And now this pandemic has taken that away from me. I don’t have people really to share my meals with or to cook for. And without that, I’m really left without a purpose to cook really. It’s not that exciting. Pretty boring. So this has been a pretty boring and uninspiring and challenging year for me, food-wise. I have not had much of an appetite and I haven’t really found a lot of inspiration in cooking. Except for… I will say right now, I’m… Three times this year, I’ve made a trip to this one friend’s home and I’m here now. And it’s the only time I’ve been under a roof with some other people. And all three times here… Like, it all comes back.
SN: And I do a big grocery shop before I come. And I just took my heart out. And it’s just being around other people, it’s so exciting for me. And I just am so excited to cook. I’m always like, “Oh, did I forget how to cook?” And I’m like, “Oh no, it’s just I needed some other people to be around.” But also I think being around other cooks is incredibly inspiring. And without that community, I feel really lonely. And so… Yeah, without other people to talk to and to say, “Oh, what are you doing? What’s inspiring you? How are you doing these things? Where are you learning things from? What tastes good to you?” It’s pretty lonely. So yeah, I’m just like washing the same dishes, eating the same rice as everybody else.
SN: And it’s boring. It sucks.
BB: Like the rest of us.
BB: It’s so funny because you’ve maintained this… Even in your show in your book, that cooking is ultimately about connection. And we’ve just were surviving a year of massive disconnection. I mean, that’s hard.
SN: It’s really sad. And there are tiny ways I’ve tried to get some connection in my life. And there are tiny ways on a day-to-day basis, I can maintain that. I do live in a little community. And even just on my street, we’ll have an outdoor pot luck if the weather allows or whatever. But it’s just so much more effort… It’s just hard.
BB: It is really hard. Tell me what you’re looking forward to the most post-pandemic?
SN: Hugging people. [chuckle] I just miss people. I just miss hugs. I miss companionship and friendship. I really miss not even so much the time… I’ve been going for hikes with friends or seeing friends sort of when it’s possible sort of outdoors for a tea or something. So it’s not that I haven’t seen anyone, but I miss the kind of time that you have with people where you’re not doing anything. Where you’re just sitting under a roof…
SN: And you’re both like reading a magazine. Where it’s not like planned where you’re just like…
SN: Doing nothing.
BB: Oh. Yes, that’s the best. Oh yeah, that’s where connection is so frequent, you can almost take it for granted and you can just be together, but that’s the best. Okay, I’m going to ask you some questions from our rapid fire. Are you ready for those?
BB: Yeah. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is… I wish y’all could see her. She’s got a serious thinking face on.
BB: Okay. You Samin, are called to be very brave, but your fear is real and you can feel it right in your throat. What’s the very first thing that you do?
BB: Straight up?
SN: No… Like what, I’m imagining in this scenario is that I’m standing at the edge of a lake. I’m imagining like, “Just jump.” I’m like… This is a metaphorical jump.
SN: Like just jump. Just close my eyes and jump. Jump into the water. Just take the leap. Yeah, leap. I am the one that closes my eyes and leaps. I have to be the… Yeah, I’m the leaper.
BB: That’s Samin crossing the gym floor right to the cross country table.
SN: Yeah, do the thing. You’re like, “Why would I do that thing?” Yeah.
BB: Okay, what is something that people often get wrong about you?
SN: Oh, everyone thinks I’m the nicest person.
BB: I’m still laughing.
SN: I’m truly not.
BB: Okay, that’s funny. Okay, the last TV show that you binged and loved.
SN: Uh. Well… Oh, this one. Oh… I’m… Oh… Oh… Oh… Oh. I’m so excited for this answer. This one’s a little. You can tell me if I have to redo it because it’s a tiny bit self-promotional. But I just got to watch Waffles and Mochi, which is so awesome. It’s the children’s puppet show/food show that Mrs. Obama made and stars in, that’s coming out in a few weeks. It’s coming out on March 16th, so probably it will already be out when this podcast airs for Netflix. And I’m going to be in an episode. So I just got to… Like they sent me it and I got to watch it. And it’s just like… It’s so full of joy. It’s so full of magic. It’s just… I have to say in this time that is so devoid of joy and magic, it has filled my heart with so much hope. Honestly, I’ve cried like 400 times watching it.
SN: I’ve laughed. It’s so funny in this way where you’re just imagining children laughing and adults laughing and… It’s just so silly. And for me as a person who got to be involved in it… I got to help with a little bit of the brainstorming and I got to be in it, it’s literally the only project that I’ve ever been involved in where inclusivity and diversity were values that were paramount and just woven in from the ground up, from the top down from day one. And so they were not things that anybody had to fight for along the way. And so because of that, they were not burdens. And so there was just room for magic and that’s so visible. And watching the show, I’m just sitting here crying because there’s just children who are going to see themselves represented and their food from their country that they’ve been made fun of… Like the… I got made fun of as a kid for eating. Or friends of mine got made fun of for their kimchi or for their other stinky foods or whatever. Now I’m just imagining a generation of kids who are just going to be celebrated and loved and understood. I don’t know. I’m like… Sorry, this is… Turned into an ad for Waffles and Mochi, but it is just the best show. [laughter] You can fully cut that if you want.
BB: No, we’re not cutting anything. I can’t wait to see it. I love that…
SN: It’s so… It’s honestly… It’s meant for 3-year-olds, but I feel like everyone should watch it.
BB: I can’t wait. I love it. And I’m probably going to love anything that Michelle Obama does, so I’m in. Alright, this is a really hard one. One of your very favorite movies.
SN: Uh… Uuhh… This is one of those ones where I’m on the spot, so I’m going to not remember a really good one. I think because I’m in that Waffles and Mochi place I’m going to say The Science of Sleep. Do you know that movie?
BB: No. I’m so curious because I wrestle with sleep, it’s part of my…
SN: It’s not about that at all.
BB: Oh it’s not. I was like, “She’s going to be the first person that gives us a documentary. Damn.”
SN: No, no, no. It’s by the director of Michel Gondry. And it has… Who’s that wonderful actor who’s so beautiful? Who I love so much. Oh, Gael García Bernal. Yes. He’s in it. And…
BB: Oh, my God. Oh God.
SN: And I love it so much because I remember when I watched it, I was like, this movie is an arts and crafts extravaganza. It is just one of the most imaginative wonderful, weird, special… I think the thing I love is whenever I see something that kind of explodes my brain about the art form a little bit… Like when… The first time I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius… And that was the first memoir I read where I was like, “This book is breaking the fourth wall.” I didn’t even know what a fourth wall was, but I was like, “Something is happening here, that’s really weird and wonderful.” And I was like, “That’s what I want to do one day if I ever write a book.” And I was like, “I want to break whatever form I do.” And I feel like The Science of Sleep kind of is just like this weird and wonderful… It plays with whatever is supposed to be… And also it just has so many arts and crafts in it. I’m like, “It must have been so fun to work on that movie.”
BB: Oh, I can’t wait, I love anything that challenges norms, so I can’t wait to see that. Okay. A concert that you’ll never forget.
SN: Oh, I have not been to a ton of concerts in my life, but one time… And I’ve only ever had one relationship, one real sort of like love and it was when I was in college. But we did go to see Jimmy Cliff at a casino in Reno, Nevada, which was just like we happened upon Jimmy Cliff, and I was so excited because I didn’t grow up knowing a ton about music, and certainly not reggae or pop music because my mom really was the controller of the radio in the house and in the car, and so she only really ever played classical Persian music, or like Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Roberta Flack. I was always made fun of in high school because I never knew anything cool, I never knew what was happening, and so I learned music as people made me mix tapes. My boyfriend had made me a mix tape, and I think there was Jimmy Cliff on it, so I was like, when we saw this Jimmy Cliff concert… A casino in Reno, Nevada or wherever it was, Lake Tahoe, I was so excited and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ll know a song that Jimmy Cliff is going to play.” And he was probably in his 80s, so yeah. [laughter]
BB: Wait, I have to ask, was this Johnny?
SN: Yes, yeah, Johnny.
BB: Johnny, the poet, who took you on the culinary exploration.
BB: Of course it was Johnny that took you to Reno for a concert. Okay. This is going to be a hard one because I ask everyone this, but your favorite meal.
SN: Oh. That’s a good one. Do you mean like the setting or the meal itself? The people and the setting and the memory, or the food?
BB: No, just your food, like your favorite meal to eat, your favorite meal.
SN: Oh, oh, the favorite meal. Oh, now this is a hard one. But whenever people are like, “If you could only eat one thing… ” I think my favorite meal is tacos, and the reason is because, first of all, I grew up in San Diego, I’m half-Mexican in my heart. And also because I love anything that is a vehicle for many sauces and flavors, and so I feel like I could have so many experiences and so many different flavors and so many different bites, if it’s just a dinner of tacos, and I can have all the different salsas, I can have a little bit of slaw here, some beans on this one, I can have jalapeno pickle on this one, a full Mexican extravaganza.
BB: I’m going to make you an honorary Texan.
SN: Oh, I would love that. And also, I feel like I’ve heard about the Austin breakfast taco, which I have yet to experience. But I need to.
BB: Oh my God, this is a standing invitation for you to come to my house in Austin and we’ll just do a taco truck tour for breakfast.
SN: Oh my God, I would love that. [laughter]
BB: Oh my God, we’ll hit them all. Okay. This is a weird question. What’s on your nightstand?
SN: Oh, let’s see. I have Egyptian Magic, the balm, because I’m always rubbing it all over my face and my hands. I have my anti-depressants. Oh, I have my little brush for brushing my dog. I have 1000 million books, of which I’ve probably read one. Oh, I have ZzzQuil, which is my preferred sleeping pill. And… I don’t know, I mean… Oh, and water.
BB: That’s a full nightstand.
BB: I have to ask you these questions, these are add-ons just for you, because I’ll get in trouble if I don’t.
SN: Ooh, fun.
BB: Are you ready?
BB: The number one Googled food question. Do you know what it is?
SN: “What should I make for dinner?” No, I have no idea.
BB: “How do you boil an egg?”
SN: Really? That makes me so sad.
SN: What’s the answer?
BB: How do you boil an egg?
SN: That’s funny, because I just asked you that. Well, there’s a lot of… There’s endless ways. I think the answer is, it depends on what your desired result is. The way I do it is I bring the water to a boil, gently lower the egg in, and then depending on what kind of yoke I’m after, I’ll pull it out anywhere from, let’s say, six and a half to nine and a half minutes out, and then stick it in some ice water and then peel it and eat it.
BB: Perfect. Second question, this is for me and my sisters. We wear a nuclear suit when handling raw chicken, is that necessary?
SN: Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. [laughter]
BB: How necessary is that, seriously?
SN: Well, where do you get your… What’s your chicken’s provenance?
BB: Wow. The grocery store.
SN: I don’t know if it’s like, the farmer’s market might be different answer. Do you know what I mean?
BB: No, no, no. Yeah, nothing fancy. The grocery store.
SN: Okay, okay, okay. I don’t think you need to wear a nuclear suit, I do think you should probably not splashing chicken water everywhere. I think I read somewhere once that when people wash the chicken, rinse it off, they end up getting more chicken germs all over their kitchen than when they don’t. I don’t think washing a chicken…
BB: I’ve heard that.
SN: Does anything.
BB: Got it.
SN: What I do is usually if I get a chicken that’s wrapped in plastic, just at the grocery store if I get a chicken that comes in that super-tight plastic.
SN: I’ll open it in the sink, so that whatever bloody waters in there can just come out in the sink, and then I’ll put it on the tray and move it on to the counter that way.
BB: That’s very helpful.
SN: I don’t use gloves. I like to touch the food because I feel like if I wear gloves, I’m less sensitive to germs, and then that way if I have dirty hands I’m more likely to touch something else, and then make that thing dirty too.
BB: Do you ever cry when everything isn’t ready at the same time, or is that just the rest of us?
SN: I don’t cry, I get really stressed and kind of get passive-aggressive or just aggressive, aggressive at people.
BB: Yay! This is why we love you.
SN: But how I just said, I was so excited to be around people, we were here and we had a Zoom dance class for my friend’s birthday scheduled, and so we had to have dinner at 6:00 so we could have the Zoom dance class at 7:00, but I was not on time. And so I was running behind and I was like, “Everybody sit down!” And we’re trying to have a joyous birthday dinner and I’m like, “Sit down!” I’m like, “Start eating!” [laughter] I’m like, “This is supposed to be a nice dinner!”
BB: Yeah, “Sit your joyous ass down and get ready to eat because… ” Yeah, I love it. I love it, I love the real.
SN: I’m like, “Have a good time!” [laughter]
BB: Alright, two more questions. Yeah, joy people.
SN: I will say the things you can do to help yourself, usually involve preparation… Some thought before you even begin. But we’ll get there eventually.
BB: Okay. Tell me one thing, I’m just going to stay passive-aggressive, I’m just going to go with that. I think that’s easier than changing my prep routine. Yeah, I have to say though, I really do feel bad sometimes when I’m trying to do a family dinner and you can see everyone just seizing up like, “Oh man, she’s in the kitchen, this shit better work out, just like she planned it, or… ”
BB: But whatever, I’m trying. Tell me one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now.
SN: Oh, you know, I’m so grateful for my little pup, man, this relationship with this dog has saved me throughout this pandemic.
BB: What’s your dog’s name?
SN: Fava Bean.
SN: She’s such a little rascal, but man, little dog. I mean, I never really understood the dog thing, but I’m so glad I have one now and… Yeah, my buddy. She’s my buddy.
BB: She’s a buddy, yeah. I wasn’t a dog person my whole life, and then we got a dog because the kids wanted one, and now I’m like, obsessed. You gave us five songs that you would not want to live without. Let me tell you what they are. Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World,” Bill Evans, “Waltz for Debby (Take 2),” Van Morrison, “Into The Mystic,” Nina Simone, “Suzanne,” and Stevie Wonder, “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing.” In one sentence, tell us what this mini mix tape says about you.
SN: Each song is a portal to a place and a time, and a person that I’ve spent that time with, that I don’t want to forget.
BB: That’s beautiful. Okay, tell us what’s happening next? You’ve got a podcast. I think… Are you working on a new book?
SN: Yes, I’m miserably working on a new book. Yeah.
BB: Tell me about the new book, can you tell us a little bit about it and when we can expect it?
SN: Sure. I’m just in the early painful stages of that. Oh, by the way, Wendy MacNaughton, my book partner, says hello.
BB: I love her.
SN: Yeah, she’s so delightful and wonderful. It’s called What To Cook, and the idea is hopefully it will resolve some of the problems we just referred to, of that stress of like, “Ahh, everything’s not ready at the same time.” Because idea is, if Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat demystifies for home cooks how professional cooks understand and think about how to cook, then what to cook will hopefully demystify for home cooks how professional cooks really navigate any cooking situation to really make the decisions about what is the right thing or the best thing to cook in any given scenario. And there are basically four constraints that we can use to make that decision, and those are time, ingredients, resources, and preferences.
SN: And I think a lot of people think that cooking is this mystical art, like black magic, where a chef has creativity strike and you just know which ingredients to combine, and how to come up with a menu, but it’s not that at all, maybe they’re a little bit of that, but really it’s knowing how to take stock of what’s around and how much time you have and what skills and appliances and space and who’s coming to dinner and what you’re feeling like and what they’re feeling like, and understanding which one of those elements should anchor your cooking, and then how to work around that, and so I’m going to teach you how to use that thinking and make those decisions.
BB: God, that’s good.
SN: Yeah, and actually I’m entering your world, I’m tip-toeing into the world of social science a little bit, and in doing the research for just figuring out how home cooks make the decisions right now, because I have not had a typical cook’s life, coming from my mom’s kitchen, into a college kitchen, college dorm, and then a fancy restaurant, and then just cooking for myself, so I want to understand how my typical audience, my typical reader makes the decisions of what to cook so I can better answer their questions. And one example is for Thanksgiving, most people, their constraint often is that almost every dish at a typical Thanksgiving needs to spend some time in the oven, and so the oven is usually the main constraint, oven space. And yet, still people don’t tweak their menu and they end up writing these oven heavy menus, or like baked sweet potatoes, two kinds of pie, the turkey, the… Everything.
SN: And I’m like, “Okay, well, let’s take a step back and maybe if we tweak our menu and change a few things and have some things served at room temperature, or make some things that we can sort of cook earlier in the day and then re-heat,” we can remove some stress from ourselves and think in a better way, and that way, you understand that your constraint is your oven space and build your menu around that. Or a lot of people these days are eating more vegetable-heavy or vegetarian-friendly, so how would you build your average menu around vegetables. I think most people before the pandemic, their typical constraint would have been time, but now a lot of people getting ingredients, or what you have on hand is your main constraint, and so, just writing toward that. I’m doing a lot of surveying and gathering data and, whoo, maybe it’s an interesting of… Yeah, no, it’s an interesting thing entering your world.
BB: So, two thoughts about your new book that I’ll share with you. One…
SN: Please do.
BB: Well, three. The first thought is, “Oh my God, get it here.” The second thought is… No pressure. The second thought is, “If you can solve the brutality that follows the question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ in partnered people all over the world, you will win the Nobel Peace Prize.”
SN: Oh, I mean, everyone I’ve asked is like, “This is literally the number one cause of our marital strife.” [laughter]
BB: No, it is, it is. I remember six months into the pandemic, Steve was like, “Hey, what’s for dinner?” And I would just lose my shit, I was just like, “If you ever say that to me again…” And so, you know what I think you’re going to have to look into, seriously, as a constraint possibly?
SN: Tell me.
BB: I don’t know if it’s a real constraint. Decision fatigue.
BB: Even if Steve is cooking, I don’t want him to ask me anything. Isn’t that terrible…
SN: That’s a good one.
BB: It’s terrible. I can’t wait, I can’t wait for whatever you do next, I’m in. I can just say that.
SN: Thank you. Thank you.
BB: Yeah. And thank you for being on the podcast, and thank you for being so human and real.
SN: Thank you.
BB: Yeah, you are a stained glass window person.
SN: Thank you. Honestly, it was, one, an honor to be asked, truly. I was totally surprised. I’m a huge fan of yours. I really also wanted to say I loved, in particular, the episode with Tim and Dax, that one was really, really special, I told so many people about that one. And I just think your work is amazing, and it’s affected so many people and created a vocabulary of sensitivity and… Yeah, and self-awareness for so many people who really didn’t have that, so thank you, thank you for your work and… Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you, I’m so glad to have… And thank you for giving me the space to be as touchy-feely today, so thank you.
BB: I think if people are going to care about us, they got to care about all of us.
BB: The whole piece. And seriously, I will see you in Austin for the breakfast taco tour.
SN: Oh my God, I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I’m so excited. That’s really… I’m like, “I’ve got to go eat these breakfast tacos.”
BB: Oh, no we’ll go, my husband knows every taqueria in Austin and Houston, so we will make a whole thing of it.
SN: I can’t wait.
BB: You know what I love the most about doing these podcasts, is I love when we get to really dig in to what it means to be human. Sometimes I interview people that are really well-known, sometimes I interview people that no one’s ever heard of, and when we get to unlock a deeper, more serious reflective side of people, that to me is the gift of this work, because a lot of us feel like in this world we have to turn that part of ourselves off, and so for Samin to let us see the same struggle that we see in ourselves, how do we connect during this time of disconnection, how do we be ourselves in a world that has got really specific needs about who they want us to be? I just feel like these are the conversations I want to be in, and these are the conversations I want to hear more often. You can find her book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking wherever you buy books. We’ll link to it on our episode page, and you can watch her documentary by the same name on Netflix. I have to tell you, you got to watch it, it’s really good.
BB: You can find Samin online at CiaoSamin, C-I-A-O-S-A-M-I-N, and on Instagram and Twitter. And she’s Samin Nosrat on Facebook. A couple of church bulletin items. Don’t forget that every episode of the Unlocking Us podcast has an episode page on brenebrown.com, where we have resources, downloads, links, transcripts, you can also sign up for our newsletter there. And grateful to be on Spotify, we are loving our new partners, there’s an entire Brené Brown hub now that you can check out on Spotify with episodes, playlists, and some of my picks, everything in one spot. Thank y’all for being here with us. Thank you for being a part of the community and a part of the conversation. Stay awkward, brave, and kind, and I’ll see you next week right here on Spotify.
Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design is by Kristen Acevedo, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez, and the amazing Gina Chavez.
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