Julia Bainbridge, Senior Web Editor at Bon Appétit
A girl on the go with singular style -- that's Julia in a nutshell for you. As part of the digital team behind one of the hottest food publications around, Julia tempers the pressures of her high-profile role by maintaining a deep sense of family, history and tradition. It's a quality that extends to her down-to-earth entertaining style (think more comforting roast chicken dinners than, say, splashy restaurant-style productions). In a world full of changing trends and fickle desires, it's refreshing to meet someone whose conviction is as decisive as her blunt 'do.
Read on for a gorgeous recipe for clams with chorizo and a peek at droolworthy objets d'art for days!
Hi Julia! Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and your role at Bon Appétit.
Hmm. How far back do I go? I grew up lucky enough to travel a good bit, so my mind was open to different foodways at a young age. But I didn't really cook. I regret that, because my grandmother was a whiz, and instead of learning from her, most of my time in her kitchen was spent nibbling on beautiful roasts of lamb before they were set on the table. (The "pickins," she called them.)
In college, I read Sydney Mintz and some of the other great food anthropologists and realized there was this whole academic world of food writing. That's not what I do now, but it's what planted the seed, I think. I decided to go to culinary school after college, thinking it would give me an edge. Little did I know then, lots of food journalists have formal culinary educations. It was an accelerated program, so I didn't come out being a great cook, with all of the mother sauces under my belt—I couldn't make a Hollandaise right now if you asked me to—but I gained familiarity with technique and terminology. While I was there, I interned at the San Francisco Chronicle's food and wine sections. Then I moved to New York, got my first gig at Food & Wine—I worked on the cocktail book with Jim Meehan and Kate Krader—then to Condé Nast Traveler, and now at Bon Appétit.
I wear a zillion different hats at BA. That's just the nature of web editorship. I write, I edit, I copy edit, I photo edit, I style shoots, I prop shop, I assign stories, I pay photographers—you've gotta be scrappy.
Left: Great-grandmother Garrett holds court in Julia's Brooklyn home | Right: Keepin' it classy
We envy your access to what must be a wealth of food knowledge and inspiration. Do you think you've improved as a cook and/or writer since working for BA?
Most definitely. So much of cooking well, I think, is about familiarity with ingredients. I'm around food all day every day, and I'm watching people who really know what they're doing play with new dishes, new combinations, new ways of doing things. Taking a look at the pantry of the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, now that would be a trip.
My writing has also improved. That's partly because the editors I work with are awesome and partly because I'm not precious about my writing. I welcome criticism, and while I have a sense of what my own rhythm is and what sounds like "me," I'm open to changing things in the name of a better piece overall. Does that sound earnest? I guess so… I just really love my job. I get to work with words and ideas all day with really smart people.
That said, I think I'm a better editor than I am a writer.
Most importantly, the quality of my ideas has improved. This is a competitive environment, and for an idea to make it into the magazine, it has to hit that sweet spot at the marriage of the many elements our top editors are looking for. Now that this new guard of BA has been together for more than two years, we really have our footing. We know who we are, we know who our readers are, and we know how to speak to them.
Play out your ideal dinner party for us: mood, decor, music, guests and obviously, food!
This could take a whole book!
The food should straddle that fine line between rustic and inventive, the wine should be overflowing, the music should be humming in the background (The Birth of Cool is my go-to), the decor… just my apartment. I publicly bemoan the fact that, in New York City, apartments are too small for proper dining tables, but privately I like that everyone assembles around my coffee table, some on couches, some cross-legged on the floor. It brings a level of intimacy to the whole thing. And while some of the plates may be formal, my attitude never is, and I hope my guests' aren't, either. One design choice I made recently was definitely more for others than for myself, though: My friends at Flat Vernacular made this crazy psychedelic floral wallpaper and I put it in my bathroom. The goal is for people to come back to the party feeling like they've just stepped into another universe. And I think I succeeded.
Julia's love of print and color extends far beyond her bathroom walls
Back to the formality thing: I don't like stuffiness, but etiquette is important to me. My biggest rule: no phones. Next: don't F with my music. This is a curated experience. Finally, I walk guests to the door to see them off. Give them a squeeze, send them on their way with a treat. That's kind of a signature of mine: I always send a little packed baked good home with people. It makes the party really feel like an event.
Favorite restaurants? Any hot spots worth seeking out?
I'm less into hot spots, but I do have to stay current for my job and did have a great meal at Chez Sardine. Maison Premiere's garden area is so romantic. At Broder in Portland, OR, I had the best Bloody Mary of my life—everything imaginable was pickled and threaded onto a toothpick that bridged the mouth of the glass. I love sitting near the window at Hillside in Vinegar Hill--that magical, almost-forgotten little corner of New York—on a Friday evening after work. It feels so comfortable in there, and the wine list is well-executed. I'll always keep going back to Keens.
Bottom's up! A fun family heirloom from Harvard drinking days of yore
How would you describe your cooking style and food aesthetic?
I'm not a complicated cook. Roast chicken, some simple mixed greens, crusty bread and wine is the menu of my most delicious dreams. (That's actually my go-to for dinner parties. When in doubt, roast a chicken.) I try new things here and there when I'm inspired by a particular chef or new cookbook, but I'm still working on mastering the basics. Granted, because of my job, the basics to me are more complicated than the basics for a lot of people out there, but still. I'm not going to be sous vide-ing at home.
As a busy gal working for a major food publication, we imagine many meals are spent out on the town. How often do you cook for yourself versus eat out?
During the weeknights, it's half and half. On the weekends, I never go out, unless it's for brunch (every chef's nightmare meal!).
It's so important to cook for yourself, especially when you do what I do. It anchors you in a sea of trends. And, when you know what the process of putting food on a plate is like because you've done it with your own hands, it gives you an appreciation for what chefs are doing. And a curiosity about their technique. How can you pinpoint a bold flavor decision if you don't know that it's a bold flavor decision, because you have no contextual knowledge of how these flavors normally work? Cooking helps you listen to what chefs are trying to communicate. This is a language you have to speak, to a degree, to understand.
Plus I just love feeding my friends.
Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?
I'm simple when it comes to gadgets. A sharp knife, a well-seasoned cast iron pan. These two seem to be the most important. But I would like a good salad spinner or some other not-invented-yet way to dry lettuce. Currently, I pat the leaves dry with towels. Ugh.
Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
Broadway Panhandler and Chinatown.
Top pantry essentials?
I love furikake, a Japanese rice seasoning, and I keep it around all the time. I like it on rice, on popcorn, on eggs—it's an awesome mix of nori, sesame seeds and dried, ground fish.
Also, tomato paste is underrated. We all cook with it—it's the foundation of so many things—but what about considering it as a bigger element? The flavor is so rich, and the acidity can work wonders.
What is your go-to entertaining dish sure to draw raves from guests?
I labored over a cassoulet this winter that was a big hit. But something I returned to again and again that season was a citrus salad that's prepared like a carpaccio. In other words, I thinly slice oranges, grapefruit, and blood oranges crosswise and place them just slightly overlapping, but really on one layer, on a big platter. I save the juices from the citrus and mix them into a dressing with olive oil and maybe some Champagne vinegar and salt. I drizzle the dressing atop the slices and then scatter some mint leaves on top of the whole thing, finishing with flaky salt. If you have them, thinly sliced red onions and fennel—cut on a mandoline—are good in this, too.
Basically, I think simple dishes—ones that contain few ingredients, but in which those ingredients are prepared in ways people haven't thought of before—get the most raves. And my go-to cocktail bite trick is still radishes, halved and served in a bowl with good, room-temperature butter and flaky salt served on the side, to be applied as the nibbler sees fit. My non-foodie friends are still impressed when they see this, and the foodie ones know they can't turn away a perfectly peppery radish.
Do you have an unexpected ingredient you love to use?
I'm trying to figure out how to play with rose extract in baked goods. You can go into grandmother's perfume territory very easily, and that's not an association you want when you're biting into a pretty little cookie.
Any guilty pleasure food?
I don't like to associate food with guilt. There's nothing too high or low for me—there's no ingredient I wouldn't display on my bookshelf, in other words. (Although, sure, some would make it to the coffee table…)
Chefs and food producers you admire?
Fearlessness and playfulness are two qualities I admire in a cook. My friend, Nick Pandolfi, will pick up some uni at the store, try to make some uni butter with it, toss some pasta in it, steam some clams to put on top, and serve it to a group of five. Like, he'll come up with the idea on his walk to the grocery store, throw it together while people are having a drink, and serve it up without a worry. This is how it goes every time I dine at his house. He really impresses me.
Otherwise, it's about knowledge and treatment of ingredients. Watch Suzanne Goin make a salad or the Canal House cooks make anything and you'll know what I mean. These people are cooking on two solid feet.
Whose pantry would you like to raid?
Can I Frankenstein mine? And go for the whole kitchen? Here goes: Bon Appétit Food and Features Editor and wonder-mom Carla Lalli Music's freezer, BA's very chic Executive Editor Christine Muhlke's tea cupboard, cookie guru Dorie Greenspan's baking arsenal, PDT's Jim Meehan's liquor cabinet, and Seattle-based recipe developer and writer Sara Dickerman's fridge. Oh, and San Francisco food photographer Kimberley Hasselbrink's prop closet. I could throw some bangin' dinner parties with those goodies…
The same beautiful china from Julia's childhood grace her current dinnerware cabinets
Courtesy of Bon Appétit (April 2013); recipe by Alison Roman
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 bunch spring onions or scallions, whites halved and sliced; greens sliced on a diagonal, divided
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris)
5 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
Toasted bread (for serving)
Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring often, until some fat has rendered and chorizo begins to crisp, about 4 minutes.
Add potatoes, spring onion whites, and garlic. Cook, tossing often, until potatoes are crisp-tender, 10-12 minutes. Add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups water and continue to cook until potatoes are just tender, 5-8 minutes longer.
Add clams and half of onion greens, cover pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until clams have opened, 8-10 minutes (discard any clams that do not open).
Divide clam mixture among bowls. Top with remaining onion greens and serve with toast.
*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.