Chef Sophia Roe Talks The Importance Of Celebrating Curiosity Through Food
This feature is in our Dec. "'23 Creative Arts" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
Sophia Roe is helping to change the culinary industry, one dish at a time. Like many of us, the James Beard Award–winning chef, writer, and Emmy-nominated TV host loves to indulge in delicious meals. But her passion is fueled by wanting to create a more sustainable system. Counter Space, her Emmy-nominated show, does just this.
“I can’t do my job without these people who provide me with this food. People just think it really starts with you going to a restaurant and the chef is amazing. There’s so much ecology involved in a carrot. For me, it’s just anecdotal proof of the planetary and human labor it takes to put food on the table. I grew up very food insecure. In layman’s terms, that means I was hungry as a kid, and a lot of kids are. So that’s always my lens.”
Roe continues to expand that lens: She is currently working on a zine and was just named food editor of the new food and culture magazine Family Style). “We’re all lifetime learners. We can try anything that we want. I just don’t want to lose that spirit. I also think that’s what keeps me really curious,” she continues. “I’m always consistently trying to remind myself that I don’t know things. And that’s great. Instead of feeling an insecurity, it just feels like an opportunity for me.” Here, she shares her daily routine.
Sophia Roe in her studio, Apartment Miso PHOTO BY CHRIS CALDERON (@LOVEANDSUPPLY)
Of course, we love to indulge in food. But I also appreciate that you showcase how food also tells a story.
I'm obsessed with it. I can't do my job without these people who provide me with this food. People just think it really starts with you going to a restaurant and the chef is amazing. There's so much ecology involved in a carrot. So many things have to go ecologically and environmentally correct [in order] to grow food or to have food on my plate. And people are really responsible for that. For me, it's just anecdotal proof of the planetary and human labor that it takes to put food on the table. I grew up very food insecure. In layman's terms, that means I was hungry as a kid and a lot of kids are.
There's probably anywhere from 10 to 15 million children that only get one meal a day in this country. So that's always my lens. I'm always looking at food through the lens that a lot of people don't have. But why don't they? Where does it actually come from? We live in a country where upwards of 60% of the food that we eat comes from somewhere else. 50% of the population in the United States drinks coffee. And I would say the other 50% don't because they're either children and they can't or they're drinking tea, in which case, also imported for the most part. Olive oils, spices, vanilla, alcohol, so many things come from somewhere else.
When I'm considering what I want to do, I'm considering not just how it's going to taste, but who grew it and the impact on the environment that getting it had. The story of something going on your plate starts far before me as the chef and what my story is. So much about what makes food taste good has a lot to do with how a farmer farmed it, how they treat their land, and what is going on with that topsoil. Do they have livestock on their property? There's just so many things to consider. I'm so lucky that Counter Space is a thing and that's something that hopefully I'll be able to work on again next year for potentially season three.
That's a huge part of what I do. I'm testing recipes, but I'm also a TV producer. So it's just really important to try to create culinary programming that feels like it's not just appetizer, entree, dessert. Yes, it's important to teach people how to cook. But I also think it's really important to teach people about the people who are responsible for their food getting on their plates, getting into their grocery stores, and getting into the face and into their mouths.
How do you continue to maintain that curiosity with food as an adult now?
Oh, my God, are you kidding? There's just so much to uncover. It's so funny, my assistant, she'll say things like, “Did you watch the Housewives episode?” And I'm like, “Girl I went down a rabbit hole on YouTube about these Haitian men that are turning coconut shells into charcoal.” I feel like it's my responsibility as someone who's a leader in any advocacy space, to not be so doom and gloom. We're going to need to create solutions for the problems that we have. It's my job to be uplifted about it. I do believe that we do have solutions and that we should lead with positivity.
I'm so inspired by young people and the way that they consider and look at a problem. A 19-year-old who's faced with a problem is going to look at it a little differently than I might look at it. I'm really inspired by hope. I think that we've got to have more of it. I think that there's nothing more horrific and devastating than cynicism. So when I hear about all the problems that we have, I have to believe that there are solutions. And that inspires me every day. We can actually fix this, we can make it better. I know that we can. I have to believe it.
PHOTO BY CHRIS CALDERON (@LOVEANDSUPPLY)
Definitely it. I mean, it's that belief and ambition that'll hopefully keep us going. You're currently working on a zine. What's the vision that you have for it?
It's just a family. I just wanted to have a visual component that felt separate from something on the internet, that felt like something that you can hold in your hands and share the recipes in it. It's just stepping into my brain a little bit. People always ask me if I ever wanted a restaurant, I never wanted a restaurant and I still don't want a restaurant. I always wanted a place where I didn't have to obsess about filling seats. It’s bottom lines and money and tight margins and rent and I just wanted a place where I felt like I could spiritually and emotionally take my shirt off and just create things that I’ve always dreamed about.
I'm paying for this and when I'm done with it, I give it to my friends, give it to my neighbors, drop it off at a local food pantry or give it away on the subway. I just always wanted to have something that felt like a community kitchen in a way. I can make whatever I want, and give it away to whoever I want. I think the zine is a visual of that, how I like food to look and how I think about food.
It’ll probably be upwards of 70 pages. I'm working on it now. That's why my Instagram and my content has gotten a little slow because I'm working on this bigger project that I'm hoping to launch in February. But it's a real zine. We want to do some other components along with it and have some wearables. I'm a big vintage t-shirt girl. So we want to do some wearables along with it, maybe even do some hardware custom spoons that go along with the launch. I love making hardware and making spoons and making silverware in my future. In terms of who shot it, we worked with my great friend, Brett Warren. From the prop styling, making the recipes, and cooking, I did everything. It was quite the undertaking. I'm not certain that I would do it again. But I really have had fun, and it's a lot of work. But I feel it's rewarding.
PHOTO BY CHRIS CALDERON (@LOVEANDSUPPLY)
I love what I'm learning about you. You're not afraid to challenge yourself and take a risk. You don't know how it's going to turn out. But at least you tried. And I think that's very important.
Hopefully, we're all lifetime learners. Hopefully, we have long lives. I don't subscribe to this idea that if you don't know how to play the trumpet, you'll never know how to play. You can be 60 years old and learn how to play the trumpet. We can try anything that we want. I just don't want to lose that spirit. I also think that's what keeps me really curious. I'm always consistently trying to remind myself that I don't know things. And that's great. Instead of feeling an insecurity, it just feels like an opportunity for me.
That's an affirmation right there. I'm gonna put that on my mirror every time I'm brushing my teeth.
You know what, I've never said that before. That was a crazy one.
That was so motivating. You were just named Food Editor for Family, which is very exciting. What are you looking forward to the most?
Girl I want to learn, I just want to learn I'm so grateful. Joshua Glass is my editor is so fun and talented and really just bestowed me. I mean, I could get emotional when I think about it. He really just trusts me. I feel so lucky to be able to have an editorial home for so many of the people and stories that I've come across in my time. As someone who has worked in broadcast media, I feel honored.
I have a really wonderful team around me. I mean, there's never a moment where I don't put something in front of him. And he's just like, “This is absolutely insane. But I love it. Let's do it.” We’re featuring pastry chefs who are also diabetic and featuring chefs who are expats and attempting to tell a story through the lens of a colonized nation in America. We’re really just digging into how food can create community in the least likely of places.
He lets me talk about everything from eating insects to eating disorders. He really just allows me to have a lot of freedom when it comes to the conversations around food. Not just the buzzy stuff, not just “try this recipe”, but also let's talk about the greatest chefs in the world, which is everyone's fucking grandma. Let's get a grandma and full glam and talk about her. I'm thrilled. I'm so excited.
Well, I'm excited for you. I always love to see fellow women be bold and ambitious and just go for it.
It's the best way. We just have to believe that we can really do anything. It doesn't mean it's easy, doesn't mean it won't be emotional, it doesn’t mean will be hard. You’ll punch the wall sometimes. But if more of us women just really submit to how awesome we are and how good our ideas are, it's just all gonna be better for everybody. We're the best. There's nothing better than being a woman. We can do anything. I really believe that. So thank you for this. This is great.
A food setup at Roe’s Apartment Miso. She prefers to take advantage of the Brooklyn studio’s natural light to shoot content on film. PHOTO BY CHRIS CALDERON (@LOVEANDSUPPLY)
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SOPHIA ROE
I wake up around [this time]. I’m definitely on my phone [first] and then I’ll drink some water that’s right by my bed. I immediately check my emails. What happened? Did something get canceled? Am I expected to do something extra? I think it’s common for cooks to be early people. So I might text a friend or send off some voice notes. After that, I go straight into [listening to] podcasts. My skin routine depends on how much time I have. I love this Clean Greens mask from my friend Trinity’s company called Golde. I’ll just do my lower face and then just do my eyebrows, mascara, eyeliner and wash the mask off. The only moisturizer I use is from Dieux [the Instant Angel moisturizer]. [The founder] Charlotte Palermino is this incredible skin scientist and so talented. This is the best moisturizer and is the only product that I have on auto delivery. I typically do my hair the day before so I don’t really do anything there. My beautification process, we keep that under 20 minutes.
Sometimes, if I wake up really early, I’ll go straight to the studio [at Apartment Miso]. Once I get there, who knows what I’m doing? It could just be an admin day with my assistant, Dani, and I’m not cooking in my studio at all. It’s about a 15-minute drive from where I live or about a 25-minute train ride. I live in Bed-Stuy but my studio is in Bushwick [a neighborhood in Brooklyn].
“WE’RE ALL LIFETIME LEARNERS. WE CAN TRY ANYTHING THAT WE WANT. I JUST DON’T WANT TO LOSE THAT SPIRIT. I ALSO THINK THAT’S WHAT KEEPS ME REALLY CURIOUS.” -SOPHIA ROE
Anytime we shoot, we have to really honor what the light is doing because we don’t use any artificial light. It’s kind of a rule and we only shoot film. So when the light is good, we try to get in there as early as possible and bang out as much content as we can. If I’m in there cooking, it’s probably content being captured. So that’s a huge portion. I’m doing dishes from the content and then taking phone calls, whether it’s an interview like this, or it could be with my manager, my agent, with a client or with a photographer. Every single Wednesday, I go to Union Square. I always see Diane from Halal Pastures; she’s an incredible farmer.
I usually come home by this time. Whatever I’m doing for dinner that night, I probably prepped it in my studio. I almost never cook in my home kitchen. And I think it’s because I spent all f—ing day cooking. So when I get home, I do not want to cook at all. For me, it just makes no sense to be in the studio testing a recipe to not also in the background throw on some lentils or have a soup going. [A recent meal I made was] this cured salmon. I do a nice salt and sugar cure on the outside and leave it on for an hour. It’s gonna give you the most moist, delicious and unctuous salmon… yum, yum, yum. And I did it with this spicy coconut broth. It was a really enjoyable meal. There are just so many great restaurants in New York. I love Place des Fêtes, Thai Diner, HAGS, Musket Room and [chef] Mary Attea, Parcelle Wine, Daughter and Win Son.
I really try to hit that bed before 11. And I really also try to manage my scrolling. I know I’m gonna do it so I try to not be senseless about it. I’m really good about supporting my IG girlies. So if my girl Marjon [Carlos] posts, honey, we’re liking, we’re commenting, we’re sending DMs. I’ve been working on some other projects. So I haven’t been posting as much on social media. But I always try—even if I’m not posting a lot—to support my friends and people that are on it.
Photography by: CHRIS CALDERON