The Insider: Kristin Donnelly
Kristin Donnelly is all about sharing. To start, there’s her cookbook—her first!—coming out early 2016 called Modern Potluck that is packed with things like peach-blueberry slab pies, scallion pull-apart rolls, and pumpkin seed caramel corn (no green bean casserole in sight). And, to prove she’s just as concerned with what you put on your mouth as what you put in it, she and her husband serve up all-natural lip products under the label Stewart & Claire (cocktail-inspired concoctions—like Negroni lip balm—are the house specialty). The takeaway: yum.
Q: What food trend do you refuse to get on board with?
A: I think straight green juice is unpalatable. And when you try to make it better and mix in fruit, it just feels like a lot of sugar all at once. I will do a smoothie, especially if it’s hot out, but juicing and removing all that fiber doesn’t feel so healthy to me.
Q: Where do you go for great cocktails?
A: Nowhere. Just kidding! Actually, now that I have a three year old, that is kind of the honest answer. First, it’s hard to get a babysitter. Second, I’m woken up every morning at 6 a.m. But I live very close to Saraghina in Bed-Stuy, and they have a really good cocktail program—and they’ve opened a new bar just next door called Saraghina Bar, where you can hang out if there’s a wait. And I still love Death + Company—always and forever.
Q: We’re knee-deep in fall-y Instagrams right now. What foods and flavors get you this time of year?
A: I love fall—because I feel it’s when I can really cook again. Summer is always like: grill it, put it on a platter, serve it with salt. It’s so good and so simple, but it’s not really about the kitchen. Fall is all about braising. I do love winter squash and roasted root vegetables. I could basically eat them every day in some capacity and be happy.
Q: Ok, so: What is “the modern potluck?"
A: The modern potluck is about food that speaks to the way people like to eat today—a wider variety of vegetables, brighter flavors, more global flavors. Dishes that are healthy-ish but don’t necessarily taste “healthy.” Ideally, it should showcase all the great ingredients we have access to now.
Q: What dish should a newbie cook make to serve a crowd?
A: If you’re the host and meat doesn’t intimidate you, I think a butterflied leg of lamb is a great showstopper. It looks so impressive, but all you have to do is just salt it and add some rosemary and throw it on the grill or in the oven, and it cooks pretty quickly. And it will probably serve 20 people. If you’re a guest, I like French breakfast radishes with butter and an interesting salt or a platter of vegetables with an easy—or even store-bought—sauce like pesto. Those are good bets. I love oven-roasted chickpeas too. You can season them in so many ways—harissa, rosemary, whatever. They’re crunchy and so delicious.
Q: What kitchen gadget is worth investing in?
A: Scissors—so simple, so genius. I use them to cut my daughter’s food, to cut pizza. The best thing you can do with them is to cut canned tomatoes while they’re still in the can so that the juice doesn’t go everywhere. They’re game-changers.
Q: Tell us about the greatest birthday you ever had.
A: I’m not big on my birthday. But when I turned 30, my now-husband, who works in wine, took me to the American Hotel in Sag Harbor because they have this really amazing wine list with really high-value prices—you can drink wines that are these incredible vintages for a pretty reasonable cost. That was the high point. And the really, really fun low point was dancing at a place called 119 Bar that has since closed—it had $4 beers and the best dive-y atmosphere on the planet.
Q: What is one change we could all make to eat and drink better?
A: Before kale was so big, I would have said, “Eat kale!” I used to feel like it was my little secret. So much for that. Now, I would say learn to season. Learn to use salt correctly. It makes all the difference.
Q: You’ve burnt your dessert. Now what?
A: Run around the corner. Buy some ice cream and some chocolate bars, and throw that in the middle of the table. Add a few glasses of bourbon to the mix, and everyone goes home happy.