In her own words, Sophie Roe is a chef, food and feelings lady, trauma-informed and welfare advocate. In our own words, Sophia Roe is all that and more. A more that includes being a beacon of hope, optimism and love. Inside and outside of the kitchen.
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
Probably doing like cheese on toast for my mom, and pancakes. I remember there was like a little stool situation and I would stand up at the stool. I was just learning to read and I remember there being a “Joy of Cooking” book in my house. Everybody had one of those in their house back then and I would just kind of try to understand a recipe. My mom had me pretty young and she would have friends over, and I would just be stuck watching like, you know, public television, and there would be some random “Great Chefs of the World” show on. I just became fascinated with cooking, the alchemy of it. I just thought it was so cool to start out with flour and end up with cake. I just thought that was the coolest thing. And so, to find out that I had a cookbook in the house, when you're just starting to read, you're going through that cookbook and figuring out what to do. I remember going to school and asking my teacher what does it mean when it says a cup of something like. I didn't understand what a cup measurement was. Or six grams of something, I didn't understand it. My first memories of cooking are pretty young, I would say like six or seven.
You have been a chef for more than 12 years and you have done a lot of work in the cooking world, from restaurants to being a private chef and catering. Did those experiences help shape the work you do today?
Absolutely. All of them are sort of levies of one industry. All of that is an umbrella of you just taking care of people and feeding people. It’s a service thing. I think that's because I've had a really hard upbringing, and this idea of taking care, I've always wanted to do that. And there are a million reasons to be a chef, right? I can't speak for all chefs, but I can say that for me the biggest element is that take away, that empty plate. That's really it for me. If I make something and there’s a belly full, an empty plate, good conversation happening, that means I did my job. And so, the margin for success for me is pretty high. As long as there’s an empty plate, bellies are full, people are happy, I was successful today. And I think that's a huge integer for how I treat all aspects of my life. The small things are big victories for me. It's crazy to think I've been doing this for over a decade, but I have, and I carry all that with me.
Do you have an ingredient or recipe that is particularly special?
I have tons of those. First off, I love to pickle things. I love pickling. I think it's such an incredible way to take an ingredient that maybe you would have thrown away, or something that is about to go bad, and create a whole new flavor with it. So, for me, that's my favorite. I am the queen of buying things in excess just so that I know I can pickle it. And people are just pickling cucumbers or carrots. I pickle everything, citrus, fruit, everything. It's just one of my favorite ways to elevate food and make food taste more palatable. And it gets forgotten about because we want creamy, we want fat, we want mouthfeel, but we forget about sharpness and what acid can do for our palates and also for flavor. So, I love vinegar, I love capers and pickles and mustard and just all those kinds of salty, sour things. I love them.
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If you’re in the mood to learn how to make pickles, and watch me struggle to open a jar of pickles for 45 seconds..This video is for you!! — There are a million-and-one different recipes for the perfect quick pickle. This is one that I make at home ALL THE TIME. Quick pickles are sometimes called “refrigerator pickles” They’re basically just veggies that are pickled in vinegar, water, and salt (sometimes sugar, too) and promptly stored in the refrigerator. Quick pickles don’t develop super deep flavor like fermented pickles do, but they only require a few days in the brine, and they’re SO EASY! — As mentioned in the video I like to use a blend of APCV, and Rice Vinegar, but use whatever you like best! I would however avoid aged vinegars, and malt vinegar for quick pickling. Also, remember you can customize your pickle flavor with whatever you have in your house. You can use dried or fresh herbs, whole spice, ground spices, and even pickle more than one type of vegetable in your jar. — Also, once you eat all of your pickles, you can use the leftover brine in a salad dressing, or even throw in one of your favorite stir fry recipes! I don’t recommend heating your brine again once you have heated it once, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t find a creative way to use it up. — If you all have any other recommendations for a quick tutorial you’d like to see right now, please let me know!! I aim to please, and I love you so much! #quickpickles #plantbased #oopsy
You recently shared with Harper’s Bazaar that you spent almost a month in Portugal. How was your time here like?
I had more pastel de nata than anyone should have. I think when it came to Lisbon, what was so great was this condiment, this piripiri sauce that was everywhere. Everyone has it, some people have alcohol in theirs, some are a little spicier, some more sharp. I just thought that was the coolest thing, this sort of condiment that I can find everywhere in Lisbon. Also, I never had coffee that was so good in my entire life. I even mentioned in the Harper's Bazaar video that it's just not the same, there’s nothing that compares to it. I remember going to a fine dining restaurant, I think it was called Alma, and that was great. But honestly, full transparency, one of my favorite places that I ate at was this random chicken shop. And I'm not a chicken person. This was just a chicken shop where you could get it spicy or not spicy, it was just chicken and fries, but it was delicious. I think the simplicity of the food was really something that that I loved, and this idea of eating at the counter. And then all the lobster, all the seafood. I love it. I’m a seafood person. I don't understand why I came back, to be completely honest, because it really was one of the most unbelievable food experiences for me.
The conversation you have about food, wellness and well-being go way beyond the surface. What pushes you to have those kinds of conversations, especially with your followers on Instagram?
I'm all about conversation, not confrontation. There's no reason why things need to be so confrontational. Not talking about things doesn't mean they go away and we can't talk about things like food justice, white supremacy, the environment, if we're not talking about why these things are an issue. It's great to have a conversation about the environment, but let's talk about how we got here. Let's talk about why food justice is a problem. Let's talk about why. And the thing about social media is I have this conversation, and if there are three hundred people watching me, chances are pretty high they're going to go have conversations with their family and their friends and then they're going to keep talking and that's an information spread. This idea that social media is just social media… it's not just social media anymore. It’s not. You can change the world with social media. I've seen it. I've seen it happen. We see this happen in good ways and in bad ways. But when we politicize things, then we create division and divisiveness. But when we make it just a human thing… we're humans. Michael Pollan said it beautifully, we're the only species that cooks. So, food is news, right? Food is news. And so, this is not just a social media post about me making preserved lemons. I know it seems like that, but it's greater because when you teach one person how to make preserved lemons, that's great. But when you teach hundreds of people how to make preserved lemons, then they’re teaching their kids how to make them and teaching other people how to make them, you're talking about appreciation for food in a way that they didn't have before. It's not just palate expansion. It's, “I'm going to look at citrus differently now. I'm going to pay attention to where it comes from. I'm going to pay attention to how it got to the grocery store.” And that's the reason that I do what I do. It's cyclical. It's not just about like, “Oh, well, here's a recipe.” Now that you've made this cute recipe and it's great and you've got this knowledge, let's talk about all the labor and the resources it took to get there, so that we can be more grateful and have more gratitude when it comes to the food that we're eating.
Tell us about your approach to wellness and well-being.
For me, wellness is very simple. Food, air, water, sunlight, movement, purpose. That's it. All the other things, you know, kind of are what they are. I think there's the basics of wellness, and then there’s self-optimization. If you are trying to optimize your body, that is a completely different conversation. Self-optimization is a tonic, a tincture, a powder, a capsule, a number of supplementations. That is optimization. If you want to buy a sixty-eight dollars smoothie and you can do that, go ahead, buy it and self-optimize. However, that sixty-eight-dollar smoothie is not a product of wellness. If you are a wellness practitioner and what you are teaching or what you are touting is not accessible, then you need to step back and reevaluate your protocol because we all deserve food, air, water, sunlight, movement and purpose. Simple, simple things. And once we strip everything back and we look at those things for what they are, we can make this wellness conversation feel a lot less daunting. There's so much confusion. People are paying so much attention to what I'm doing or what this other person's doing. That's why so much of what I talk about at the core is finding out who you are, finding out what your mouth likes, what your body likes, what your palate likes. Forget Soph, forget me. Maybe for you it's not a tablespoon of lemon juice, maybe for you it's a teaspoon. I don't know because I don't have your taste buds. When we learn how to get to know ourselves, then we can better know each other. But I think that wellness really is a conversation with yourself, and a lot of people don't sit down and have those. Sometimes they're tough. But that's part of wellness. Wellness is no apex. This is no mountain peak. That's not how wellness works. You don't just get there. “Well, I'm well now. So, I have arrived.” It's not how it works. It's work you have to do continuously and consistently.
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For those who are new here — Hi, my name is Sophia, but most people call me Soph. I am the daughter of two substance abusers (one, my father, who I have never met. He died before I had the chance. My mother..sadly abused me so profoundly, I cannot speak on it at this time) My trauma and experiences with hurt, are what inspired me to dedicate my life to taking care of people (in whatever capacity, but most notably with food) — I have been a chef for 12+years. Some of those years were spent working in restaurants, some of those years were spent catering, and some of those years were sent being a private chef. It’s been so hard to do that work as a Black women, but I’ve always showed up for my community. My work centers around making food, cooking, storytelling, etc. more accessible, attainable, and enjoyable. I also love farmers markets, and previously owned clothing. — I think everything tastes better with lemon zest, I’ve had grey hair since I was 16, and I still have nightmares about my time being homeless. I am not a minimalist, and I believe everybody can cook (even the folks who think they can’t.) I’m a Scorpio, I make a killer playlist, own over 100 jumpsuits (..and counting), and love my IG community more than anything I can imagine — I know what it feels like to have to think about race every single day. I could give you a list of times my life has been negatively impacted because of the color of my skin, but there’s work to do, and frankly you don’t have the time to read that kind of a list right now (it’s a novel, I assure you) — I also write short stories, plenty of recipes, and cry easily. I am currently writing my first book, and lead an open conversation/teaching series called @thepillowtalksessions. If I’m honest, I am frustrated it took so long to have some of you here, as I’ve been here the whole time. I trust you’ve FINALLY started doing the LIFELONG work necessary to love me, and Black people the way you should’ve all along — Signed, an overwhelmed, but-still-banging-away Soph
You have truly honest and open conversations about your personal trauma and your personal experiences with hurt. How did you get to that place where you felt comfortable sharing your story?
You know, I still think there's this misconception that it's just the easiest thing in the world to talk about. I have a therapist, a great one. And outside of therapy, I think I also just know and understand that my community treats me like a human because I treat them like a human being. My community is actually a safe space and I've created it to be that. I know when I share a story that people are just going to hear me. And if you're really going to judge someone or think poorly of someone because they were in foster care or they suffered from abuse, then you're a shitty person and I don't want you on my program. Do you know what I mean? I know I'm talking to a group of my peers. I know I'm talking to people who are also trauma informed, who have been through things. At the beginning it was definitely really challenging, but the first time I shared about my pain or traumatic experiences, it was unbelievably astounding how many people came out and were like, "Soph, me too, wow, I had that same experience too. Or I went to school with someone who had that experience." And then you don't feel so alone. Is it hard? Hell yeah. But is it rewarding? Hell yeah. It is the most rewarding thing in the world to give other people, particularly women, spaces where they feel like they can also be a survivor in some way of some kind of trauma. Trauma wears many different outfits and has many different shapes it takes on. I'm not going to experience every trauma that a person can experience. But I do know that I have a safe space and have created a space that you can share whatever trauma you have and you're going to be heard. You're not going to be shut down. You're not going to be invalidated.
I was reading that you see yourself as a resource for your community, which I thought was just a beautiful thing to say. Do you see the reverse as well, as in your community being a resource not only for yourself, but for each other?
Oh my gosh. Of course. Are you kidding? This community is not mine, it doesn't belong to Soph. It's a conglomerate of a lot of people that help each other. I do these Pillow Talks and all these things outside of Instagram, because I think it's important to kind of let Instagram be by itself for a little while, and it's unbelievable. It’s always this consistent group of three hundred people, and when we get together, this conversation is not just about me. They're here to see each other and visit and make friends. It's not my community, right? I am responsible for it, which means I do feel responsible in making sure that the space feels safe. And so, because of that, I am ride or die. If somebody comes on my Instagram and starts attacking someone or starts saying something hurtful, you're gone. So, it's not my community, it's the people's community. But I'm the one that keeps it safe and keeps it that way. And this group of people informs me every day. That’s the biggest reason why this works, is because they hold me accountable. It wouldn't work if they didn't. So, when I say something, they are the ones who are like, “Ok. Well, you said that. Let’s see how you plan on enforcing that.” That’s how this relationship works, and I'm super proud that it’s built out like that.
What inspired the Pillow Talk Sessions?
For so long I was asked to do panels, and sometimes I would be doing multiple panels in a week. I was doing all these panels, constant panels, like 50 in one-year kind of thing. And there's only fifty-two weeks in a year, so, it was a lot. And I always found that the most beautiful conversations happened after the panel was over, and it was just casual. I'm just talking to these people that decided to come and just support and just be there. I felt like that was really where the good juicy conversation was happening, and I decided to start my own. At the beginning, the whole idea was that you had to be in person. We didn't want to do anything digital. I wanted you to get off your phone, come in person. It was everything, from cooking classes to talks about stress, body positivity, body neutrality, period, PMS, all kinds of stuff. And then COVID happened, and I had to sort of reframe and revisit the way in which I did this. But ultimately, you know, I'm so happy because now it's a different kind of community. Now, in the hardest time of the year, through COVID, to be on Zoom and to talk to hundreds of people all over the world, from South Africa, Vietnam, London, Paris, Scandinavia, and to connect with each other, it's just the best. It's an open, very safe space to talk about whatever you want. You can disagree with me, you can disagree with anyone. There is no agenda. We don't organize it by questions, it’s an open forum to just hang out and talk. And it's lovely. I love it.
And you recently did the Black Story Share Session. Could you tell us a bit more about that, how it was, how you felt during it?
For me, it was very important to create a space for Black people. I know what it's like to be a Black person and tell my experience to a room filled with white women, and it feels very strange because then afterwards there may be tears or there might be emotions. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Empathy is a powerful thing. We encourage empathy. But it's something special to be in a place that feels like you're speaking to your peers. And so, it's something I've implemented monthly. We've done two so far and it's just gorgeous. You're hearing from Black people that live all over the world, and so you’re also hearing about global colorism, global racism. My experience is very American because that's what I am. But racism is everywhere, and it's very sneaky and very sort of surreptitious in a lot of ways. To be able to hear those experiences, to be able to just be validated in your pain… Sometimes that's all we're really looking for, for somebody to just acknowledge us. “I hear you. I see what you're dealing with. I understand it.” You know, it’s really powerful. It’s certainly one of my favorite times of the whole month.
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The ability to make choices, no matter how small or meaningless..IS A PRIVILEGE! There are peoplemin this world who risk their lives simply by walking down the street. I find it very interesting that so many people use the very breath that others are not afforded..to police others (ahem George Floyd) Before you check me or anyone at all for that matter, CHECK YOUR OWN PRIVILEGE. — — If you’re in a situation where you get to choose what food you eat, where you shop, how you present, what water you drink, how much vacation time you subscribe to, etc..THAT IS A PRIVILEGE. THERE ARE BILLIONS OF PEOPLE on this planet who don’t even get to choose what they do for a living. We live in a capitalist white supremacist system, so before you judge someone on their behavior…me mindful of your own habits, rituals, and patterns. — — The competition of who is the most “woke” or sustainable does not, and will never exist without privilege. Let us also not forget that people who live in marginzalied communities have been living sustainably FOR YEARS! One walk around my neighborhood, and you’ll see black folks who have entire gardens growing out of two gallon water jugs, and more community gardens than you even know what to do with. — $85 wooden bowls made by self ordained plant-based shamans living in LA may be pretty, and good for the planet..but so is the black mother of four who makes bagged lunched for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER KIDS (and herself), and so is the retired couple in the hood who sells watermelons at church every single Sunday. — — Sustainability is a privilege, and so is having a choice. — Remember this before you go policing the lives of others. Period Signed, A-still-tired-but-fighting-the-good-fight-Soph
Speaking about your other projects, you are currently writing your first book, is that right?
I am. I am. What a challenge that is.
Could you tell us a bit more about that?
It's been really tough. You know, a lot of times when there's a cookbook, there's a whole team involved with testing. And I'm really doing this all by myself. So, all the testing, all the writing, even down to the shooting of the book, I'm really sort of lthe hands on person doing it. At this point, I’m really still adding recipes. It takes a lot of different times of testing a recipe, a lot of different ways to really get a nice, good concrete book. But I think from that, the sort of headers and all the creative writing that goes into it, for me, that's the fun part. That's the fun stuff. The hard part is the creative direction. I want to make sure the book looks the way that I want it to look. This is not the cookbook that is like, "Hi, it's Soph, and she's on the cover of a cookbook.” No. This is more of like a Zen art piece. I want people to look at it and go through it an it just looks cool. And so that takes a lot of work, finding your team, finding the people that you're going to work with, that's tough. It takes a lot of time to do that. That's kind of where I'm at right now in the process, and I'm kind of there for it. I'm not rushing it. It's a pandemic. I'm not trying to come out with a book tomorrow.
I read in an interview that your favorite place to write is the New York City subway, and you’re actually working on a collection of stories from the subway. Do you have a moment or story that is dear to your heart?
I have millions of those. It’s truly just the most fabulous place. As a private chef, I was working for like billionaire families, and there'd be days when the traffic would be bad and my boss would have to get to work and he'd be taking the train. So here you have a billionaire standing next to another man who is experiencing homelessness. It's this equalizer. It's this place that we trust we get on it and it takes us where we need to go. And everybody's on the way to doing something different. Everyone's got a different life, but they're all in the same place for this special period of time. So, I decided that I was going to be on the train for twenty-four hours and stay on it and write a book about it. And I'm so glad that I did the first half of that experience before COVID, because now the experience of the train is not the same and probably won't be the same for a very long time. But I think one of my favorite moments that I can think of was this moment when I’m on the train and it’s packed. Packed train, there's so many people you can't even move. And there's a little boy with his mom, and suddenly you hear this little boy shout, “Mommy, I have to poop”. Everybody on this train just lets out this unbelievable laugh at this baby, essentially this three-year-old little boy that just tells his mom he's got to poop out loud. We're all enjoying it. And all of us are mad or angry or grumpy. It stinks. It's hot. But in that moment, we just find this thing to smile and laugh about. And that's the cool thing about the train, to me, is that it doesn't matter what walk of life you're in, you're on the train, you're here, you're stuck here. And what a cool thing. I could talk for a really long time about the train. It really is one of the most special places that I've ever experienced. I just love everything about it. I truly do.
This issue is about hope. What does hope mean to you?
I don't know what I do without it. What is aspiration without hope? It's impossible. I feel like hope is interwoven into all of our desires and all of our dreams. And for me, hope is all about daring to believe I deserve the things that I want. When I think to myself, “I have a dream about something. I hope that works out for me”, it’s like, “How could this not?” Really just affirming that every single day is what hope means to me. Hope is: "Soph. You are great. You deserve greatness. You do not deserve pain. You did not deserve sorrow. You do not deserve suffering." It's that reminder. And like I said, I always go back to constantly and consistently, constantly and consistently. I believe in verbal affirmation, but I also believe that spiritually, that is a thing you call to you, you call that over your life. And listen, I don't plan on dying tomorrow, right? I've got plans. We've all got plans. There's eight billion of us on this planet. We've got plans. And things are really shitty right now for a lot of people. But we're here anyway. So, if not hope, then what? I say all the time: People are on the Internet and hate things they don't understand and hate people they don't know every single day and it's totally normalized. So, for me, let's normalize loving strangers. Let's normalize loving things we don't understand. Because what do we have to lose? That’s how I feel. Things are not good, so what do we have to lose by being nice people and being hopeful and being positive?
What are some of your future hopes for spaces like cooking and wellness, and for the world in general?
Oh, more of it. More of it. Way more inclusivity, way more diversity. Way more, way more. Food is news. This is not just about, "Ok, today we're going to make a casserole." No, no. We need to talk about supply and demand. We need to talk about supply chains. We need talk to farmers. We need to talk about indigenous ingredients. We need to really look at vegan as a culture. We need to investigate vegan and talk about the privilege it is to live in that lifestyle. We need to have these difficult conversations. And I want to see more than just one type of person doing it. I want to see more women doing it, I want to see more dark skin doing it. I want to see more, just more diversity across the board. And I also want to see a younger demographic doing it. I always feel like when there’s a cooking show, it’s always grandma in the kitchen, or it's very elevated or very kind of a mom in a dinner party. It’s like, nah. I just want to see rad chicks in a kitchen, hanging out with their friends, cooking up food, talking about shit that matters. If somebody wants to make that show, like, call me, because that's the cooking show that we need. We need to see people that look like us, speak different languages, have different dialects and see what that looks like. That's the show I want to see. Food just needs way more imagination. I mean, it's good. There's some good stuff, we have “Chef’s Table”, Dave Chang, he’s killing it. But we need more, more women, younger women, more diverse women, for sure.