Grub Street editor Alyssa Shelasky is the ideal dinner partner. She’ll never bore you with a discussion of in-season ingredients or the best cuts of pork belly. She’d much rather talk about reality TV – “American Idol makes me hate humanity sometimes” – or about dating and sex. Her food philosophy is simple: “Food is what I eat when I’m hungry. I prefer it to be nice food and hopefully from a farm where good, healthy things are happening.”
I met Shelasky at Tertulia, a busy Spanish taverna in the West Village, for an early dinner to talk about Apron Anxiety, her new memoir based on her blog of the same name. It’s one of those recipes-sprinkled-through-the-narrative books, which could be grating if it weren’t so disarming and fun. Shelasky’s story begins with her upbringing in suburban Massachusetts and moves on to her booze-soaked 20s, during which she mingled with celebrities (including a pre-Giselle Tom Brady) while working as a New York-based reporter for US Weekly and People magazine. Her enviable lifestyle slowed down when she turned 30 and moved to Washington D.C. with her new celebrity chef boyfriend (referred to as “Chef” in the book, but you can figure out his real identity with a simple Google search). Her quieter life didn’t turn out to be the lovefest she was hoping for. Chef was working 16-hour days opening a new restaurant, and Shelasky struggled to find a place in his food-obsessed existence. Her usual joie de vivre and self-confidence faded, and this avowedly undomestic girl turned to cooking to fix her broken psyche.
“I learned to cook because I was desperate,” Shelasky told me. “I was wise enough to know that drinking vodka for breakfast and playing emotional mind games with my boyfriend was not going to get me to a better place.”
In addition to providing easy-to-follow recipes, Shelasky’s memoir covers heartbreak, death, friendship, and crazy celebrity run-ins. A hard-to-believe anecdote (yet I choose to believe it) about Nick Nolte is worthy of a Kindle download in itself. And even though Shelasky serves up some of the least appetizing parts of her life, Apron Anxiety resembles certain notable memoirs written by well-connected New York media types – think Sloane Crosley, Candace Bushnell, and even Elizabeth Gilbert – in that Shelasky’s life can appear too eventful, too lucky, and too fabulous to be real. Plus, she writes that she never has a problem attracting guys, whether she’s cheese shopping or doing a crossword on the subway.
Her secret? “It’s definitely a strange phenomenon,” she explains. “I have many issues in life, but meeting guys is just not one of them. I know this sounds simplified, but I totally think it’s because I like myself and I’m comfortable with myself and guys can sense that for sure. That’s way sexier than having perfect boobs. I also have a really healthy relationship with food and a really healthy relationship with sex. Men can pick up on that, too, and that can be refreshing.”
From reading about her dating travails, you can pick up on her taste for bad boys, and chefs tend to fit that bill. “They’re usually pretty cute, and talented not just in the kitchen,” she said with a laugh. “The thing with chefs is, they can never give you what you need, so you always leave wanting more. That’s why I – kind of molecularly – kept going back to Chef.”
These days, Shelasky has a boyfriend who’s not involved in culinary business, but I witnessed her easy charm when a very famous (and cute) chef happened to sit next to us. Shelasky was completely at ease introducing herself and engaging in foodie-insider talk, and soon enough, the chef was offering to cook for her.
“I’ve been blessed with just a love of laughter and friendship and joy,” said Shelasky. “It’s very easy for me to have a good time. It’s very easy for me to connect with people. It’s definitely easy for me to fall in love.”
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