what’s in your toolbox: julia turshen


Photo credit: Lauren Volo

Today I am so pleased to introduce food writer and GOOP contributor, Julia Turshen. Oh yeah, she also develops recipes for cookbooks, websites and magazines; works as a private chef; and dabbles in food television production work, even stepping in to style a shoot or two. Needless to say, after the interview I felt the need to crack open some of my favorite cookbooks and make a trip to my trusty Dekalb Farmer’s Market. Get ready to drool on your keyboards, folks!

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox? This can be anything from your favorite products/brands of spices, pots/pans, cooks tools, or special ingredients.


Julia Turshen: Basically I have a writing toolbox and a cooking one. For writing, I always have my computer (and its handsome case) and my Blackberry. When I type on either, my brother has described the look as “ferocious.” And Gmail for both; that thing is magic. I write notes by hand and always on plain paper as I tend to write in all sorts of crazy directions (especially when taking notes for recipes), so I don’t like to be limited by lined paper. And Pilot Razor Point pens, which I started using exclusively in high school and since they run out so quickly, I can mark my progress on a project by how many pens I go through . . . black Sharpie markers, too, mostly for crossing things out. Scotch tape for taping notes together and also for taping receipts. For years I’ve used small Klein canvas tool bags to hold all the little stuff (pens, passport, sunglasses, etc.).


And I schlep the big stuff and the small stuff in my LL Bean tote bag that I used to carry my high school textbooks in. I also use that bag as my cooking toolbox. I cannot cook without my Fog Linen waist apron that my best friend gave me a few years ago for my birthday, complete with my initials. I never used to wear an apron, and now I feel naked without it.


I carry my knives in a canvas and leather men’s tie case that I got in Nashville. I recently got an amazing knife as a gift from a dear friend that’s old-school carbon steel and sweeps through everything. It was handmade in Brooklyn and came with its own wooden sleeve. Whenever I have a cooking job, I take that and some other basic knives, also always my Microplane (a simple one) that I use for the obvious (grating cheese into snowflakes) and the not so obvious (pureeing ginger and garlic). I also always take a bit of Maldon sea salt because it’s like gold as far as I am concerned. Since I usually cook for small groups, like ten at the most, a little goes a long way, so I often carry it with me in an old prescription bottle. I also always bring a vegetable peeler because that’s a bummer to not have when you need it; same goes with a corkscrew. You don’t need much in the kitchen — a good knife, a few bowls, a pot or two, a cutting board, a spoon. End of story. Oh, and paper towels.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ___________.”

CLICK HERE for the full interview after the jump!

3. Design*Sponge: What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now? This can be anything from blogs, books, magazines, cookbooks, etc.

Julia Turshen: For the www, I am addicted to New York magazine’s website, especially the restaurant section, which is an amazing resource especially since they have menus for just about every restaurant in New York. And I trust their taste. I also love T magazine’s website from the New York Times. They’re on the beat. And GOOP, of course. I do love that Orangette food blog; the woman who writes it takes beautiful photos and captures small moments. I also often use Epicurious (which my mother started 15 years ago!). Oh also I love the food stories that The Selby shoots; and it seems he does, too, since he just started Edible Selby. How great. I’ve collected Saveur for a long time and was especially in love with it as a teenager when reading it helped me feel connected to a world of people who thought of food obsessively and seriously. I mourn the loss of Gourmet. I am so looking forward to Adam Rapoport’s revamp of Bon Appetit this spring. And no one does trend like Food & Wine. They are on it! I also really love Jamie Oliver’s magazine and Donna Hay, too. Style!

But books are my meat and potatoes. I think there’s no better inspiration than Lee Bailey. He was all about cooking as lifestyle before the Food Network, before it all. He had the most incredible taste. His menus are perfect, so evocative. Country Weekends and City Food are my absolute favorites. I also adore the Time Life series of books that I inherited from my Aunt Renee. They take you around the world. I think Jamie Oliver can pretty much do no wrong, and his Italy book is the best of his impressive bunch. I also have a huge crush on David Tanis’s books, both A Platter of Figs and his newest, Heart of the Artichoke.

I also love to watch people cook. I watch episodes of Julia Child’s show all the time and get such a laugh — she is hysterically funny and sloppy and so full of joy. But the most inspirational thing I turn to is an old VHS tape of Ruthie Rodgers and the late Rose Gray cooking food from the River Cafe. I saw a clip of it on PBS when I was maybe 14 and used my mom’s credit card to order it over the phone. I used to not be able to fall asleep without watching a portion of it.

4. Design*Sponge: How do you keep yourself organized? Time management is often one of the biggest obstacles for creative minds. Do you have an agenda book and do you make to-do lists?

Julia Turshen: The summer after 10th or 11th grade, I took a course in catering at the New School, and on the first day the instructor said, “If your loved ones make fun of you for making lists, you’re in the right place.” I felt understood! I literally cannot live without my Blackberry. Like, it’s an issue. I keep my schedule on it, all of my contacts, use it to keep up with emails and use it as a calculator, alarm clock and snooze button. I often email myself ideas (for menus, for books, for fantasy vacations), and I have labels on Gmail that help me keep it all organized (my favorite folder is called “Meals/Yum Notes”).

My other organizational tool is my uniform. I wear the same thing everyday (boat shoes, jeans and a men’s dress shirt — lots of them from my father’s closet, lots of them gingham). It not only makes dressing and packing easy, but when I’m working, I always have a pen and paper in my shirt pocket to jot down groceries, phone numbers, etc. That’s where receipts go, too.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

Julia Turshen: To wake up early and energized without an alarm clock.

6. Design*Sponge: What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young chef/food writer?

Julia Turshen: I got a great piece of advice from Mario Batali when we were working on Spain: A Culinary Road Trip, the companion book to Spain . . . On the Road Again. We were in Mallorca waiting for the crew to set up a shot, and I took the opportunity to talk to him about a few recipes, and we were standing on the edge of like, this cliff by the water, and it was so astonishingly beautiful, and I was getting to talk to Mario about food for the book we were writing together, and I thought someone just ought to pinch me. I commented on how amazing it was, and he turned to me and said, so simply and so articulately in a way that crystallized just about everything, “Always choose joy, Turshen.” And I will never forget that.

My mother, who I consider to be wiser than wise, recently told me it’s okay not to be quiet. I thought that was cool.

My advice? Eat. Often. And with discernment, but not criticism.

7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?

Julia Turshen: I go to Balthazar.

8. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the studio/toolbox of any chef/artist/designer/craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Julia Turshen: Lee Bailey if he were still alive. Gabrielle Hamilton. David Tanis. Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer of The Canal House. Jamie Oliver. My grandfather, who I never met, and who was a bread baker. I think there’s something that ties all of these people together, something homemade, something to do with real texture. Individuals. Oh wait, no. Joan Rivers. Definitely Joan Rivers.

9. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?

Julia Turshen: The three albums in The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong on Verve. The best.

  1. Esther says:

    Amazing interview! I love her energy. How old is she by the way?

  2. heather says:

    “always choose joy. . .” – love it. such a great piece of advice.

  3. bojana says:

    very inspiring. thank you.

  4. Alexandra says:

    ummm… will you marry me?

  5. Erica says:

    I am a wannabe chef and am inspired. Have passed this along to all my chef friends.
    I adore this column – getting a glimpse into a creative mind is such a treat!

  6. Marne says:

    Wow- even before I knew what she did- the first few photos alone made me salivate. Makes sense now.
    What a wonderful seeming woman. I also adore Fog Linen, little cotton pouches, making lists, tote bags, and am in love with my phone (although it’s an iPhone).

    Julia- can we be friends?! :D

    P.S. Great handwriting too!

  7. Beth says:

    Very inspiring! I’ll bet every one of the chefs she mentioned would love to spend time her as well. She seems wise beyond her years and so interesting.

  8. Annette says:

    i am saying this…*not cuz ginny ( the writer of this post)works assisting me styling, and not because julia is a good friend of mine… but cuz it’s true when you get 2 quality people together , you get an amazing interview like this one. i am here to tell you that julia is much cooler than even this interview portrays her, it is an honor and thrill to call her a friend.

  9. Great interview! Enjoyed every word of it.

  10. Dana says:

    Julia you inspire me. I have had an almost exact same style carbon steel knife as yours for 30 years. I adore it and you.

  11. jill cohen says:

    I’m so lucky to know Julia!! Not sure what I love most – her cooking or her company — both delicious!

  12. Kate says:

    Best interview yet! So inspiring and fun. Plus I love the shout out to carbon steel knives as I am a fan. Great post, love it!

  13. Kate says:

    can you give the make of the carbon steel knife? beautiful.

  14. claire says:

    What an insightful, joyful interview!

  15. Wonderful interview- inspiring person. Thanks for sharing. Now I’m off to my son’s playroom to steal the Klein Tools bag his grandfather gave him.

  16. Cathy Heck says:

    One of my favorite interviews yet! I love her toolbox, her list-making, her uniform, her sense of humor, and of course, her hair.

  17. Reader says:

    Interesting. She looks like my sister.

  18. Reader says:

    Esther:

    Turshen was 25 in October 2010, according a New York Times article to which she linked on her page. She apparently graduated from Barnard in 2007.

  19. Maya says:

    Bookmarking this one. Thanks for the great interview!

  20. Daniel says:

    Julia is someone I know personally and find inspiring whether it is penned or in person. I am proud and in awe of you my friend.

  21. Lisa says:

    Inspiring interview! What a sweet soul. Sounds like she is living a dream. Great job!!!!
    Tx!

  22. Josh L. says:

    Unforgettable and beautiful, thanks to writer and subject!

  23. Ian says:

    I love that tote! Do you know if that is the large or medium LLBean tote?

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