What Alison Roman wants
The cookbook author and writer on balancing business with brand, how she creates recipes, and what she’s doing next.
Last Tuesday evening, as Americans pondered what to cook for dinner in the seventh week of coronavirus lockdown, Alison Roman, the cookbook author and writer, was making pasta and spritzes in her Brooklyn apartment — streaming live on Instagram with journalist Katie Couric, Couric’s daughter, and around 2,000 concurrent viewers.
Typical for Roman’s videos, it was fun, funny, free-flowing, and felt more like improv than something staged. The recipe — from her New York Times dining column last summer, featuring zucchini, capers, feta, and fried lemon — was also signature Alison Roman: Approachable but a little daring, and probably stupidly good.
Roman, 34, has emerged as one of the most interesting and visible people in the food media world, at a time when cooking at home has unexpectedly taken over our lives.
She has built a bit of a repertoire around viral recipes — perhaps you’ve heard of, or even made, The Cookies or The Stew — and pioneered using Instagram Stories to build a community around her recipes, as thousands of people cooked them and showed them off.
But this isn’t stunt food. Her recipes are opinionated, driven by flavor — vinegar chicken with crushed olive dressing, “shrimp in the shells with lots of garlic and probably too much butter” — and not by novelty or flair. Her cookbooks are genuinely good and genuinely popular. The latest, last year’s Nothing Fancy, has more than 150,000 copies in circulation, she says.
And she’s now at a crossroads: How to build a bigger business without selling out?
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