Julia: What is the inspiration or origin of this dish?
Gillian: It started when Maggie’s Farm had this beautiful escarole at the farmers’ market. I often wilt escarole into a warm pot of beans and poach an egg on top of it, but I wanted to do something different this time. So I was thinking about bean salads and remembered a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty More where he uses whole lemon segments with cannellini beans. Then my mind jumped to Suzanne Goin’s Meyer Lemon and Green Olive salsa from her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I was imagining a sort of citrus-forward salsa verde as the dressing.
JS: Your cookbook collection is out of control. Do you really use all of these?
GF: It depends on what you mean by use. I read some like novels (Manresa, Relae) and continuously cook from others (Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Zuni Cafe), but I admit there is a huge stack that I keep around, hopeful for the day when I have time to spare and energy to cook.
JS: Walking through the Santa Monica Farmer’s market with you was thrilling due to your local celebrity status, and because you have a deep understanding of where your food comes from. You literally, “know your farmer,” but like, every single one of them. How has this changed the way you shop, cook and eat? I cannot imagine a more intimate way to buy your groceries.
GF: The farmers are the celebrities at the market! I am so lucky that my job requires me to go to the Wednesday Santa Monica Market every week. I have such a deep respect for all the farmers there, and getting to know them has changed the way I shop. If a farm has been hit hard by the drought I try to purchase what crop they have. If a farmer tells me that it’s the last week from Blenheim Apricots, I’m going to buy twice as many.
People say that California doesn’t have seasons, but I see the seasons change almost every week at the farmers market. You don’t get that when you shop at Whole Foods.
JS: What led you to your current job as a producer for Good Food?
GF:I started out as a fan. I moved to L.A. from New York in October of 2008 when the economy was in the gutter. I heard Evan Kleiman on air during KCRW’s winter pledge drive and she promised to cook a dinner at her restaurant Angeli for anyone who pledged $50 during Good Food. I was broke so I borrowed the money from my boyfriend and literally stalked her at that dinner and begged to volunteer. Three years later I was hired as the Supervising Producer.
JS: What does it really mean to be a “Supervising Producer?”
GF: I once over-heard Evan compare my job to making a short documentary each week. It starts with finding the content, then I work on the production which involves recording, editing and writing scripts. Then, of course, there is the social media, the blog and the newsletter and events. As if that wasn’t enough, we host this epic pie contest every year. The most recent one saw 378 pies entered and 2000 attendees. It’s a monster to produce, but I have a fierce ally in the events team at KCRW.
JS: From the sound of it, you had a vibrant career in the blue chip art world prior to the coveted career you have now in the food world. What precipitated the shift for you?
GF: That’s funny. I think my career in art was in some ways more coveted than my career now. In college I bounced around museums like MoMa PS1, and SFMoMA, and eventually spent four years at David Zwirner Gallery. I loved working there, but at a certain point I realized I’d rather be talking about restaurants than about art. Around that time I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and had my first meal at Blue Hill. It sounds corny, but that book and that meal changed my life.
JS: What was most palpable part of this transition? Was there a noticeable difference in ethos, priorities or approach when you began working in food?
GF: I was struck by how few marketable skills I had gained in my time working in the commercial art world. Food is so much more concrete. Art can be about politics, but food is political. Everyone has to eat. And that excites me.
JS: Why do you think food and art worlds seem to want to overlap so much more these days?
GF: I think artists want to connect with their audience and food is a great medium of expression. It’s performative, it’s sensory, it’s beautiful. And like I said earlier, everyone has to eat. Food can be really democratic.
JS: You worked on a farm for four months. What did you take away from that experience?
GF: I spent a few months working on Green String Farm in Petaluma. I lived in the farmhouse with 14 other people. We would work in the fields in the morning and then have a lesson with farmer Bob Cannard in the afternoon. Bob has been growing exclusively for Chez Panisse for decades. He’s a guru in the natural process farming world. His lessons ranged from compost tea methodology, to how to use a chainsaw. One afternoon he taught us how to read each other’s auras.
JS: What do you do when you are not cooking, writing or thinking about food?
GF: I’m embarrassed to admit this but I’m sort of an exercise addict. I plan my day around my pilates class. I also see a lot of shows with my husband (he’s an artist) and love spending time with my girlfriends…but that usually involves eating too!