Julia Sherman eats a salad every single day. You’d think such a healthy diet would be boring and routine, but as the creative force behind the new cookbook Salad for President, Sherman’s leafy concoctions are anything but.
Sherman’s veggie obsession began five years ago with a blog of the same name, where she developed recipes with fellow artists she admired. She describes herself as a “really good home cook,” and she triumphs in making the process easy and effortless.
She quickly gained a cult following thanks to her fun, relatable approach—she hosted her book launch party at a Brooklyn grocery store—and her artfully composed images, which actually lead to a job as a creative developer at Chop’t, the prolific fast-casual salad company that’s the go-to lunch of office workers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, NC. “They found me on Instagram,” she says.
Having trained as an artist (she received her MFA from Columbia in New Genres), her background in photography propelled Salad for President forward from the start. She shoots all of the content her blog, and shot the entire book, which was something she always envisioned creating.
We sat down with Sherman to talk about her inspiration, how she turned the blog into a book, and got her tips for making sure you never make a boring salad ever again.
How did you translate what happens on the blog into a book?
From the start, I imagined Salad For President would be a book of recipes and interviews. The book is all new content from the blog; none of it has ever been published. I knew I wanted to do something different with the content given the format, which also provided challenges in image selection—if we do a shoot for the blog, I can put 30 images up.I had a lot more decisions to make with terms of layout, content, design.
I think the biggest thing for me in regards to cookbooks is knowing the perspective on food that it presents. My agent’s advice was get comfortable making this book yours. Leaning into the recipe development process was really interesting and insane, but also really fun.
What was the recipe development process like?
When I found myself over complicating things, I stepped back and started over. The thing about making salad your focus is that most of the best salads are really, really simple and restrained, and they have a clear intention.
My recipes comes from a curiosity about the ingredients. I grow some of my own food and that definitely colors the way I cook. There are some recipes that will make people think, “Woah I’ve never cooked with lotus root or yuzu.” But when you look at the whole recipe, you don’t have to do much to it; it was really important to me that if recipes used ambitious ingredients, they were easy to prepare.
You describe yourself as a “really good home cook.” How does that mentality influence to book?
I want people to feel like they are able to access this from a number of levels. I’m not looking to flex my muscles and tell people what a genius chef I am. I want them to say, “Wow, these are really great ideas for dinner.”
I’ve never claimed to be a chef, and I’ve never had a restaurant. I say I’m a really good home cook and that’s who I speak to. There will be a lot of people from the food world who will say that I have no business writing a cookbook. I think people find it refreshing to hear a perspective coming from an angle similar to their own—something they can relate to.
Be honest: Do you eat salad every day?
Eating is very seasonal for me. I’m not a one trick pony. I do eat salad everyday, but I eat all kinds of thing—I’ve been eating brown rice congee for the past month after I got back from a trip to Vietnam.
When it comes to salad, I don’t let it be a less considered part of the meal. It’s just about changing the view and portioning it to be a bigger part of the meal. When developing a salad, I always make sure there’s something decadent and satisfying in it: a fat, a nut, avocado, or a really good oil.
You are taking this thing that has always really been on the side and making it really important by putting love into something that in the past was an afterthought.
Your salad obsession lead to a job with Chop’t. How did that begin?
I started working there about three years ago. The founder was looking for other people who were obsessed with salad and found me on Instagram. They had been around for 14 years, but they didn’t really have a marketing department. They concentrated on the food and restaurants, and I liked that they were a brand that was really focused and honest. He offered me this open-ended position of traveling and recipe development. They really let me decide what the role looked like. Since then I became really integrated into the organization, working on their rebrand and on events.
Making a salad can seem so boring. Any advice for creating the perfect bowl of greens?
I think people are too easily overwhelmed about the decisions that need to be made. When I go to the market, I try find something that looks cool and weird or is the most seasonal. To me it’s about finding an ingredient that’s exciting, but not necessarily something that you’re trying to transform. I think an ingredient-focused way of cooking really takes the pressure off the cook. If you have a really beautiful vegetable, the easiest and most straightforward approach is to figure out the most simple way to prepare it.
You should also make it fun! With anything in life you have to figure out how to make it not seem like a chore. If you can make a project out of it or make it feel manageable and fun, it can change your perspective; it goes from feeling like a burden to being something recreational. Find ideas and start sharing recipes with friends.
If you hate the supermarket, try a service like Farm to People, which sends produce to your door. You can create a system for yourself where something is coming to you, and you are responding to it.
How do you approach cooking and keep salads interesting?
I definitely use cooking to de-stress; I still find it as a means of self care. If you are making food to go or taking it to the office for lunch, take time to think through one or two ingredients that fit into the routine to make it special. I find that I spend more money on groceries, because I’m not eating out. So if you are at your desk and not eating to-go food you are already so ahead of the game in terms of saving money and being healthy. So, buy that $20 bottle of balsamic vinegar because it’s going to last you six months. Think of it as a way of treating yourself.