I was thrilled to meet Amanda Haas for coffee in the East Bay and learned that despite us meeting at 7:45a, we were both already fully caffeinated. As we settled in to talk, I quickly realized that Amanda’s warmth and grace, mixed with her humor and amazing professional career, made her a truly inspirational person. She is the Culinary Director of Williams-Sonoma, manager of their test kitchen, and has developed hundreds of recipes. She founded One Family One Meal, which offers resources, menus, and advice for families to simplify cooking and help them come together for meals. After years of stomach pain, nausea, back spasms and more, she started to explore the role of diet as it related to the inflammation in her body. Amanda wrote, the Anti-Inflammation Cookbook, to help others who suffer from similar ailments improve the quality of their life, and also help all of us understand how eating whole foods can impact one’s health. Keep reading to find out what makes a happy kitchen, what she loves about living in the East Bay, and what career we would both do next!
Photo by Jen Kay
24 East: You have a big job, you’re an author, a mother, and I’m sure you have a thousand other things you’re doing. What is your daily challenge?
Amanda Haas: I think this is something that every mother says: fitting it all in. It is challenging because I commute too, so when you think about all that time you’re in the car or on BART, it’s kind of crazy. So I think you’re always strained. I’m always feeling like I’m not getting everything done well. When I look, especially at parenting, I’ve had to really re-examine how I do things, and then make my time with them really count. So that when I’m home, I’m home and I’m present.
24E: I think a lot of parents struggle with trying to provide a wholesome meal. How do you commit to this, do you plan?
AH: I do. I was never a planner until I had kids because I loved going to the store and thinking, “Oh, what do I want to make tonight?” and that just went out the window. I realized, if I do that, I could never get it together. When my kids were really young, I started blogging about feeding your family and getting them to eat what we eat. What mattered to me is just having all the food in the house for the week, which was a totally different mindset. But it helps so much. On those nights where you come home, and you’ve been stuck in traffic and think, “What are we going to do instead of a box of pasta?” I think wait a second, I have pesto. I could grill something really fast. Let’s just do something really simple. Our meals aren’t fancy. Usually if I’ve stocked up on things enough, I say, “Okay, I see something green on the plate. It’s going to be okay.”
24E: I am still trying to get my daughter to eat one edamame pod.
AH: Don’t give up hope!
24 East: What is your routine for family dinner ?
AH: My big thing is we go around and say something good that happened that day, so we all have to get something out of our mouths. That way we have a conversation before we can leave the table. You hope that setting that ritual and making it feel consistent will make them look forward to it over time.
24E: What is your comfort food?
AH: Oh, my gosh, it’s so funny. With the Anti-Inflammation Cookbook coming out and really learning about my health, I’ve had to back way up on that. But I would eat a ton of red meat. I would eat a steak or … the smell of bacon, oh my gosh. I have changed my eating habits quite a bit to feel better. But meat.
24E: Do you have a go-to meal you like to cook for friends when they come over for dinner?
AH: I do have go-tos. Usually they are things that I can make ahead, because I want to be able to enjoy my friends and my family when they are over. I don’t like it when you’re stuck in the kitchen, so I do one of two things. I either grill things so I can prep it before, and then just grill it really quickly. I like to grill my entire meal. Or, I’ll do something slow cooked, like there’s this great recipe that I have for pork shoulder that you slow cook in orange and wine juice. And you pickle red onions and you do guacamole with it. You can do all the components before hand, and then, it’s a really fun party. I love tacos too. We’ll make tacos anyway, anything in them. Those are my standbys.
24E: What surprises people about you?
AH: That’s a great question. I think now that I’m starting to do more around health and wellness, with this book, people are surprised that I’m not very uptight about it. I don’t really believe in diets and restricting yourself in a certain way forever so you’re miserable. My kids are going to be exposed to sugar and all kinds of things that I’m not crazy about. How do you live with that? How do you teach people moderation? It drives me nuts when people say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, you’re coming over. You probably don’t want to eat this.” I’m flexible. I can’t have gluten, but I don’t care. You’ve got to be relaxed about it.
Photo by Amanda Frederickson
24E: What makes a happy kitchen?
AH: You know what’s funny? I think everyone always wants to be in the kitchen, so probably a happy cook. Someone who really enjoys being in their space. It never has to be fancy.
24E: Have you had a mentor throughout your career?
AH: I was just with her actually, which is funny that you ask that. Her name is Tori Ritchie. She’s an amazing woman, I took a food writing class from her, and she’s a cookbook author. She’s been a magazine food editor. She used to have one of her shows on the Food Network. She’s an incredible woman who just always supported my career and has sent some of the best cookbook jobs to me and the ones that opened doors for other opportunities.
24E: What would be your alternate career?
AH: This is so funny, but it’s absolutely true. I love dancing so much. I would be on Dancing with the Stars, but I guess that means I’d want to be a ballroom dancer. I love all types of dancing.
24E: I’d be Justin Timberlake’s backup dancer.
AH: [laughter] Bring it on. Paula Abdul. I want to be her backup dancer. I can’t sing, so I’m not going to be a backup singer. Oh my gosh. I love it.
24E: How do you recharge? Dancing?
AH: Dancing, and you know what’s funny, I’m incredibly extroverted. I’ve taken all the personality tests, and they say I’m a total extrovert. But cooking, I go into this hole and I don’t want sound. I don’t want anything. I need silence. I go from being around a lot of activity to wanting it just super quiet. I actually love being alone. I love either walking … I go walking by myself, or cooking. And just tuning everything out. Those are great ways for me to recharge.
24E: What do you love about living in the East Bay?
AH: I love the trees. I get across that bridge, and it’s so beautiful. I love that we have access to hiking and trails, and even just the Lafayette Reservoir. It’s just such a nice balance between my life in the city for work and here. I’m so happy to come home here. It makes the commute worth it.
Special thanks to Dr. Bradly Jacobs for helping with this post. Learn more about him here.
To order Amanda’s book, go here.
For more information on One Family One Meal, go here.
To see amazing things from Williams-Sonoma, go here.