Priya Krishna: Food Writer & Cookbook Author

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Priya Krishna grew up in Dallas, watching her mother Ritu cook delicious meals that combined her family’s favorite Indian and American ingredients. In college, she studied French and International Relations, but found herself more interested in the weekly food column she wrote for The Dartmouth newspaper, all about transforming dining hall food. Now, she’s a regular contributor to publications including The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and The New Yorker, and the author of two cookbooks, Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks and her newest debut: Indian-Ish. If you’ve ever thought about pursuing food as a career, you’ll love this one! Read on! 

What brought you to a career in food?
I’ve always kind of been obsessed with food. I grew up watching my mom cook but I never really figured it could be a full time job. When I went to college, I started a food column and I figured out how to make amazing food using ingredients you found at your dining hall, and had a lot of fun doing it, and realized this could maybe be a career. So from there, that was my jumping off point.

You’ve worked in both the business and editorial side of food. How did you end up pursuing the editorial path?
I did the business side and I just didn’t like it as much, I got kind of bored. I liked the independence of being a journalist, I liked telling people’s stories. 

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When it came to your second cookbook, what was it like putting all the recipes together for an audience that may not be as familiar with Indian food?
My Mom’s recipes translate really well, they’re from a woman who only learned to cook once she got to the US. So, it was food that naturally fit into the setting. I didn’t want to dumb anything down for the American palette. 

What was the experience of cooking with your Mom and getting that down on paper?
I think she was really excited! My Mom is an engineer, in a role that’s not super creative. I think she was excited to do something creative, and cooking is her passion. 

When it came to filming videos with Bon Appetit, what started as sharing recipes from your cookbook has basically become a full blown channel! How did you get started working with them?
I knew an editor there from my Lucky Peach days, and then did freelancing. Then they asked me to come on board on a more permanent-ish capacity, and then they asked me if I wanted to do videos. Honestly, I’d never even thought about it, and then as soon as I got on camera, I was like, this is actually really fun! People are really making Indian food from these videos! 

Yes they are! In those videos, I love when your parents make cameos. Is that an intentional part of the show?
No! I FaceTime my parents a lot, so it just felt very natural. And the first few times, honestly pretty much all of the times, I give my parents zero notice. So now I feel like my whole family, all my family members are on edge –– is she going to FaceTime us? Are we going to be on the channel without knowing? 

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Now that the videos have gotten more and more popular, have you changed your approach in any way?
I honestly love the fact that I’m almost introducing terminology around Indian food. I feel like I intermix words and language around Indian food into my conversation, and I hope people who watch the videos know for example what a chhonk is or what saag feta is. It’s fun to sort of help be able to mobilize words and techniques. 

For anyone who is a big fan of your work and is interested in working in the field themselves, are there any early steps you’d suggest for working in the food industry?
You just have to be persistent. Send lots of emails, be very specific and don’t forget to follow up, people are really busy. And be really gracious. If someone gives you an opportunity, send them a hand-written thank you note. I feel like there’s a sense that like young people breaking into the food industry are entitled, but that’s obviously not always the case. Just be persistent and be gracious.

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Is there a misconception you feel people have of the food industry in general?
That it’s a very glamorous life. And very glamorous right at the beginning. It’s fun being able to eat out at restaurants but it’s also all of the busywork that you would imagine in any job. 

Are there any mistakes you made early on you could share for others to learn from?
I always worry if I was too outgoing or too aggressive about trying to make friends in the industry. It’s definitely a tough industry to break into it. Ease into it, don’t charge into it, is maybe a good tip.

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

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Thank you so much, Priya! Viewers, after you’ve ordered Indian-Ish, I highly recommend starting with her Red Pepper, Potato and Peanut Sabzi recipe. It was shockingly easy and incredibly delicious! You can also check out all of her Bon Appetit videos here, and don’t forget to come back next week for one more serving of Priya’s advice. (Photo credit: Erick Steinberg & Emily Hirsch)

Paco de Leon: Financial Advisor & Co-Host of Refinery 29’s Money Diaries Podcast

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This week’s interview is with Paco de Leon, who in short is a financial wizard. After a career in a variety of areas within finance, she founded her own personal finance firm called The Hell Yeah Group. Based in LA, they focus exclusively on giving creatives tools and support to be engaged with their finances. Paco is also the co-host of Refinery 29’s Money Diaries podcast and a financial educator to the public through her helpful blog posts on Cup of Jo, and her own website. Read on to learn more!

I’ve read so much about all the different things that you do. You sound like a Finance Wizard! Do you think that’s an accurate description of what you do?
Haha, yeah! I would say that’s pretty accurate. I dabbled in a bunch of different areas of finance and I realized that once you figure out how to make the sausage, you kind of just end up remaking the sausage over and over again. I have a background in small business consulting and management, which is basically glorified bookkeeping, and then the ability to understand the data after you’ve examined it all together, and tease out what you should do with your business based on your numbers. 

Then I had a stint as a financial planner for a couple years where I learned about personal finance, and then I did another stint in marijuana business consulting, which was interesting, [before starting the Hell Yeah Group].

Why finance? Have you always been interested in it?
I didn’t really understand how to think for myself until I became an adult. So, I did what I thought wouldn’t piss my parents off as much. But I was relatively interested because I made finance my major in 2006 and there were a lot of stupid people getting really rich. 

I was curious about that. I was thinking, ‘wow, what’s going on that all these not-smart people are getting really really rich?’ I’m really good at showing up [to figure something out]. Even if I don’t want to do something. It’s been ten years, and I guess I’m the finance person now. 

Yes, you are! Can you tell me about the financial training you’ve had?
I got an undergraduate degree in business and then you have to choose a concentration. I chose finance and, oddly enough, you only had to take four more classes to get an economics minor, so I got an economics minor. Later, I took a night program when I was working at the financial planner, through UCLA. I took their personal finance planning program which was actually the perfect time to do it. My boss was paying for it and the schooling was so much easier because we were dealing with harder problems in real life at work. 

Your first job was at a bank. What was that like?
The first job in financial services, I worked at a Bank of America in collections. I was what they call a “Baby Collector,” somebody who is working there part time and only collects on accounts that are 0 to 30 days past due. [Collecting is the process of retrieving owed money back to the bank from individuals] I was only collecting on auto loans, I wasn’t collecting on credit cards or home equity lines or mortgages. It was really intense. 

I got the job after several interviews. Then you go through 4 weeks of classroom training. For an entire month you don’t hop on the phone at all, you just learn about the crazy, archaic banking systems: literally a black screen with green writing. It’s horrible. You learn how to navigate all those different systems and how to talk on the phone. We did a lot of role playing, which was really cheesy, but I’m really glad I got that job because if I could call any stranger, anywhere in the country, and say, ‘Hey, can you pay us?’ I can talk to anyone about money now, you know? 

I was there for a year and a half, maybe two years. I quit in July of 2008 and that was right as Bank of America acquired all the Countrywide mortgages. I remember there were a couple of nights when we were asked to collect on these really hard-core accounts and we didn’t have that training. So, when they say ‘the bank lacked the infrastructure to deal with the number of defaults’ [In regard to the 2008 financial crisis], that’s what it was. You had so many callers who didn’t know what they were doing, talking to an old couple who had been unemployed for over 100 days, saying, ‘Okay, well there’s nothing we can do, we’ll call you back’.

Wow. 
It was crazy! That only happened a couple of times. We were always told not to collect on accounts that were possibly in foreclosure [because] if you take money from them, it’s possible they won’t get that money back. When you’re trying to learn how to help people and you don’t have the tools to help them, what are you supposed to do, you know?

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What did you do next?
I worked for Wells Fargo financial right after I graduated. It was a horrible sales job and the products they wanted us to sell were just trash, they should not have existed. Bad products and taking advantage of old people who are ignorant and asking them things like: ‘Do you have debt? Would you like to refinance your debt by putting a loan on your car that’s already paid off?’

That’s terrible. 
Yeah, it’s [messed] up. I only stayed at that job for three weeks. I went through the training and then thought, ‘This is the craziest job in the world’. Luckily, the timing was right, and I became an executive assistant [at a boutique consulting management firm in LA]. They were working with a lot of creative businesses, mainly interior designers, some clothing brands, nonprofits, some writers. But it was all creative people in LA. And that’s where I got my first taste of ‘Oh! These are my people. There’s [a] silly system that’s man-made and total nonsense that they have to live and work in because that’s what business is. I think I can help people like this.’ 

From there, I shifted and I went into financial planning. I ended up working as an executive assistant to this wonderful financial planner, and he took me under his wing. He was the first person in my career who really saw me, valued my opinions, and what I thought about how to make things better. That changed a lot for me. It’s when I started to realize I was valuable, which I know sounds crazy, but I feel like little girls don’t always get seen in the world. They don’t get asked what they think as much as little boys. 

I was going to be a financial planner, but I eventually grew very disenchanted with the type of clientele we were helping. But I learned as much as I could, I was a sponge. I learned how to do Quickbooks, how to do bookkeeping, how to build financials. And with financial planning, I learned everything about personal finance: Investment strategies, leading economic indicators, lacking economic indicators, how to ask accountants and attorneys the right questions to really get at the heart of issues in terms of finance. 

Eventually, I pivoted and I got a job working for a guy who was helping people set up their marijuana businesses around the country. From him I learned you can sell anything you want as long as someone will pay you to do it. You don’t need permission – you can make the life you want. He didn’t have a college degree, and we would stay updated on the laws as they became available. For example, Florida is going to make marijuana legal in 12 months and over the next 12 months they’re going to write the laws. As they release drafts, we would read them and translate them into layman’s terms, because ultimately people are going to reach out to us and say, ‘Hey! I want to open up a grow operation in Tallahassee, or a testing center in some other place in Florida’ and we needed to be able to say, ‘Yes, you can do it,” “No, you can’t do it,” or “Here are the caveats.” He would do kind of shady things where he would sell things, take someone’s money, and then go to the city to ask, ‘Is this possible?’ If it was possible, we would move forward. If it wasn’t possible, we would refund their money.

Woah! 
Yeah! That’s what that guy taught me. If you have an internet connection, you can create a brand, and do anything! He showed me that people were just making things up as they went. 

He ended up letting me go, saying: ‘Hey kid, you’re really smart. You probably shouldn’t go get another office job. You’ll be really surprised what happens if you allow yourself to rise to the occasion’. And so, I didn’t apply for another job. I woke up every day and sat quietly for an hour and thought ‘there’s got to be a way I can figure this out.’ Eventually, I went back to the idea of ‘What about those creative people and this very sharp tool I have now of understanding finances? What can I do with this?’ And, you’re seeing the results. 

So that’s when you started The Hell Yeah Group? 
Yes.

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But you also write articles for Refinery29 and co-host their podcast, too. Did that come as you got more and more clients? Did R29 find you or did you find them?
I first went off on my own at the end of 2014, and by 2015 I was exhausted by trying to [get clients] “word of mouth”. But I started to do research, and that’s when I was like, “Wait a minute, I know how the internet works.” I started to really, really nerd out on marketing, content marketing, and how to matter online. 

A lot of the research led me to put out really quality content, show up, and be consistent. And then, stuff happens. I started to do a lot of speaking gigs, write a lot of articles. If you go back into my archive they were pretty terrible back in the day. But it worked, the internet worked. I got better at writing, I listened to my audience. When I heard somebody ask me the same question 50 times, I wrote an article about it and then some of my friends would text me, ‘Hey, I need a C-corp.’I’d say, ‘Here’s this article, but let me know if anything is unclear, so that I can refine it.’ I’ve been figuring out how to be a better writer.

The Refinery gig – they found me off of Cup of Jo which is a lifestyle website. Caroline’s the features editor there. We met at a creative conference in Big Bear, California. There was a costume party and she was dressed up as a cookie, so I went up to her and started talking to her and we stayed in touch. When it was time for her to find a finance columnist, she reached out to me. 

And then, one of the producers of Refinery found me there and asked me to co-host, which was very, very validating for me. I’ve been a fan of Money Diaries for a while and so many brands are copying them now, so many publications are doing small narratives around money. So I said yes, and I can’t believe that they trusted me. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about managing their money?
That it’s too complicated and they’re not “smart enough” to do it. I get a lot of people who are down on themselves, really smart people who say, “I’m just not the type of person who can do that.” I don’t believe that. You just have to create time to have tolerance for boredom and tedium. And you’ll be fine, I promise you.

On that note, do you have any favorite books or resources for people who are true personal finance beginners/deeply lost?
It’s going to sound really self-serving, but I really think that my content is for that exact person. 

Are you interested in continuing this work for the long haul?
I think that I’ll probably do this for a large part of my working life, but I’m definitely interested in other ways to impact the world. I’m really interested in mental health, therapy, and psychedelic drugs to help people heal. I’m not a scientist, so I’m not sure how I could participate in that field, but it’s something that really excites me.

Sometimes you don’t know [of] a way to help people until you show up a bunch of times and realize you have a really sharp tool that could help someone. It’s possible that I could’ve done it through something else. It’s interesting, because I always tell people that finance just happened to be the platform that I’m doing my work through. I want to help people sleep better at night and not feel scared. I want to get people excited about something they probably thought they could never feel excited about. I feel really lucky that I found finance, and finance found me. 

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

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A beautiful sentiment, Paco! We’re glad you and finance found each other too. Readers, after you’ve checked out Paco’s writing and listened to her Money Diaries podcast episodes, come back next week for a helpful personal finance how-to.

(Photos provided by Paco de Leon, taken by Olivia Katz).

Dr. Erin Warshaw: Dermatologist & Professor

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This week, we had the opportunity to interview Dr. Erin Warshaw, a dermatologist, professor, allergen expert and (spoiler alert!) my mom. Dr. Warshaw is a woman of many talents and has served as Chief of Dermatology at the V.A. Medical Center, Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota, and most recently opened up her dream clinic in Minneapolis, a cold case unit for previously unsolvable skin allergies. Can you tell I’m proud?! She is full of insight on creating a career out of a passion for science, leading a team, and pursuing meaning-based work. And if that isn’t enough--she also shares some truly earth-shattering skin care advice. Read on!

Let’s start with the basics. What is your official title?
My official job title, well I wear several different hats, so my job title at the University is Professor of Dermatology, my title and role at the V.A. Medical Center is Staff Physician, and my title at Park Nicollet is Co-Director of the Park Nicollet Contact Dermatitis Clinic.

Could you explain what contact dermatitis is?
Sure, so when most people think of allergy, they think of a life threatening type of allergy, probably like allergy to peanuts or a bee sting, but that’s actually only one type of allergy. That’s what’s called Type One allergy or Immediate Type hypersensitivity. Contact dermatitis is what’s called Type Four hypersensitivity, or Delayed Type allergy, and it’s the type of allergy that results in a rash, just like what many people get when they come in contact with poison ivy. Another common allergen is nickel, so people who are allergic to nickel might get a rash on their earlobes from reaction to nickel in their earrings, or around their belly button from nickel in their belt.

A contact dermatitis reaction can take up to five days to develop after the initial exposure and lasts around three weeks before your body’s immune system goes through its normal allergic cycle and shuts it down. It’s very itchy, so patients can be pretty miserable and irritable; they usually haven’t been able to sleep and have basically been living with poison ivy, not knowing what the allergy is until they come to our clinic.

So my understanding is that you and your clinic are kind of the last stop for allergens that people haven’t been able to figure out elsewhere, and you use patch-testing to determine those allergies. Is that right? Could you talk a little bit about patch testing?
So there is a pre-packaged kit of 35 allergens called the True Test, and that is what most dermatologists and allergists use. It contains the most common allergens that we see, like nickel, other metals like cobalt and gold, fragrances, preservatives, steroids like the antibiotic medications niacin and bacitracin—those all are on the True Test. Many times, patients will have had the True Test done by their general dermatologist or allergist and then if it doesn’t make sense or the rash doesn’t get better, they’re sent to us for specialized testing.

Did you always want to be a doctor? What lead you to medicine, and dermatology specifically?
I did not always want to be a doctor. I loved the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and when I read it as a young girl, I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to be the mother in that book who had a lab right off of the kitchen. That was, I thought, the most incredible thing.

I loved cell biology, so naturally that kind of leads to medicine. But I got very disenchanted with traditional medicine and kind of the whole pre-med vibe in college and decided that I wasn’t going to be a doctor. Instead, I wanted to study alternative medicine. So I took a year, and part of that year was spent in India where I went to a yoga hospital. I was really excited about it before going, but when I got there it was a little disappointing because it really wasn’t much of a hospital.

I met an American doctor there who was associated with the ashram at the hospital and he really convinced me to go back for medical school. He said if you ever want do anything in alternative medicine, no one will really respect you unless you have that degree. So, my goal in medical school was to go to a third world country afterwards and do international aid work. I did some of that in India, working with a physician who had a sidewalk clinic, and worked at two of Mother Teresa’s centers there. What I realized while doing that work is that a lot of what is needed in the third world isn’t actually individualized medical care, it’s public health. It’s vaccines, it’s clean water, birth control, it’s getting people out of poverty—human rights. And I saw a lot of the frustration of working on the individual level; it felt like putting a bandaid on a bigger problem.

So, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I definitely never thought about dermatology. But I knew that I didn’t want to be in the operating room, and I didn’t really like emergency situations, and I also realized I liked being an expert. Dermatology had a combination where you could do surgery in an outpatient setting, but it also had a lot of specialized facets to it.

How does alternative medicine and what you learned during that year factor into your practice now?
It doesn’t really play a role in what I do currently, and I feel kind of funny about that in some way, but I actually use a lot of it for myself and using those practices makes me more grounded and better for my patients.

What type of training was needed for your job?
Four years of college, then four years of medical school, one year of internship, and three years of dermatology residency, so twelve years total. Dermatology residency requires a total of four years but that first year is what’s called an internship and it’s kind of like general medicine, so you work at a hospital and admit patients with congestive heart failure, diabetic coma, all different kinds of things so you get the basics.

Then it’s three years of speciality training just in dermatology. Then there’s some specialties that require a fellowship after that, for example if you want to specialize in surgery, you can do a surgery fellowship which is usually one or two years, same for children’s dermatology, pediatric dermatology. And if you want to become a dermatopathologist, so someone who is not only in the clinic seeing patients, but also creating the pathology slides of biopsy specimens, that usually takes one or two additional years.

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You also have a master’s degree in public health. What inspired you to do that?
I had finished residency and I was working at the V.A. and every year we interview applicants for the residency program and I just loved hearing so much about the different things all of the applicants were doing, taking a year off studying something or another. A couple of them had gotten a masters in public health which I thought that would be really cool to do, and we were working on a study and I realized I really didn’t know how to design a study.

I didn’t know anything about statistics really, how to do a double blind study, what randomization was about, so I was really motivated to go back [to school] because it was directly applicable to doing clinical trials. I actually loved doing that, it took four, maybe five years to complete because I did it part time. But all of the classes were exactly what I was doing in the clinic in clinical trials so it was really cool, I loved that.

How were able to do that part time as a practicing physician?
I applied for a career development award through the VA and that protected my time to take the classes, I still had to run clinic but I wasn’t there everyday, I was half-time in clinic, half-time in classes.

You were in school when we (my brother Gregg and I) were born. What was that like?
The key was having that protected time, because I could do most of the studying I needed during the day and not have it affect my time after work. And a huge factor was that Grams, my mother, your grandmother, helped along with Grampers to take care of you guys everyday, and that was a tremendous help. You don’t really ever remember me studying, do you Madeline?

No.
Yeah, I was really able to get most of it done during the day and then after you would go to sleep sometimes I would work a little bit after that.

You’ve worked at the V.A. for many years. How is working at a government hospital different from a private practice or private hospital?
Working at the VA, there’s definitely bureaucracy and it’s a different patient population. There’s no children, it’s historically been mostly men but now we see women too. Something I love about working at the VA is that when i see a patient and think a medical treatment is appropriate, the VA will pretty much cover it and we can get almost whatever medicine we want, except for cosmetic things obviously. That is a huge difference compared to the private practice world where there is so much money involved with the choice of treatment and the co-payments and conflict of interest, which I believe is a huge problem.

For example, at the VA, I never have to think about how much I’m going to receive if I do a biopsy on a patient, I just do what is needed for that patient. Whereas in private practice, even if physicians don’t really want to talk about it, I think there is conflict of interest when the higher number of procedures they do, the more money they make. And there is always a temptation, I think, for a little abuse there; so I love the freedom I have at the VA to just do what’s right for the patient. But the bureaucracy of it can get old.

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As a professor, a big part of your job is also mentorship. What role has mentorship played in your career so far?
I think mentoring others has been a huge part of what has made medicine fun for me because it’s fun to show your enthusiasm to other people and really discuss it. Like right now, we have three research fellows that work with us for a year--they have fresh eyes to look at clinical problems and they actually come up with really good questions and help us look at things differently.

They have questions that come up and I can say, “Do you want to write a paper on that? Let’s look at the literature and synthesize it because I bet other people probably have the same question” or “Let’s write a protocol and see if we can get funding to answer that question.” So I love that part in the clinic--the nitty gritty--and it’s really, really fun to see those mentees now in their careers, whether it’s private practice or academics, to see where they go. It’s really cool, it makes me really proud of them.

What’s been a part of this job that you didn’t expect?
I did not expect the level of, sort of, personnel management that is required. You go to medical school thinking you’re just going to take care of patients, but there’s a lot more to running a clinic or a research unit and working with other people, motivating a team, keeping communication open, and at the same time maintaining a professional distance, to the job, which I think is actually really hard for women in workplaces.

I think women leaders are more often seen as a confidant. Like people will come to me and talk about personal problems whereas I think if I was a man, they wouldn’t do that. Sometimes you have to step back and say I am the Chief or the Director of this clinic and maintain some professionalism, and I think that balance is really hard. I didn’t expect that the personnel management bit would be such a big part of my career.

On a different note, What is your biggest advice for taking care of your skin?
(Laughs) My biggest piece of advice is to wear sunscreen. And START young! So many of the common skin problems are just related to UV damage. So basically sunscreen, minimal soap, and a basic moisturizer, ideally one with SPF in it so you don’t even have to think about putting it on. You don’t need a major cleansing routine with toners and exfoliants and multi- step processes, you want your natural skin oils to do some moisturizing and just use a gentle soap.

Ok finally, if you weren’t a dermatologist, what else would you be doing?
Well if you had asked me that when I was in college I would have said a yoga instructor or something in holistic health. If you asked me now, I might be a biostatistician. That’s someone who does the mathematical analysis of data, runs statistical tests to see if there are differences and models epidemiological data, I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m surprised you didn’t say being Bug (our dog’s) personal assistant!
Well that’s my side thing.

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

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Thanks so much, Dr. Mom! This was so special for me, and I feel so lucky to share it with our readers. If there’s anything I know, it’s that moms rock and sunscreen is IMPORTANT, and this interview strongly affirms the both. For more from the world’s coolest dermatologist, stay tuned next week for Dr. Warshaw’s super science How-To.