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)