An interview with recipe developer Julie Tanous
Words by Ashley Locke
Photos by Eva Kolenko
When Julie Tanous and Jesse Tyler Ferguson first became friends, they never expected they would end up writing a cookbook together. Food Between Friends is packed with modern dishes that pay homage to their roots—southern and southwestern influences are sprinkled throughout. The book, out on March 9th, 2021, will inspire you to get in the kitchen whether you’re making dinner for two, or hosting a dinner party. We had the opportunity to chat with Julie about her food journey and the new book.
When did you first begin cooking, and why?
I started cooking seriously in 2007—pretty late in life. Believe it or not, I didn’t grow up cooking in the kitchen. Even though I was attracted to cooking as both a skill and creative outlet, I struggled with the notion that there was an expectation among some that “women should be in the kitchen.” I think that notion kept me away from it, just like I had similar hesitations about getting married or having kids. Anything that was expected of me was something that immediately went to the bottom of my priority list.
When I was young, I just wanted to explore the world beyond Alabama. I moved to Washington, DC, and then to New York City. Then I fell in love with a New Yorker named Will who later became my husband. While we were dating, Will took a bad fall and broke his ankle. Because he could barely get around, it was hard for him to go to dinners—which was a big part of his job. I turned our kitchen into a restaurant and decided everyone could come to us to eat. That’s when I started educating myself on cooking techniques and reading a ton. I started taking recreational cooking classes throughout the city, and finally I decided to enroll in culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education. Once I immersed myself into cooking fulltime, I knew it was what I was meant to do.
What was the inspiration behind the book, and what was the writing process like for you?
When Jesse [Tyler Ferguson] and I met, not only did we share a passion for cooking, but also a pride in the unique cuisines of our respective hometowns—Jesse is from New Mexico, and I’m from Alabama. We would exchange ideas about how to incorporate our culinary influences into new recipes, and we soon found we had great chemistry in the kitchen—but it’s one thing to cook together. It’s an entirely different thing to write together.
To be honest, the writing process terrified me at first—but now I am just as proud of the writing as I am the recipes. Jesse is naturally funny and such a talented writer who is very confident in his voice. I was nervous to send him anything, but over time we got in a groove and realized that we could collaborate on the writing as effortlessly as we do on the cooking, particularly when the writing authentically captured our dynamic and sense of humor. And the fact that I still LAUGH OUT LOUD at some of the things we wrote together, I take as a good sign that we achieved what we set out to do.
How was working with a partner on the recipes?
Very exciting, fun, and easy. Jesse and I are so compatible—we’re both libras, we’re both indecisive (though he’ll say I’m the more indecisive one), and we have a blast cooking together, even on days when the recipes aren’t working. We’re always learning from each other—Jesse and I introduced each other to ingredients (sorghum syrup and hatch green chiles) and dishes we grew up eating (cornbread, grits, sopapillas).
We’ve been through a lot together, and writing a cookbook during a pandemic was a true test of our commitment. When the shutdown first happened in March, Jesse and I were still developing recipes. In the middle of testing all of them, there were weeks when we couldn’t find staple ingredients like buttermilk or chicken. Jesse and his husband also welcomed their baby that summer. We realized that with everything going on in the world, how incredibly fortunate we were to be able to have the opportunity to create something that we were so passionate about—and something that would hopefully bring joy into people’s homes.
What is one (or two) of your favorite recipes from the book?
That’s like choosing my favorite Beatles song. I love all the biscuits and the sub recipes for the biscuits. I love the cheesy cauliflower enchiladas with mole sauce. That sauce made us really proud. I love the butter bean soup too. And our firecracker chex mix! I don’t know, I can’t decide!
Where will readers and home chefs be able to find Food Between Friends?
Everywhere books are sold!