by Joanne Xu
Even after a mere 45 minutes with Sophia Roe, you can tell she’s the type of person that’s always got an extra spring in her step. After all, the New York native and self-proclaimed “food and feelings lady” answers every “how are you” with a resounding “I’m happy, and you?”
Roe is the closest it gets to what we call a seasoned optimist. That is, the rare lot of trauma survivors that escape without an entirely cynical, pessimistic outlook on life. The 31 year-old chef has gone through her fair share in life. And while some in her shoes might opt to retreat into a corner, Roe’s experiences seem to have ignited a fight-over-flight intuition that’s fueled her fast-climbing career.
Beyond her creative prowess in the studio (calling her kitchen anything less seems to undermine the artistry of food), Roe’s also dedicated to content creation, wellness, and welfare advocacy. All to say, she certainly fits in with a distinct breed of millennial multi-hyphenates — though if you asked her, she’d resent being labeled as anything but human first.
On our lovely Austin afternoon (and her hasty New York rush hour commute), Roe offered her thoughts on the privilege of having good food, why sauce matters, and what wellness really means. Spoiler alert: it’s not infrared saunas and trendy face masks.
01. Rapid fire: Who are you and what do you do?
I identify as a human. I know that’s a ‘woo woo’ answer but I hate that New York is one of those ‘you are what you do’ places. I think it’s really important to know we’re humans first. But most people know me as Soph and I’m a chef.
02. What does wellness mean to you?
Wellness is just five things: food, water, sunlight, movement, and air. It shouldn’t cost a penny. All these other things like rule-based eating and stressing around food don’t make us well. I think a lot of people think wellness means ‘What should I stop doing to make myself better?’ But I would go out on a limb to say that our bodies are smarter than what we give them credit for. Your body knows what to do with that burger you want to eat.
Wellness is just five things: food, water, sunlight, movement, and air. It shouldn’t cost a penny.
03. Why are you passionate about food and welfare advocacy?
It’s important to acknowledge the privilege we have in choosing what we eat, going to the supermarket and finding whatever we want. There are countries all over the planet that can’t afford to do that. I live in Bed-Stuy, New York, which is one of the only food insecure boroughs without a farmer’s market. I’m lucky that I have feet to carry me and access to transportation, but there are a lot of people that don’t.
We have to remember that when we talk about wellness. That’s why I say it’s more about welfare. You might be the queen of infrared saunas, tonics, tinctures, whatever. But your wellness is only the equal sum of where you live.
You might be the queen of infrared saunas, tonics, tinctures, whatever. But your wellness is only the equal sum of where you live.
04. How do you keep your creativity fresh?
I always love fixing a need. I love when someone comes to me and says, ‘I’m gluten free, vegan, and don’t like peppers, but I want salsa.’ Or, ‘I want bolognese but don’t do tomatoes.’ Or, ‘I want nigiri sushi but don’t eat meat.’ So many chefs get annoyed by substitutions and limitations but I find it to be such a great way to create something new and innovative.
05. What would you say to someone that’s intimidated to take on cooking?
It’s all just practice. When you go to a restaurant or see a pretty photo on social media, the only reason chefs can make those recipes is because they’ve practiced. It’s like Will Smith says, ‘you might have more talent than me … but you’re not going to out-work me.’ I’m the same. Repetition is my specialty.
06. How do you make time for movement and Recreation?
Make it a priority. We honor our work calendars by the minute, so why not put in movement time? Moving our bodies doesn’t mean you have to be a sprinter or a great tennis player. Moving can be anything. Moving is literally getting from work to home. Why not take the local train or walk home today if it’s nice out? The world isn’t trying to ruin our lives by making us take longer to get home. You can be super efficient and still move your body.
Moving our bodies doesn’t mean you have to be a sprinter or a great tennis player. Moving can be anything.
07. How does that same mindset around movement find its way into your work?
There’s no way I could do my job without movement. Everything I do is on my feet and very physical. I heard someone say one time that you should never trust a skinny chef, but I don’t understand how that’s a thing. I don’t know a chef that sits down to cook.
08. Can you explain this idea of “slow food” that you’re championing?
It’s just about slowing down to appreciate your food. Just like how you take 10 minutes to focus on your breath before yoga, it’s the same with your food. Understand your carrot, see the carrot in the ground. See the farmer take it out of the ground. See it go on the truck, to the farmer’s market. All the labor and water and soil that went into having this carrot on your plate. It means a lot to me to be able to honor every ingredient. We in America really need to slow down with our food and appreciate where it comes from.
09. What’s your top tip for preventing food waste?
Stop going to the grocery store once a week! I know it might seem like an inconvenience, but how many times have you bought groceries and they go bad in the refrigerator? Use ingredients within 2 to 3 days after buying them. Also: stop refrigerating citrus, tomatoes, and peppers.
10. What’s your favorite type of food to make?
Food in general excites me. Japanese food is my favorite cuisine to cook, but I also like to make pasta from scratch. Or make a roast chicken for fun. I don’t eat meat or dairy, but if someone wants a steak for dinner, they’re getting a steak for dinner!
Find more of Sophia and her food creations at @sophia_roe on Instagram. Plus, check out Pillow Talk, Sophia’s new IRL conversation series.