thumb image

After debuting her Martha Stewart–approved cookbook Salad Freak, Jess Damuck has quickly made herself a household name and a favorite to home cooks everywhere. And now almost two years exactly to the date, Damuck has gifted the world with Health Nut, a new collection of exciting plant-forward recipes celebrating eats that are nourishing, satisfying and can be called anything other than bland. Here, Damuck dishes on the creative process behind her sophomore title, her personal connection to hippie-centric eats and some fresh advice for feeling good.

Artful Living | Jess Damuck on Her Feel-Good Cookbook, Health Nut

Photography by Linda Pugliese

Welcome to your sophomore cookbook era! How are you feeling now that it’s in the world?

It’s funny because I quickly decided that if I really wanted to keep writing cookbooks after Salad Freak I needed each one to be as deeply personal as possible and act as a time capsule for whatever I was feeling at that moment in my life. I’m such a perfectionist that I don’t know if I would ever be able to hand in any manuscript,but the timing for writing Health Nut was truly perfect and helped me a lot in getting this out into the world.

What did life look like after the release of Salad Freak?

Salad Freak is truly many years of my life distilled into one collection of recipes. As soon as the book came out, I started working with my friend Benny Blanco on his cookbook about dinner parties. I had never collaborated with somebody in that way before, and we were cooking together a few times a week and hosting these huge dinner parties with menus made up of super heavy foods — think macaroni and cheese and fried chicken (I think there’s like three different fried chicken recipes in his book). After working with him, I’d get home and have to face the question that never goes away: What’s for dinner? Meanwhile, I’m thinking about what my body can even handle food-wise and found myself always arriving at the same few meal options, one of them being the stir fry on the cover of Health Nut. It’s a meal I make often because I always have the ingredients on-hand in my fridge and pantry. It feels really good to eat and is filling, healthy and tastes really good when I feel burnt out on flavor-blasted ingredients. I realized this is the kind of food I always really crave.

Artful Living | Jess Damuck on Her Feel-Good Cookbook, Health Nut

Photography by Jennelle Fong

Where did you source inspiration while writing Health Nut?

I grew up in Shelter Island on the East Coast, and my family would travel to Vermont. As a kid, I remember making these trips to the Brattleboro Food Co-op and that was my first true exposure to a hippie store and a health food restaurant. My parents were sort of hippies in their own ways, and I’ve come to really appreciate how much they had me eat while growing up. I wasn’t eating a ton of sugar, and they even tricked me into believing soda was juice and seltzer for way longer than anyone would ever believe. And then all throughout high school and college, I worked at a restaurant called Planet Bliss, and I got to watch chef Sebastian Bliss put his own stamp on health food. He was a world traveler and surfer, and I really saw that this type of food doesn’t have to be boring or bland.

Another major source of inspiration while writing Health Nut was my big collection of seventies cookbooks that I flip through all the time. I think visually they are so cool, and I love sitting down and reading them like any other book.

A through line in all of these books is that healthy ingredients were extremely hard to find during their heyday. Like in the seventies, tofu was only available via mail order. In that spirit, I really wanted to celebrate that foods like apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast and tahini are now in something that’s super easy to find in any grocery store.

Artful Living | Jess Damuck on Her Feel-Good Cookbook, Health Nut

Photography by Linda Pugliese

Did you discover any new must-have pantry staples while writing Health Nut?

I really love Japanese food and I didn’t realize how much it actually inspired me until I looked back at the recipes in this book. I discovered smoked soy sauce and it’s a total game changer. If you’re cooking a lot of vegetarian foods and looking to jazz it up with one specialty ingredient, consider this your answer. It delivers a depth of umami that I haven’t been able to achieve with any other ingredient. It also makes a lentil stew go from ordinary to a total next-level surprise.

What are you hoping home cooks will take away from Health Nut?

Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist, but I really believe that this is the kind of food you will feel good eating. And I believe it, because it’s the way that I eat and I don’t feel like I’m restricting myself at all. A lot of these recipes are super doable. Feeding yourself well is probably the number one thing you can do for your overall well-being. It really starts there. The self-care movement is huge with endless headlines about taking baths and using sheet masks, but if you can cook one great meal each day with real ingredients, you’re 100% going to feel better.

Here in Los Angeles, Erewhon is such a big deal right now and I really feel like it’s important to remind people that you can eat really well and eat whole nutritious foods without breaking the bank or having to go to a million stores. I mean, even getting to the farmers’ market once a week is sometimes really hard. So I wanted to write a book that’s a love letter to what I crave, what I’m nostalgic for and, most importantly, what I could really make any day of the week.

Artful Living | Jess Damuck on Her Feel-Good Cookbook, Health Nut

Photography by Linda Pugliese

Did you have anyone test any of these recipes while you were shaping the book together?

It’s been really fun to share this food. My partner Ben Sinclair — creator of High Maintenance — has been studying Ram Dass for four years and working on a project inspired by the spiritual leader. The entire time I was developing this book, we’d have people who lived at Ram Dass’ house in Maui as caretakers stay with us in L.A. for long chunks of time. Then Ben started filming a project and we’d have the cast and crew test a lot of these dishes. This food became a real part of our community, which was really fun. The Source Aware salad became something that was eaten every day on set.

A lentil loaf does not sound sexy or something that would ever go viral, but I had Matty Matheson taste a vegan version of it and filmed his reaction. I could tell that he was about to do a very staged, “OMG yum this is so good!” but then he took a bite and was truly surprised by it which made me so happy.

Artful Living | Jess Damuck on Her Feel-Good Cookbook, Health Nut

Photography by Linda Pugliese

Do you have any new rituals you’ve introduced into your personal life?

I renovated our back garage and converted it into a ceramic studio. It used to be a place where we’d hide all things we wanted to magically disappear and it’s the first time I’ve ever created a designated space to make a mess and really develop an art practice. It has been so incredible for me to do something for myself that isn’t cooking. Using my hands in this way feels really grounding and is something I’m trying to do as much as I can.

Can you share any fresh life advice? 

Getting out of my head and asking others for help and witnessing how open people are to either create with me or give advice is something I’ve been intentionally leaning into a lot lately. So much of the story in my head is not wanting to inconvenience others, but I’ve really learned that asking for help is actually the call coming from inside the house — especially in this huge world of food content creators. Everyone is so helpful and willing to share with one another which is the definition of community.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This