Alison Roman, Writer & Cook


"I wanted to be a writer in high school—I was into my feelings, music, glitter, things with moons and stars on them, and I wrote a lot. I cooked, but I didn’t have career ambitions with it at that point. At college I studied creative writing, and I had this boyfriend who loved cooking. He got me into cookbooks—they excited me, and I realized nothing in school was exciting me the same way. It felt like everyone was really into college, but I was like, ‘Why am I in a classroom to write when I’m writing in my free time?’ I went to a restaurant I really liked and asked to speak to the chef—just to get some advice about going to culinary school. He was like, ‘My advice is don’t go to culinary school, come work for me instead.’ My parents were not excited about this. The perception [of being a chef] was very different 12, 13 years ago—it was sort of right before celebrity chefs were a thing, so there was no context. But I was lucky because I worked with a small team, and the people I worked with sort of saw food as an extension of the art world, and I clicked with that. I started as a pastry chef because that was the only job they had available—I would’ve taken any job. Anyone who works in a restaurant will tell you there’s a certain adrenaline rush that is pretty undeniable, and it’s kind of addicting. I moved to San Francisco just because I needed a change, and after that I moved to New York. I had no money and no job lined up, but it was easier to be a broke 25-year-old before Instagram. I was overdrafting my account every week, my apartment was really shitty, I bought all my clothes at questionable second-hand stores—I had zero dollars, and it didn’t really matter. I knew some people who were friends with Christina Tosi, and she hired me at Milk Bar. So I worked there for a year and a half, right when it opened. Then I left to go freelance.

At Bon Appétit I was a freelancer before I became a full-time recipe tester. Basically, you get a recipe, and you cook through it to make sure it works. You’re checking for inconsistencies, so whoever gets this recipe at home and follows the instructions has a good result. I was still cooking every day, but I was cooking to help other people cook, which was more interesting to me. After about four years I got approached by a publisher to write a cookbook, which became Dining In. It was my first cookbook, and it was really going to say who I was as a cook, and how I thought you should be cooking at home. I am very vegetable-forward, and I use a lot of citrus, a lot of fresh herbs and chilies. I like really bold, clean flavors—I don’t like things that are fussy or heavy. Dining In came out last October, and now I’ve started writing my second book, and I have a column at The New York Times. The best reaction I get is when people say things like, ‘I got back in the kitchen because of you,’ or ‘I started cooking because of you,’ or ‘I never used to cook, but now I do.’ Eating had become this vilified element in our society that was all about diets or restriction. People are [now] embracing that food is there to make you feel good, and that it’s a really great way to socialize and share things. It transcends keeping us alive—it’s a very emotional experience. What I eat depends on if I’m cooking or not, but I really love the noodles at Xi'an Famous Foods—they’re one of my favorite things in the world. N1, the spicy cumin lamb noodles. If I’m hungover or I’m having a shitty day, those noodles cure me. And then in the winter I go there and I get the hot and sour tofu, which is this very custardy tofu—so good.

I’m not a health food person—that’s just not my lifestyle. But vitamins? Probiotics? Do I ever! Up to a certain age you’re probably fine, and then your body starts to produce less than what it used to, and then you have to compensate. I’m in the compensation period of my life. I take Ritual vitamins, which I’m obsessed with. I’m a vitamin skeptic—I’ve never really taken vitamins in my life—but I was feeling like my energy levels were off. I noticed a huge uptick in my energy levels [after taking the vitamins], and my skin, my hair—everything improved. I also take a hair, skin, and nail vitamin—mostly for my nails because they were really taking a beating. And then I take probiotics. Because of the way I eat, they help keep things right. That’s like my number one travel essential—all I know is when I take them, I feel better. I lost a little weight after I stopped working at Bon Appétit, which is probably where I was eating the most, but I’ve also changed how I exercise. If I’m not sweating in a workout, I feel like I’m wasting my time. I do yoga at Sky Ting and hot yoga at Tangerine, and occasionally I go to Barry’s. I like Barry’s because I need the intensity—you’re only doing something for like 30 seconds, so it’s not boring.

Before I was 30, I sort of existed in this way where I drank as much as I wanted to, I’d forget to wash my face, and I never moisturized. But recently, I joined the cult of P50. It does fucking work! It’s crazy! My friend Greta who has amazing skin told me about it. She also told me to get a facial at Rescue Spa so they could tell me the exact [Biologique Recherche] products I should be using. They’re no bullshit. The facialist sold me three products—two of them I’ll probably keep buying, and one of them I probably won’t. The one I don’t know if I’ll stick to is this cleanser that’s basically a cream you put on and wipe off—you don’t ever use water. I don’t know if I feel clean without washing my face. Every night I come home and shower, so I usually use a Kiehl’s cleanser that I keep in there. The P50 is something I was doing twice a day, but now I think I only need it once a day. The best thing about P50 is that it has almost entirely gotten rid of my mild rosacea. And I have dry skin, so it always looked really dull because I was washing my face and moisturizing without getting rid of the dead skin. That’s the only thing I use regularly, because it put the fear of God into me that I had to use it every day to see results. Oh, that and sunscreen—I use Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen every day. It’s a gel, and it’s so matte—it makes putting on a BB cream afterwards amazing, because it tones down the shine a little bit. I used to use Image, which I still really like, but it has a bit more of a sunscreen smell and texture. I have a lot of other products that I use occasionally. Sometimes I'll use a natural toner after the P50, like cucumber or witch hazel, because I like the smell. I’m using this Dr. Perricone moisturizer, which I like because it’s not greasy. One thing I will purchase again is Vintner’s Daughter—sometimes I use that in lieu of moisturizer. I love the smell, I love the way it goes on my skin—I feel like a little baby when I wake up.

I use a Bareminerals BB Cream. I’ve tried a ton of different ones, but I always come back to that one. It’s extremely hydrating, it goes on really smooth—you can almost never tell that I’m wearing it, but it just evens my skin tone. I use a concealer from It Cosmetics—I hate their branding, but it was recommended to me by my friend. I needed to buy one of those blend-y sponges for it, and I probably use it once a week, but it blends in really well and doesn’t feel chalky. I wear Boy Brow on my brows, in Brown. I like that it kind of keeps them together, especially since I’m not a frequent eyebrow groomer. For my lashes I wear Diorshow mascara. I love the brush—it defines each lash very nicely—and I use the waterproof because I cry a lot. [Laughs] Benetint used to be my go-to product, but I don’t use it anymore because it stained my fucking clothes! It would get on my shit every time I opened the dumb bottle. Now I have a Nars Orgasm stick that I use in the winter when I need a bit more color. Even if I’m not wearing any other makeup, I’ll wear lipstick—it’s kind of the first and only thing that I really, truly need. If my whole makeup bag went missing and I could only buy one product, it would be a red lipstick. Lipstick makes me feel good—a little bit fancier, a little more put together. I like putting it on before yoga. I also like the Glossier lipstick a lot. The Nars lipsticks and pencils are really good too. They’re creamy and they stay on—it’s important to me that lipsticks stay on forever. I use a MAC product called Versicolour that goes on as a gloss, but mattifies as it dries and doesn’t move. They actually discontinued it, which I’m really upset about. There's a Chanel lipstick that I love putting on—it is very glamorous and it feels luxe, but it never stays. I started wearing lipstick when I stopped going into the kitchen every day—especially in restaurant kitchens, it felt inappropriate. You didn’t have to be one of the guys, but you also didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that you weren’t. Nowadays I think women feel more empowered to be feminine in a kitchen.

I’ve been blonde for five or six years. I just needed a change, and I was like, ‘Let’s see what happens!’ My best friend’s sister did it in her apartment in LA on New Year’s Eve—she just bleached the shit out of my hair. It was really brassy, my hair was the wrong length for it… It wasn’t until I got back to New York and started seeing somebody [that I liked it]. My friend Robbie works at a salon called Damian West in the West Village, and she’s great with color. I think she just knows that I like a sandy brindle color with a dark root. I’m on a quest to find a really good shampoo and conditioner. I tried out the Prose one, and I think it’s bullshit—great packaging, great idea, but it doesn’t work. I like the shampoo but not the conditioner, so I use a purple hair mask from Christophe Robin to compensate. Shelby at Suite Caroline cuts my hair, and I became addicted after she gave me some free samples of the mask. I also love dry shampoo. My favorite is from R+Co—I like the way it smells, and that it’s not powdery. I used to love Perfect Hair Day, but it’s too white. I have the sea salt mist from Ouai, and I use it when I get out of the shower. It kind of helps my hair from being too frizzy. My hair is naturally a little wavy—I don’t know how to blow it out, so if I ever have to have it down for a shoot I always get a blowout.

I wear Everyday Oil on my body, on my face, and on my hair—all the parts. It’s not super expensive, and I love the way it smells. I don’t wear fragrance, I just use that. I do have essential oils that I’ll carry with me, from Enchantments in the East Village. It’s a store you go into to get tarot cards, incense, and candles made for you with intentions—it’s old-school East Village, not this bullshit new-wave garbage. There’s one called Rebirth that I love the smell of—it’s not super long-lasting like a fragrance, but it’s a nice way to leave the house. And then in the shower I’ll do Dr. Bronner’s first and then the Glossier body oil wash.

Every two weeks I get a gel manicure because I’m doing a lot of photoshoots for the cookbook, and most of them are involving my hands. I got this one on Sunday, and it’s already chipped because Monday was such an intense shoot day—just a lot of washing hands, opening jars. Your nails take a beating doing things like that. I usually either do an orangey red or a burgundy, but always a variation of red. I tried to do other colors, like pinks or whites or blues, but my hands always look crazy to me. So, it’s always red."

—as told to ITG

Alison Roman photographed by Tom Newton in Brooklyn on August 30, 2018.