Julia Sherman, aka Salad for President, is a Los Angeles-based artist, writer, cook and photographer. Sherman’s first book, Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists, was published in 2017. To celebrate the launch of her second book, the brand new Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook, we teamed up with Sherman to create not one, but two limited edition collaboration vinegars: a hyper-limited Salad Garden Living Vinegar, and an amazingly delicious Saffron Tomato Living Vinegar that you can get along with her new book today as part of the Arty Parties Gift Set.
To learn more about Arty Parties and how our collabs took shape, we sat down with Sherman for a wide-ranging chat touching on all things arty and acidic. Read on to join the salad cult.
Your new book, Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook, is out now! What’s it about?
I've been working on this for like four years. We are serial hosts in our house and always looking for ways to keep it interesting and keep it fresh. But when I looked at the other entertaining books out there, they all presented this very unattainable and very vanilla version of entertaining. And when I looked at what my friends and other artists tend to do, what we try to do in our house without even thinking about it, is to have entertaining become an opportunity to experiment and do something you've never done before. Get other people to help make some things together, to contribute in some way making it more of an inclusive, if sometimes challenging, messy, and harrowing endeavor. So that's where the vibe of the book came from, and then to illustrate that I went around and documented a lot of artists’ parties.
But it’s also a cookbook, so what about the recipes?
All the recipes are meant to be pretty accessible—things that I think anybody could throw together for a party. But I think that there's always this notion around entertaining and publishing that you should make it easy, but I kind of feel like if you're not working, you're probably not doing a good job. I like the work of entertaining, I like the work of feeding my friends and trying something new and I don't try to pretend to tell you that it's easy. It's a lot but it's worth it.
Speaking of things that aren’t necessarily easy but are worth it, we worked together on these two collab vinegars and there’s no doubt it took a lot of time and effort on both sides but what appealed to you about that creative process?
I think people who like to do things the long way find other people who are also meticulous and understand the value of trying something new and getting out of your comfort zone. I definitely think that as a company, just looking at your product line alone that's very, very apparent. I get sent a lot of products and I'm not a big product person—I try to keep things like pretty elemental in the kitchen—but when I got the Acid League vinegars I was so excited about them. Being able to use them as a drink or be able to use them in salad dressing or whatever like it wasn't asking me to make something totally different. It was just giving a little more of an edge or something more exciting to what I was already doing. I went through them so quickly. Your use of ingredients really spoke to me—I mean they're as varied and interesting as what I grow in my garden.
I knew I wanted to make something that can go along with the book, and this is something that I would gift to someone else, that I would love to receive, that feels like it’s easy to incorporate into your cooking but also something really special that you might not buy for yourself.
You mentioned your garden and as anyone who follows you on Instagram knows, it’s amazing. One of the first times we talked we took a little tour through the garden and it was such an inspiration for the collaborations that developed. But you grew up in New York City, so how did the gardening bug hit you?
I've always loved salad and so I think that led me to thinking a lot about raw ingredients, and as an artist I feel like that comes really naturally. You think a lot about your materials and so the kind of the endless learning opportunities that come with paying attention to where your food comes from and what you're eating appealed to me. When we first moved to LA, I just started growing things. I mean it was so easy here you know, so we find something sprouting in our compost and just like put it in the ground and all of a sudden it’s a squash. That sort of magic was really contagious so I started just experimenting and I think what I really love about it is that it feels like a discipline that will carry me throughout my entire life and I'll never get bored of it. Sometimes it just totally doesn't work, sometimes you get something you really didn't intend, and then sometimes you get something that you're just like I feel like the most incredible person on earth because I just grew African cherry tomatoes or whatever. I also just need to be busy all the time and there's always something that needs to be done in the garden. It's like an endless project and it's so cool when you find something that you know you'll never get bored of.
One of our collaborations, this super limited edition Salad Garden Living Vinegar is made with ingredients grown in your garden like celery, lovage, dandelion, basil, borage, garlic chives, and mustard. Do you think it captures the Salad for President salad garden experience?
Yeah, for sure. What I love about the Acid League vinegars is they often taste a lot like some of my best vinaigrettes but it’s just the vinegar. For a lot of people, I think the hurdle when it comes to making a really beautiful salad is that they're intimidated by making dressing, and with this you can just do vinegar and olive oil and you have something amazing that has all the character and depth of like a really beautiful mustard vinaigrette. I love how the mustard greens and the alliums really come through and it's kind of familiar but really complex at the same time, which I think is just like what the garden is.
Our other collaboration is the Saffron Tomato Living Vinegar, inspired by your recipe for Perennial Saffron Tomato Soup in the new book. What makes those flavors work together for you?
I love tomatoes and saffron. I love saffron and I find I use it so much because I love how it can go savory to sweet. You can use it I use it for cardamom tea, or in a rice dish, or in the saffron tomato stew. It’s floral and complex without being like grandma's underwear drawer smell you know? It's very earthy and it's really warm and I love that just a little bit goes a long way. It feels like sprinkling gold into anything that you're making. It's so versatile and it can kind of make this like deep rich underpinning to a dish.
I also believe that every single soup should be finished with some acid so this vinegar was like the perfect thing. Otherwise, I’ve just been eating it on tomatoes—it’s like tomatoes squared. Tomatoes are just this incredible seasonal thing that have this cycle to them where you get so excited about them and then they get really good and then you get totally sick of them if you're growing them yourself and you just feel like you force yourself to eat them at every single meal. What's so cool about the vinegar is it tastes like you're just biting into a fresh tomato. It doesn't taste like tomato concentrate or puree or anything it's like fresh, fresh, fresh tomato so as much as I love it now, I know I'm really going to love it in two months.
You mentioned adding acid to soups, but how else do you like to use acidity in your cooking?
I'm famous for telling everybody last minute when they show up to my house to stop by and get a lemon. I always need that last hit of acid. And then in our house we're big vinegar fans. My toddler just drinks vinegar, like seriously, I don't know if this is just her or other kids. She sits and begs me for the Acid League. So besides being entertainment for my child, I think that people really underestimate vinegar. They think of it as something you put on salad and that's where it belongs but it's actually such an important component to have any balanced dish. I finish pretty much everything with some form of acid. It adds that brightness and freshness that people don't know that they're missing a lot of time in their cooking.
Last question is one of our signatures. Can you share one of your favorite food memories—what we like to call flavor-tripping memories?
I’ll always remember going to Modena to see how balsamic is made. I visited this small family that has been doing it in their attic for like, a century or more. Their house was just filled with these casks, you know, DOP bottles of like $150 syrup. And we got to taste it in all different stages. It was so incredible, like, so incredible. It was this guy who had taken it over, he had married into the family and kind of inherited this last project. You can't just stop doing it when there's 100-year-old vinegar in your house, passed down from like great, great grandfathers. It was a really beautiful thing.
Photos by Emily Wren, Dayna Lowe, and Daniel Gordon.