Olga Massov of Sassy Radish
Olga Massov of Sassy Radish is a self-described “…Russian expat, by way of New England, with Southern inclinations”. She’s a passionate food writer who makes a killer Russian Porcini Barley Soup, can’t live without salt and likes her whiskey neat. I was fortunate enough to learn how she stays humble, works hard, and kicks some serious butt in the kitchen!
MM: You’ve just co-authored your first cookbook, The Kimchi Cookbook (I must pre-order mine asap!), and another that you’re working on with Iron Chef Marc Forgione. Your accomplishments are inspiring and admirable - its evident that being a food writer is part of your passion, and you’re now pursing it full-time. Was it a long road to get to where you are today?
OM: I suppose so. I spent ten years in finance, pretty unhappy without fully realizing it, before I made the leap to do this full time. I had a food blog for awhile, but for various reasons I was unable to pay much attention to it until fall of 2008. When I met my husband, he suggested I give food writing a go – he is a firm believer in following your passion – he’s been obsessed with weather since he was a little kid and now he writes about climate. I also got freakishly lucky in that I got sort of adopted by Melissa Clark who’s been a source of inspiration for years before I even met her. She’s been an incredible friend and mentor and, in fact, was the one who introduced me to Lauryn Chun, my Kimchi Cookbook co-author. I know that given that I’m “new” to this, there’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I’m not shying away from it. I don’t believe in overnight success. I believe in hard work, keeping your head down and getting rid of your pride. In this field particularly, you need to be willing/able to do lots of different jobs and just work hard. Be patient. Be humble. Try to surround yourself with smart, talented people who are better than you and who will challenge you and make you better. One of the things I’d like to do is to stage at a few restaurants and pick up some skills. I can’t afford culinary school and this is my way of learning. But since I’ve just had wrist surgery, I have to put the stage plans on the back burner for a bit.
MM: You’re a self-described “…Russian expat, by way of New England, with Southern inclinations”. Oh, and you love bourbon – my kind of gal! I love that your background translates into your recipes – what is your usual thought process when concocting these unique dishes?
OM: There’s really never a process, in that each recipe evolves organically. Sometimes it’s something I’ve eaten at a restaurant and become besotted with. Other times, it’s a nostalgic treat or a memory of growing up in Russia with pretty interesting culinary influences. Sometimes, I read about a recipe in a paper or a magazine or a blog, and then either want to make it or adapt it with my own twist. I’ve grown up with Russian food so it’s something that it’s immensely comforting and filling for me when I make it and eat it. When I was young, I really tried to move away from it, and assimilate, so I started cooking mostly American dishes. If it was Russian – it was not interesting, “cool” to eat. I was particularly that way about Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, and insisted on making only “traditional” American dishes. These days, one of our Thanksgiving mainstays, and one of the most popular dishes, is my Porcini Barley Soup, a family recipe, that works beautifully with Thanksgiving flavors, but is a very Russian soup. Or at least a soup I grew up with. I can’t say when my love of Southern food started, but it’s been there as long as I remember cooking in the US. As for bourbon, I’ve never really been into vodka and I really like having my liquor straight (when I do have it) and bourbon just lends itself to a nice sipping drink.
MM: Having the support of those around you is invaluable. You site your husband, Andrew, as one of the influencers in your decision to become a food writer and, lucky for us, turn Sassy Radish into a resource for creative and innovative dishes. Do you frequently bounce recipes off and rely on taste-testers, like your family and friends, to hone your craft?
OM: I ask Andrew questions all the time! I ask him what dishes he’d like to see, if something tastes good or needs another ingredient? He’s pretty good at directing my dishes in the right direction – he has a great palate. Other times, I’ll ask him what to make for dinner and he’ll shrug. I used to be a lot better at hosting dinner parties, having friends over, and using them as guinea pigs, but since I’ve been working as a food writer full time, it’s been really hard to find the time as I normally tend to work all the time! Plus we were planning a wedding last year and it was hard to get organized. I’d definitely bounce ideas off family more but they aren’t local so it’s a bit harder to do that.
MM: What is one ingredient, recipe, or cooking tool you can’t live without? Mine is Bourbon(!) what is yours?
OM: I don’t know if I can name an ingredient I can’t live without because I need at least a few for a meal. Salt, does that count? I feel like without salt, everything would taste so boring. But in general, I’ve pantry staples I can’t ever be without like garlic, capers, anchovies (salt again!), olive oil, good butter, good chile flake, cardamom, cumin… I like to have a well stocked pantry – gives me options on when I’m cooking.
All images courtesy of Sassy Radish.