Bon Appetit’s Andy Baraghani on Storytelling, Pride, and Larb
Humans tell stories using all sorts of different tools: with their hands, through pictures, through dance. Andy Baraghani, Senior Food Editor of Bon Appétit and Healthyish, tells his stories — and helps to share the stories of others — through food (hence the job title, although he’s an impressive cook, as well), and with words that not only bring culinary dishes to life, but celebrate the culture, identity, and life behind a dish.
As a former stylist’s assistant, Baraghani also knows a thing or two about story-telling through clothes. We kicked off our conversation about personal style given the setting, and from there, Baraghani talked about the power of platform: to share new perspectives, encourage deeper understanding, to raise awareness around issues that deserve support and attention. He also offered up a no-frills recipe for weeknight spicy pork larb, and somehow — maybe because he’s a professional? — made it sound easy. Dig in.
Bonobos: When did you establish your sense of style?
Baraghani: I was pretty experimental at a young age, starting with my purple turtleneck. From there, even in middle school, high school, I had different phases of black nail polish, mohawk, girl’s jeans; it’s also the particular music I was listening to. Then [I] went, I wouldn’t say preppy, but a little bit more cleaned up for a period of time. When I moved to New York, I was in college. It was still a little bit more of a west coast vibe. Not even west coast, like northwest: a lot of flannels, t-shirts, Vans. Once I got into fashion, I assisted a stylist for who worked for Purple and GQ Style. I was just playing around again. I was buying weird stuff, high-end stuff. There was a specific look I was going for, but then I realized, I am not the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; these clothes need to be on someone who’s six feet tall.
In the last four years, I’ve gotten to a pretty good place. It’s a little more cleaned up, it’s a lot of trousers. I used to have twenty pairs of jeans; don’t really wear jeans anymore. (I have a couple, but they’re a very relaxed fit.) I go for a lot of trousers, some chinos, and then a good amount of clean button-downs. When it comes to clothes, I want you to notice them, [but] I don’t want you to be distracted.
What’s your go-to, I’m-tired cooking meal?
I have this one dish…this is on a weeknight when I’m tired. Here’s my recipe for my spicy pork larb: You’re going to take a large skillet, throw in a couple tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add 4 garlic cloves (that you smashed). Throw it in the pan, and as soon as they get a little golden, after about a minute or so, add in a pound of ground meat. That can be pork, chicken, lamb, or beef. You’re just going to start stirring the ground meat constantly and breaking it down into small pieces until there are no more pink spots. This will happen pretty quickly.
Then you’re going to toss in a four or five thinly-sliced scallions. Add a pinch of sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce. This is essential. Remove the pan off heat and season with a touch of salt and then mix, at least one fresh chile (Thai chiles are ideal), and a rather large handful of herbs (mint, cilantro, and basil are my go-to). Squeeze the juice from two limes and toss once more. And that’s pretty much it. You could serve it with rice. I like it with cabbage cups. If you have some peanuts, throw [them] in there. It should hit on all the salty, fatty, sour notes.
So much of your job is about telling stories through food. What are the kinds of stories you want to tell?
I think what I’m trying to do, in my own way, is bring more people to the conversation, to the table, to understand each other through food and culture, so that our readers, our listeners, can have a better understanding, a deeper understanding, or just learn something completely new. We have a new video series that’s going to come out in July called “The World’s Kitchen.” I’m going to do a deep dive into different foods from different cultures: regional foods, dishes, ingredients, techniques. [I’ll talk] to a lot of people who are from those regions or who have studied that food for a very long time, and it’s very exciting.
On my end, I identify as being first generation Iranian-American. I definitely want people to know what that food is and what it looks like, but my interpretation of it is not necessarily what my mother or grandmother or a lot of Iranians grew up with. I think it’s one thing to know those dishes and flavors, but it’s another thing to get people to make it. I think that’s a big part of my job. You could develop the most amazing recipe, but if no one’s going to cook it, then you pretty much failed.
At the same time, being gay, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s [thinking about] how we get more people [from that community] on video, on the website, in the magazine, in that sense. Sometimes, it’s not always my food or my writing, but seeing how can I get more of that in the space where I work.
Are you or Bon Appétit doing anything for Pride Month specifically? Will you be here in New York for the parade?
We’re doing a big celebration on Bon Appétit’s website and social media channels in that regard, [and] I will host an Instagram Story for Pride on Saturday.
There is no other place I’d rather be [than New York] for Pride. It feels good, I think maybe more than any other year, because of World Pride. Being in New York, everybody seems to have so much pride, whether it’s brands or advertisers or just people in the community. Can things be better? Yes. Can companies donate 100% of their [proceeds], rather than 20%? Absolutely! I think it’s very easy to do something during the month of June. It’s harder to do something for the whole year, or [to] do a project that really benefits that community for the long run and not just for the short run, and really think about where that money goes to. So I challenge people and companies in that regard. If you want to donate, there’s The Trevor Project, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and National Center for Transgender Equality.
I would also push … people who do have a platform, whether it is on social media, or other kinds of media, [to] really speak out and speak up on what you can do so that other people are aware. Being aware is huge, and creating a dialogue and communication is just as important as donating money. It really is.
People need to have those uncomfortable conversations. And that has to do with so many issues, whether it has to do with the LGBTQ+ community, or whether it’s about Women’s Rights and abortion. Whether it’s about Trans Rights. There are so many issues, and in order to address them we need to start by talking about them. If the people in the room, people in the conversation, are not feeling a little uncomfortable, then you’re not having the right conversation.
Photos by Liam Goslett