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March 27, 2024 25 mins

Minnie questions Sophia Roe, James Beard Award winning chef, writer, and TV host. Sophia shares why she loves when people ask for substitutions in their meal, what she learned from her mother’s substance abuse and struggles as a parent, and gives an answer to “what relationship defines love” that is one of Minnie’s favorite answers in the history of the show.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
I have to tell you my mother. My mother was
a great cook, and she used to go, your elbow
taste good if you're deep fried.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
It, see's right.

Speaker 1 (00:11):
So now we go when we're like at anywhere where
it's shit food, when it's deep fried and we're all
eating it, we're like deep fried elbow.

Speaker 2 (00:19):
That's true. Now when all fails, you just drop into
deep fryer and it's all going to be fine.

Speaker 1 (00:25):
Hello, I'm mini driver. I've always loved Preust's questionnaire. It
was originally in nineteenth century parlor game where players would
ask each other thirty five questions aimed at revealing.

Speaker 3 (00:37):
The other player's true nature.

Speaker 1 (00:39):
In asking different people the same set of questions, you
can make observations about which truths appear to be universal.
And it made me wonder, what if these questions were
just the jumping off point, what greater depths would be
revealed if I asked these questions as conversation starters. So
I adapted Prus' questionnaire and I wrote my own seven
questions that I personally think are pertinent to a person's story.

Speaker 3 (01:02):
They are when and where were you happiest?

Speaker 1 (01:05):
What is the quality you like least about yourself? What relationship,
real or fictionalized, defines.

Speaker 2 (01:11):
Love for you?

Speaker 3 (01:11):
What question would you most like answered, What person, place,
or experience has shaped you the most? What would be
your last meal? And can you tell me something in
your life that's grown out of a personal disaster? And
I've gathered a group of really remarkable people, ones that
I am honored and humbled to have had the chance

(01:32):
to engage with. You may not hear their answers to
all seven of these questions. We've whittled it down to
which questions felt closest to their experience or the most surprising,
or created the most fertile.

Speaker 1 (01:45):
Ground to connect. My guest today is the James Beard
Award winning chef, writer, and TV host Sophia Row. Sophia
produced and hosted the Emmy nominated show Counterspace, where she
used food to explore a changing world world. She won
the James Beard Award as an Emerging Voice in Broadcast
Media and was notably the first black woman to be

(02:06):
nominated in that category. Her main mission is to demonstrate
how food is both political and artistic. She grew up
with food insecurity when she was a child. She's really
passionate about and really adept at raising awareness about people
who are going hungry. Sophia currently lives in New York
and works out of this extraordinary culinary studio called Apartment Miso,

(02:29):
where she cooks, makes films, and develops recipes. Her food
is playful, creative, and visually beautiful, and it was an
absolute pleasure to talk to her. I'm really so happy
to meet you and so happy to talk about food
with you, and thank you for coming on first and foremost.

Speaker 2 (02:49):
Of course even of course, are you kiddie? This is like,
this is the best part of my month. So trust
I'm thrilled to be here. This is great, so nice
to talk to you.

Speaker 1 (02:59):
So nice as you are you currently in Brooklyn? Are
you in your famous apartment?

Speaker 2 (03:03):
So I'm in my apartment. But it's interesting A lot
of people don't know this, but my food content is
not shot in my physical home. I have a studio.
I have a culinary studio, so I keep it all separate,
mostly for my sanity.

Speaker 1 (03:15):
That's very smart.

Speaker 2 (03:16):
No, that's like my office. And I think a lot
of people have offices, but like in my office, I
cook in my office. So my studio is in an
area of Brooklyn called Bushwick, and I live in Williamsburg,
so I mean fifteen minutes. I could walk to my studio.
I could take the train, I could take a bike,
I could drive. It's so close. But I try to
keep my actual home very much just for me. I

(03:38):
do cook a lot in here, but everything you see
on the internet happens in my studio.

Speaker 1 (03:46):
What quality do you like least about yourself?

Speaker 2 (03:50):
Oh, I'm so critical. I want so so desperately to
be less. So I want to be less of a
perfectionist so much. I don't want to sit on concepts
or ideas for years because they're not perfect yet. I
just want to get it out there because I feel
like what's behind those ideas are just better ideas, So
I just need to push them out. Resist this consistent

(04:14):
temptation to just like tw tweak tweak, tweak, tweak, and
just know and trust that this is amazing, this is great,
and it's not going to be your only great thing.
There's going to be a million other great things.

Speaker 1 (04:24):
I just wrote that down. What's behind the ideas are
better ideas. I could take that to be super positive,
or I could take that to also be super hypocritical.
I think that's a very creative person's quandary because you
really can argue it both ways. It's difficult to know
when to say when and go na, na, No, we've
arrived at a good iteration of this. I need to
commit to that and not keep probing or questioning.

Speaker 2 (04:48):
Yes, because what can happen is you can confuse yourself
and make it feel like, oh, I'm just reevaluating. But
before you know it, the thing that you're that's so great,
that's so beautiful, just becomes something else. So at what point,
like instead of turning it into something else, let's put
it out and then work on something else. And so
I'm always trying to kind of I don't want to
say pull back, just step back, like for what this is,

(05:10):
this is great, and this other thing that you want
to change about it, Let's just create something new after
we put this out. Let's just put this out and
then like make a new project. Like us chefs get
kind of wrapped up and like we want to do
all the ideas that we have at once, because there's
so many ideas, and I think it's really important to
remember that that's what new projects are for, exactly, you know,

(05:30):
other ideas and other moments.

Speaker 1 (05:32):
When you feel that you are being hypocritical of yourself
or your work. Do you have like a ritual or
a protocol that will help you get out of that? Oh?

Speaker 2 (05:41):
Yeah, there's things I say to myself, like, Sophia, we're
going to stop here. This is me loving you, like
loving myself, like me loving myself right now is like
we're actually just going to put this away. Oh what
a terrible joy it is to be in a situation
where you feel like you need to just like keep
shifting it. This is it's like not even a real problem.

(06:01):
This is not a real problem. You're taking a really
great thing and asking yourself how you can make it better?
Why is that important? Why is better important? In this moment? Right?
This is already great, you know. And that always leads
me to like, oh, you're trying to be perfect.

Speaker 1 (06:15):
Hmmm, that's interesting.

Speaker 2 (06:17):
You're trying to be perfect, and that's actually not what
people are asking for, you know what I mean. No
one's asking for perfect.

Speaker 1 (06:24):
Appslutely, that's a very good thing to remember. No one
is asking for perfect. Okay, I'm now I'm writing that
down to That would make my day so much easier
and shorter. If I could do that, I'm literally going
to put that on a tent card on my desk.
No one is asking for perfect and because it's like
but oh yeah, no they're not. No one's asking for it.

(06:50):
Where and when were you happiest?

Speaker 2 (06:52):
For the time I read that question, where and when
was I happiest? I'm like happy recently happy in my life.
Happy is also a thing I'm consistently chasing what that
feels like. I think I'm probably the happiest one. I'm
not really thinking about anybody else's opinion, Like, I think
I'm probably the most happy when I wake up and

(07:13):
I just decide what I'm going to do about my day,
and I'm not worried about what my manager thinks I
should be doing, or what a friend thinks I should
be doing, or what a person around me thinks I
should be doing. I'm most happy when I wake up
and I have all the conviction in the world to
just do exactly what I want to do.

Speaker 1 (07:30):
That's so interesting because what is excuse the pun, quite
literally baked into what you do is the approbation of
other people and them finding what you do quite literally delicious.
So is that part of your personality. You find something
like that kind of the hard iteration of something, but
you lean into it by finding moments that you do
just make yourself happy rather than everybody else.

Speaker 2 (07:52):
I mean, I think there's this deep need for me
to make other people happy, but I wouldn't say that
that's the thing that makes me happiest. You know, it
makes me very happy to feed people. It makes me
very happy to give people exactly what they want. I
think I'm kind of like the anti chef in a
lot of ways, Whereas like you go to a restaurant
and the restaurant's very much like no substitutions, and this

(08:13):
is chef's menu for me. I'm the kind of person
who's like, I actually want to make what you want
to eat, So like I'm down for substitutions, Like I'm
down for someone to walk in and say, can we
do this with no tomatoes? Like I really enjoy that
about people. I enjoy people's preferences Like that makes me happy.
But in that I'm kind of like doing what I want.
But there's freedom in that, you know, to like try

(08:36):
something new, Like actually, I've never made this the way
this person wants it, so let me try that out, Like,
that's fun. You know, I've never made sushi without fish before.
Let's do that.

Speaker 1 (08:45):
That's cool, you know what I'm saying. I do. I
like it because it's the same thing with a director,
Like a director wants you to do something a certain way,
and you can get all esteemed and I've spent months
thinking about this and I want to do it this way,
or you can kind of go, well, I got the
bones of that, like that's there anyway, So trying it
another way is invariably interesting. But you kind of have

(09:05):
to consciously lean into that and not push up against it.
And I do think a lot of actors and I
think probably a lot of chefs that you said, they
do push up against that notion of I don't want
to do it another way. It's my way. But you're right,
this freedom and happiness and letting go of that, I guess.

Speaker 2 (09:20):
I just when I think about waking up and kind
of doing what I want to do, like really it's discovery,
you know, Like I'm really into fried deserts right now,
so I just want to go in my studio and
just like do fried desserts and what will happen? Sort
of by proxy is I'll end up in this place
that is a really good place, and that's the editable place.
I post something about funnel cake, and I get messages

(09:41):
on like can we make this vegan? Can we make
this with nuts? Can we do this with this kind
of curd?

Speaker 1 (09:46):
You know?

Speaker 2 (09:46):
And then it becomes collaborative and it becomes free, and
like that's another level of happy. But I think the
core of the happiness is waking up and deciding on
we're doing fried desserts. Like that's the juice that I
need to get to instead of waking up and having
per as. So much of my life is parameters. You know,
so much is like feeding this many people, but you
have this much heat, you have this much counter space,

(10:07):
you have this much refrigeration. I just think it's nice
to wake up and be like, you know what, I'm
just gonna go in my space and like feel it out.
Like that is a really happy place for me.

Speaker 1 (10:15):
I love that. I love that. I love that it's
connected with what you do. This is a good question
for you. What would be your last meal?

Speaker 2 (10:28):
So I know I was thinking about this. I'm like,
is this a good question? Is this like the hardest question? Ever, Okay,
I the best meal for me would be something so
hearty and just so rich and something that sticks to
my bones because I'm about to just not even be
aware of my bones anymore. Like I just want to
feel so stuffed. I want like a stew. I want

(10:50):
something that's been in the oven for three days. I
want like short rib falling off the bone. I want
potatoes just over like rice. I want car rice, like
like potatoes on.

Speaker 1 (11:04):
Rice or palenta.

Speaker 2 (11:07):
Yes's like fakacha on the side, you know, Like, I
just want something that is going to just like be
the perfect, most filling, delicious bite I've ever had. I'm
not concerned with it being healthy. I'm not concerned with
what it's going to do to me. It's my last meal,
you know, Like I just want it to just a
bite that will spiritually take my shirt off.

Speaker 1 (11:30):
Because I'm going to eat and get naked. That's how
I'm going out. That's it.

Speaker 2 (11:37):
Like a bite that says so like be in a
circle with me, and whatever that is. I don't know
many like I'm reaching.

Speaker 1 (11:43):
No, no, no, I'm so with you in the circle
of death with your short rim and your potatoes over rice.
Are joking I'm there. I'm starving. I can't wait to
eat that. I just love it. Now, what am I
going to cook on Instagram that's going to want to
make them all take their shirts off?

Speaker 2 (11:59):
Listen? I asked my questions.

Speaker 1 (12:01):
Knows, it's a whole new question. I'm just going to
be thinking about that. It's a very good barometer.

Speaker 2 (12:05):
Like what's going to make my unled life really get going?
I think about my unled lives a lot, like I
could have ended up doing that. I could have ended
up doing that, like what would they want to eat?
You know, so like different versions of myself. But I'm
constantly thinking and questioning about who I want to feed
and why.

Speaker 1 (12:20):
Hmmm. But I think that's good questions. I think that's
a very interesting question for a chef to have, not
like what am I cooking to impress? But like who
do I want to cook for? What am I giving?
What am I feeding? Quite literally? Yes? Good good questions.

(12:48):
What relationship, real or fictionalized, defines love for you?

Speaker 2 (12:54):
Okay, so a fictional one. I have this idea. So
I grew up really food and secure, and my mom
is a substance abuser and my real dad never met
him before he died, I have no idea who he is.
So I had this idea in my head from like
kind of a younger age for whatever reason, that Freddie
Mercury was my dad and Donna Summer was my mom.

(13:14):
I don't know why, but like to me, those felt
like the best parents I could have ever imagined, Donna
with this hair and Freddy with this voice. So for me,
like that relationship, like those are just my dream parents.
Many I can't describe it to you like I sometimes
I imagine feeding them or talking to them, or like
I just you know, it's so strange and it's star

(13:36):
both of them are no longer with us, but I
just imagine that they would have loved each other a
lot and coincidentally loved me too, you.

Speaker 1 (13:45):
Know, honestly, in three years of doing this, that is
hands down my favorite answer. Like it's so arresting that
that's what defines love for you, like that they exist,
these people that I can also tune into, like my
love of friend Emocury, in my love of Donna Sama,
and the idea of them as a carful is now
so delightful.

Speaker 2 (14:04):
I know, I know, is it gorgeous.

Speaker 1 (14:07):
But also like so interesting because you know, you dropped
a lot of information in that, Like there's a huge
amount of what I suppose it's probably deemed really painful
history and to go, there's this joyful reimagining of what
is very painful, which I feel like we could do
that a lot more in our lives. Go yeah, this happened,
this is this thing, But here is this other definition.

(14:29):
And not only that you can say it's unlikely, but
it's not. This is my definition of what love would
look like or what love looks like.

Speaker 2 (14:37):
Yes, I don't really know anything about my dad, and
instead of just being sad about it, I could just
imagine what we would have shared and what we would
have talked about, and what a dream dad looks like
for me? Is Freddy Like that is my dream dad,
Like in all the ways, that's like my dream voice,
the way that he looks at the work that he does,
and that kind of work ethic and the creativity and
the artistry, but also the fun and the glamor. I

(15:00):
would have loved to have a dad like that. And
the same with Donna. She struggled a lot with her
mental health and same and I think that it just
I imagine that they would have understood the struggles that
I went through. And also I feel like a fair
bit of even just the way they look even could
have maybe looked like me. Like there's something in them
that I really see myself in. And they just made

(15:21):
me feel really loved when I listen to their work.
And again, it's a totally fictional relationship in all the
ways it could be. They are not my parents, they
were not married.

Speaker 1 (15:31):
But yeah, but that's very literally the notion of telling
a different story. I'm a big believer in re fictionalizing
hardshit in our lives. Yes, I write a memoir and
I'm writing a novel. And what's so interesting is that
you totally cannibalize your life and your stories. It's not
those people, but it is. And then I can shave

(15:52):
off the harsh corners that I wish weren't there, and
I can reimagine what the story would be with a
character who absolutely existed in my life, but I can
put them in. I think ecologically it's an incredibly healthy
thing to do. You read all the lines of your story, right,
why not?

Speaker 2 (16:05):
Yeah, Like they're perfect people, and I guess I'm just thinking,
like I don't know like an alley is dark and
still without weather if you want it to be, but
the alley at the other end of it can be
like bright and rainbows and whatever. And I think I
already know the childhood that I had, and it was
pretty dark and stormy and not great. And so I

(16:25):
think when I imagine my dream, it looks big and joyful
and intense and just has everything that I just didn't have.
And I don't know. There are definitely times where even
in my mind, I convinced myself like that's what you
got going on, like those are the dream parents. Let's
lead with that energy even though they weren't real, and agree,

(16:47):
it's very much helps me in my work. It helps
my work, helps me sleep, you know, so all.

Speaker 1 (16:53):
Of the most important things and that idea, by the
way of leading with that energy, of choosing what that
is yourself, that's amazing. I love it. What question which
you most like answered?

Speaker 2 (17:11):
I mean I think about this in like two camps.
It's like my personal questions in my life. And then
there's like these like big existential questions like why does
death exist? Why can't we live forever? There's those things.
But I think in my own life It's like I
wish I understood, like why my childhood was the way
that it was. I wish I knew if my dad
really cared about me. I wish I knew if he didn't.

Speaker 1 (17:35):
Why do you think the why? What do you think
the why would do? Like, what do you think it
would do if you got the answer to that?

Speaker 2 (17:43):
It's interesting many because like I know that it really
it wouldn't. I mean, I'm here, here, I am, It
wouldn't make a difference. It wouldn't make my life any different, right, Like,
I think it's just the knowing of it. I think
that would be really nice to just know. Thinking about
if my dad actually cared about me does not keep
me up night. I'm fine, I'm okay, I'm an adult,
I'm here. I'm happy with Freddy being my imaginary father.

(18:06):
But I think it would just kind of help me
understand and like maybe rationalize or maybe like a younger person,
rationalize myself. I also understand it's like a really selfish question,
like of all the questions that you could possibly ask, No,
that's the question. It's so selfish.

Speaker 1 (18:20):
It's not I don't think it is. First of all,
it's your answer and I think when you've lived so
long with a why that feels like a missing piece,
it's totally natural that that would be the question. The
only reason I ask is because I remember when, in
the depths of just profound heartbreak and the dissolution of
a really long relationship with someone that I loved who

(18:41):
just turn out to be an absolute ass, I asked
the therapist why, like why why why? As like clutching
at straws, and I remember her saying, if I could
answer that for you, it wouldn't change anything at all.
And I sort of held on to that like a
life raft because it wasn't ultimately satisfying, because I did
want to know why. But there was something about letting

(19:02):
go of the mental anguish of that why and actually
embracing the isness, which was super painful, but that did
actually evolve. The why never evolved, but the isness of
my life did, which was interesting. And I feel like,
quite clearly yoursiness is Donna and Freddy. It does feel
like you lead with their energy.

Speaker 2 (19:21):
I do. I mean, I guess maybe it's like this
ecstasy of expectation. What is the answer I'm expecting. There's
something alluring about a question I can't get answered, and
so that's maybe why I can't let it go.

Speaker 1 (19:31):
That's interesting.

Speaker 2 (19:32):
Yeah, there's something primordial about a question you know you'll
never get answered. There's something about it that gets me
kind of fired up. And so that's why it's like
hard to let go of. I know the answer won't
make a difference, and I know I'll never.

Speaker 1 (19:45):
Know because you have to radically live in acceptance. You
have to radically surrender, yes, and that's really hard. But also, ultimately,
clearly what I don't know whatever one calls the universe,
God's source, whatever, that's clearly the we're here in our
little biospheres of existence, and then that's over. I like
the idea of living in that the weird, vastness of

(20:07):
our ignorance me too, which is something a neuroscientist came
on this show and said, and I haven't been able
to forget it, so I'll share that with you.

Speaker 2 (20:15):
That's an amazing thing.

Speaker 1 (20:16):
Yeah, it's good. What person, place, or experience most altered

(20:38):
your life?

Speaker 2 (20:40):
Person? Oh my god, I mean my mom has definitely
altered my life in a really big way. I mean,
my mom is just a disaster, just a horrible mom
but also like my greatest inspiration at the same time
just inspires me to be absolutely not a thing like her,
but also in a way did her best, even the

(21:00):
struggles with substance abuse and the struggles with just her
own universe. I think hindsight is interesting when you look
back and you know she had multiple kids when she
was in her young twenties and struggling with substance abuse
and struggling with abuse from men, from physical abuse, It's like, yeah,
in a way, like my mom kind of did the
best that she could right and a time where there

(21:21):
was no the treatment. What was treatment? Did my mom
need to be like arrested for being a drug editor?
Did she need treatment? But no one was going to
provide that. She couldn't afford that, you know. So I
think my mom is definitely a person that's had an
incredible impact on who I try to be, who I
want to be. She is that crux of like be
anything but that learn from that, learn from her as

(21:42):
a mom, and in that way she's been a great mom.

Speaker 1 (21:45):
So it's like by default, really, but how did you
emerge from that into a person who gets to explore
their creativity, who gets to bring something unique and different
and super articulate to a lot of people. How did
you come out of that?

Speaker 2 (22:00):
I mean, I don't know. It didn't start out the plan.
I'll say that it's like I was a nineteen year
old who just needed a job. Someone please hire me.
I mean, listen, I was a cook back when it
wasn't cool to be a cook, right Like I remember
back at two thousand and nine telling people that I
worked in a restaurant and want to be a chef
and they were like why, Like it was not it
didn't have the allure. I think what keeps me going
now is like, I have siblings. I have a great

(22:22):
relationship with my little sister, and we share those mom wounds.
We both have been through a lot. I think talking
about it, being open about it, my mom is still alive.
My mom is here. She's got plenty of mental health issues,
and she's got plenty of things that she struggles with.
And I think that it's acknowledging that my mom is
not a good mom and maybe in a lot of

(22:42):
times not a good person, but worthy of redemption. Has
been instrumental in my forgiving her and instrumental in my
loving her. My mom did horrific things to me and
my siblings, and I still love her. You know, she's
still my mom. She's so worthy of redemption just like
anyone else. None of us should be the sum of

(23:04):
our worst moments, even if our worst moments were literally
like thirty plus years of being a mom. My mom
teaches me about forgiveness. She teaches me about gratitude, and
so that's what I mean, Like, I have this fairly
complicated thing with her, Yeah, and with my gratitude. It's
like Michael J. Fox said, with gratitude, your optimism is sustainable, right,
That's how you keep those things sustainable. And I believe that,

(23:27):
you know, I try to be optimistic about the destructive,
toxic relationship that my mom has bestowed upon me. I'm
still trying to be optimistic about it and have gratitude
for it, because at the end of the day, what
else is there. My life is good now, my little
sisters were good. Now we're okay, we're on the other

(23:47):
side of that. But if given the relationship that had
the biggest impact on me, it's my mom's. Like that
relationship is the sinkhole that I was trying desperately to
swim out of and so instead of just running away
from it, I just acknowledge it's there, and then it
can't hurt me anymore.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
Yeah, exactly. And you don't actively jump in it.

Speaker 2 (24:03):
We don't jump in it. We definitely don't jump in
We don't jump in it. But I mean, if there's
a place that's had a big impact on me, it's
New York. New York has made me this person that's
comfortable to talk about where I came from. New York
is this place where every kind of person in the
world exists on top of one another. You have a
person that is experiencing homelessness sitting next to a woman
that's carrying a burkin. They're on the same train, headed

(24:25):
in the same direction, get off on the same stop. Right.
New York really teaches you that you are just one
of many. It taught me how to be part of
an organism again, and that had a really great impact
on me. You know, we all actually need each other,
whether we believe.

Speaker 1 (24:39):
It or not. Amen, that's really good to be reminded
of that. I'm glad you got to feel part of
an organism again. That's really cool, Sophia. I can't thank
you enough. Thank you for just being so candid and
amazing and talking so beautifully about all of these hard
and wonderful things.

Speaker 2 (24:56):
Thank you, of course, thank you for having me the
best part of my day.

Speaker 1 (25:03):
Mini Questions is hosted and written by Me Mini Driver,
Executive produced by Me and Aaron Kaufman, with production support
from Jennifer Bassett, Zoey Denkler, and Ali Perry. The theme
music is also by Me and additional music by Aaron Kaufman.
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