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BOOKS Joey Skladany entertains, instructs in 'Basic Bitchen'
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2020-06-28

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With Basic Bitchen, Joey Skladany has probably put together one of the most entertaining cookbooks one might come across.

With recipes for items such as Antidepressant Red Velvet Cake Pops and entertaining stories, Skladany aims to connect readers and cooks with the basic pleasures of life. Skladany talked about his book, Pride—and lightning.

Windy City Times: How is quarantine life going?

Joey Skladany:It's fine! I'm staying with my family and parents. I was in New York for a spell and I flew back to Florida a little more than two weeks ago, and I did the whole quarantine thing. Now I can re-emerge and be an everyday human!

WCT: I saw your Instagram photo with the quarantine hair.

JS: Yeah—that got out of control. [Laughs] It was interesting.

WCT: Let's talk about your book. First of all, how did you come up with the title and, for our readers, what's a "basic bitch?"

JS: [Laughs] Well, it's been in the vernacular for a while. Well, "basic" initially has a negative connotation—like if someone's devoid of culture and is into doing only what's comfortable. But I flipped the script a little on that, and "basic" is now a term of endearment. I am a very complex individual, but I like to challenge myself by traveling and doing different things, so being basic is kind of a respite for me. It embodies what is comfortable to me, to the point where I don't have to worry about anything. So these are go-to dishes that are simple and that really hit the spot. So "basic" is almost very contradictory to who I am as a person.

As for the name, I have a background in entertainment and TV; I started as a publicist. Then I worked for Food & Wine, and then Chowhound. I look at cookbooks almost every single day, as people want me to look at theirs. And I would look at some and say, "Hmmm … this isn't really grabbing my attention." So many were aspirational instead of inspirational. And in my mind, I thought, "I just need to get back to basics." And I came up with "Basic Bitchen," but I thought it had to be trademarked; I looked it up, and it wasn't. Then, I logged onto GoDaddy and said, "Done!" [Laughs]

I felt there was a void in the cookbook world. I wanted to put out something that was told through a lens of humor and self-deprecation; I really my writing reflects who I am as a person. People don't want to be preached to; they have so little time, and they want the items to taste good.

WCT: The book has something for everyone, from vegans to full-blown carnivores to low- and high-carb items. How did you decide what recipes went into the cookbook?

JS: Again, I wanted to cater to every single type of eater. And because being basic is so universal, I wanted to make sure the food was as well. But if you think about a typical "basic bitch," that person is usually health-conscious but they're also willing to go out and drink a lot at brunch, so I have drink recipes. And they also have a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied.

I think the thing with being basic is that there's inclusivity—especially with me, as a gay man—and I would never want to put out a cookbook that ostracized a group of people because of a dietary restriction. I wanted this book to speak to everyone.

WCT: And part of the fun, for me, involves the names of some of these recipes. What, for example, is the story behind "I've Got My Shit Together" Strawberry Macarons?

JS: [Laughs] Yeah—that. Well, I've very type A and OCD. I'd like to think my shit together but, in actuality, we all don't. Macarons is probably the longest and most detailed recipe in the book, but here the measurements have to be precise. So if they come out right, the first thing I think is, "I've got my shit together." [Both laugh.]

WCT: Also, what about the "I'm So Artisanal!" Cobb Mason Jar Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing?

JS: Being a New Yorker, there are stereotypes about the artsy hipsters—and they pride in what they do, whether it's home-brewed beer or homemade kombucha. The term "artisanal," from a media perspective, has been synonymous with "Brooklyn-derived." It's, like, some people say, "I'm making my own ranch dressing. I'm so artisanal." It's about using an overused term—it's like "synergy," in the workplace.

WCT: Like the word "organic"…

JS: Yes. There are federal guidelines, but it stops at a certain point. I don't need organic Cheerios, you know? [The term] is definitely a marketing tool.

WCT: What was the toughest part of putting this book together?

JS: Oh, my gosh. I never second-guessed anything I put into the book, but because I'm so insanely type A, everything has to have a flow and a place—and I think that inhibited me in a lot of ways regarding the creative process. Also, the regimented schedule I use in my everyday life didn't always work in my favor when it came to the book, although it helped with deadlines and [the organization of] my thoughts. Then, I started a routine in which—every morning, for the first half-hour—I would bring my laptop into bed with me and just write, with a fresh mind; I just let it all flow and go back to see if anything made sense.

But when I'm in a zone and doing something creative like this… I was just craving an opportunity like this. It just felt so right.

WCT: With June being Pride Month, what does "pride" mean to you?

JS: It means complete and utter confidence in your own skin. As LGBTQ people, we grew up being so ostracized for our differences. Pride is about celebrating these amazing things that make us different, and using them for our advantage—not rejecting them. I always thought being labelled as gay would be detrimental to my career and life; it wasn't until my mid-20s when I was able to flip that script.

Being gay is a part of me and something I can use to my advantage—like surrounding myself with this amazing community of inspiring people. RuPaul said it best: "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?" It's important to achieve self-love and self-acceptance, and not giving a rat's ass what anybody else thinks because their opinions don't matter.

WCT: By the way, is it true you were once struck by lightning?

JS: Yes—well, indirectly. The summer before my freshman year in college, I was going out to get the mail and my dog was on a leash. Lightning struck the tree right next to me and the current traveled, and I felt the full zap in my feet. I was so disoriented, and I had sores on my feet as well as lacerations. Also, I had no saliva in my mouth, and my hair was on edge. I did go to the hospital.

WCT: And what about the dog?

JS: My poor little Yorkie was actually fine because he was on a patch of grass. But I jumped so high and quickly that his collar came up over his head, and he bolted, too—no pun intended. [Laughs] But it was so weird: There were no clouds and no thunder before it happened.

Basic Bitchen will be available Tuesday, Aug. 4. Pre-order the book at bit.ly/BasicBitchen .


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