After graduating from NYU’s Tisch and Trinity College Dublin, Maryana Lucia Vestic worked in film, television, and publishing.
Maryana received her MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) at The New School in 2017, where she interviewed NBCC Nonfiction finalists, contributed to The Inquisitive Eater, worked with the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, and published in Vice (Tonic).
She’s now a food writer, home cook and baker at WoodSpoon, and memoirist, writing mostly about her Croatian culinary heritage, food history, and a love of the immigrant meal at The Storied Spoon.
When did you decide to start writing about food?
My writing turned to a passion for food once I met my boyfriend, a Turkish-French New Yorker. I started The Storied Spoon (formerly A Quarrel of Feasts), a writing, food photography, and recipe development blog where I have been including personal memoir, food history, and storytelling into my recipes and posts.
Writing about food is my passion, especially if I can talk about life, family, history, the wins and losses of our little worlds, and our daily joys--meaning, I don’t just post recipes.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
Yes. I can use my words creatively, and I have learned that each food, dish, or bake has a story, or many. I love diving into that concept and writing about where the dish originated from.
My blog’s title, The Storied Spoon, speaks to that, as it was originally intended as a podcast where I would interview people whose families made the same kind of dish. For example, I make Croatian style Burek, a meat filled phyllo pastry. Its history runs throughout all of the former Yugoslavia, also Albania, Israel, Turkey, etc. You follow the food through empires rising and falling, and there are so many stories there to find.
Do you ever focus on healthy food?
I have struggled with my love of pasta and sweets throughout my life, and I have been eating healthier since May. Balance is key, and I love juicing, and making smoothies and soups/salads, but the food I cook, bake, photograph, and write about most is comfort food, rustic food, and baking. I have just learned to not throw everything asunder when I have a piece of cake!
Have you ever caught your own food?
No, I have never been great at fishing, and wish I had more courage to hunt, though I believe in the morality of it. My Croatian dad used to fish in Tierra Verde, Florida, where he built and sold houses, while we lived there. Like a Croatian, he did not use a fishing pole, but threw a net out into the canal. My mother would complain when she found scales all over our tile floor.
Do you seek out local food?
I used to go to the Red Hook Food Collective in the Red Hook Farm where I lived in Brooklyn for over a decade, but here in Bay Ridge, there is only a small weekly farmers market. I look forward to taking part more in local food when we relocate upstate in a couple of years.
Do you have any favorite food books/cookbooks or kitchen products you love?
I love strange, offbeat food books like Gastronaut by Stefan Gates; The Decadent Cookbook by Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray; Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty Five Centuries of Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti; Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine by Kelly Fanto Deetz; and Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter by David Buchanan. In addition, my big copy of Jacques and Julia, which I bought at The Strand, and which taught me how to roast a chicken.
I love my rust orange stand mixer, my food processor, and my mortar & pestle the most, but I am dying for a mezza luna. I also love my little tart pans and my deep-dish tart tin.
Do you have any favorite food writers, chefs, food TV shows, restaurants, food travel destinations, etc.?
Anthony Bourdain was/is a hero of mine, and I miss his no bullshit, real, dark and light at the same time voice, always there to listen to the person making him the meal he is enjoying (I even found it endearing that he didn’t like sweets and poked at a Sacher Torte like it was a pile of garbage. I loved the guy, and I think I’m the opposite to him).
I would go to a city and just look for the cake. I’ve always loved Nigella Lawson since the early 2000’s—her style, her writing, her books in her dining room, and I realize that my approach to recipes and meals can be traced back to watching her on BBC America in my 20’s.
Ina Garten is also someone I admire and appreciate. Chefs and bakers vary, but I love the people behind Kingston Bread in Kingston, New York, since it’s the sort of place my guy and I want to open. Our venture would be called Mimi & The Turk: Croatian & Turkish Comfort Foods, and my dessert/bakes, called Sweet Mimi’s. There’s a Syrian place in Providence, Rhode Island, called Aleppo Sweets, and I love their story too.
I visited my father’s family in Split, Croatia, in 2011, and I am dying to go back. The food there is ridiculously fresh, and honest, and I long for the Istrian olive oil, the Drnis prosciutto, which is world famous and happens to come from my father’s home village, and the homemade wine and moonshine called Rakija.
I love everything on a plate from Italy, especially Rome, but lately Venetian and Tuscan food and baking is pulling my interests. My boyfriend’s mom grew up in Paris, so French patisserie is front and center for me right now. I can make a mean creme patisserie / moussaline / legere. I know the difference between all three (I think).
I want to travel more, and I long to be in the Hudson Valley, where I mostly grew up, for the roadside farmers markets and wonderful small town restaurants.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
I re-watch anything with Anthony Bourdain, anything on TV or streaming that speaks to me, and look up the histories of whatever food is on my mind. I recently found a wonderful website on ancient Roman cuisine called The Food of Ancient Rome when I made a grape burrata tart.
How/What do you eat/snack when on deadline?
Lately, life isn’t providing many deadlines. This can be a good or bad thing, but I tend to follow in my dad’s footsteps and go for a piece of fruit, a piece of cheese, and a little bread if I’m being extra rustic about it.
Sometimes, when I’m baking for The Storied Spoon or for WoodSpoon customers all day, I realize I haven’t made any dinner, and I say, “Let’s get Turkish/Greek/Italian/Mexican for dinner.” Sometimes it works.
Anything else you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food?
I’m very interested in authentic traditions. I think food belongs to everyone, and you don’t have to have a native eater to always show you the way. Love of a place, a people, and their flavors, is enough. However, I have a chip on my shoulder about gentrification living in Brooklyn, and I tend to get a little moody when people don’t explore global food recipes via the culture and people that make them.
Also, I hate posts about cupcakes. I can’t help it. The world is full of amazing baking traditions and delectable desserts. Cupcakes are the easy way out (to me). Don’t get me started!
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