Natasha Chilingerian has been a professional writer for over 14 years, while living in Oregon, California, Louisiana and South Carolina.
In the first half of her career, she focused on news and lifestyle journalism, serving in full-time and freelance roles at regional online and print publications.
In addition to covering local news, she wrote about health/fitness, food/drink/restaurants, relationships, the arts and travel. In the second half of her career, she pivoted to business journalism and corporate communications/marketing.
For the past five years, Natasha has been an editor for Credit Union Times, a national trade publication for credit union executives, but still picks up fun writing assignments from time to time. Recently, she’s been writing about travel, food and drink for the lifestyle website Let’s Eat Cake.
Do you think that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
Yes. Through interviewing different chefs, I gained an understanding of the level of time, work, resources and passion that goes into each dish they create. That’s given me a greater appreciation of what I’m about to enjoy every time I sit down at a restaurant.
Also, cooking is a very creative and relaxing process. Writing and meeting deadlines can be stressful, so cooking a meal at the end of the work day is a great way to decompress while boosting my creativity, which helps give me the mental fuel I need to continue producing good work as a writer.
Do you travel with food in mind?
Yes! Before Covid, I spent two years as a digital nomad, splitting my time between my parents’ house in Oregon, my boyfriend’s place in Los Angeles, and several other cities around the U.S., where I rented Airbnbs and experienced the city solo or with friends/family who lived in the area (all while continuing to serve in my full-time remote job with CU Times).
My favorite thing about visiting a new city was trying as many top-rated restaurants and well-known local dishes as I could. Some of my favorite food memories include lobster rolls in Portland, Maine; shrimp and grits in Columbia, South Carolina; street tacos in Palm Springs, California; hot chicken in Nashville; empanadas in Medellin, Colombia (part of a just-for-fun trip I took with a friend); Italian deli sandwiches and pizza in the Southie neighborhood of Boston; and amazing ramen in Austin, Texas.
Have you ever written about food?
While working at a daily paper in Lake Charles, Louisiana, from 2006-2007, I often wrote feature articles for the paper’s food section. My favorite experience was attending a weekend food and wine festival in New Orleans, which included interviewing participating chefs, dining at their restaurants, and covering it for the food section.
Later while living in Walnut Creek, California, I wrote a column called “Dublin Dishes,” which profiled local restaurants in the nearby town of Dublin, for the website Patch.com. I’ve written about restaurants as part of several other projects as well, but those two examples are the food writing roles I’m most proud of.
Do you try to create budget-friendly meals?
Yes, for sure. When I stayed at my boyfriend’s apartment, we rarely went out to eat, and focused on cooking budget-friendly dinners at home. I planned meals for each week ahead of time and only shopped for ingredients we needed so we wouldn’t end up wasting food. Most meals centered around rice or pasta, which helped us save money as well.
Our favorite inexpensive go-to dinner is pasta aglio e olio (or as we call it, “garlic pasta”) – thick spaghetti with olive oil, lots of sautéed garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese, served with garlic bread alongside a kale and poppy seed dressing salad kit with avocado and black olives added in.
Another cheap dish I love to make is basmati rice with tahdig – a buttery, crispy crust that forms at the bottom of the pot while cooking. I’m half Armenian, and in my opinion, it’s the only way rice should be eaten (find Natasha’s tahdig recipe at the end of this interview).
Do you focus on healthy food?
While I love eating foods that are rich and high-calorie, I do so in moderation so it doesn’t impact my health. I eat lightly throughout the day so I can splurge a little more at dinner, and I work out nearly every day. I love salads and vegetables, and I very rarely eat desserts. I’d rather “spend” the calories on savory foods.
Do you have any cookbooks or kitchen products you love?
There’s a book I own and love called I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris, which has a lot of good recipes, is full of great photography and is also very funny. I kept it on my nightstand for years. My favorite kitchen tool is a high-quality milk frother. It turns skim milk into a rich, creamy foam, which I look forward to having every morning with coffee.
Do you have any favorite food travel destinations?
My favorite food city would have to be Los Angeles, where you can find authentic dishes from every corner of the world. My favorite restaurants there include Salsa & Beer in North Hollywood (Mexican), Raffi’s Place in Glendale (Persian), Sugarfish (sushi) and Lala’s (Argentinian), both in Studio City. I also loved going out to brunch pre-COVID – my top pick for that would be Breakfast Republic in San Diego, which offers a little bit of everything.
Where do you turn for food inspiration?
Currently I gain cooking inspiration from magazines like Real Simple and the Oprah Magazine, and food newsletters. I like the BuzzFeed Tasty newsletter which has a ton of great recipe collections, Pure Wow, and Five Weeknight Dishes from the New York Times.
Anything you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food?
Writing is very solitary and involves a lot of sitting in front of a computer screen, so planning tasty meals and snacks is a great way to break up the work day – they’re simple pleasures that I look forward to that also re-energize me and allow me to focus better. Food also goes hand in hand with socializing with loved ones, which is much-needed after spending hours writing alone in isolation!
Tahdig (crispy Persian rice)
(courtesy Natasha Chilingerian)
2 c. basmati rice
Boil 2 cups of basmati rice for about 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm to the bite.
Drain and rinse the rice with cool water, set aside. Wash out and dry the pot. Pour a generous portion of olive oil into the pot, coating the entire bottom. Spoon the rice back into the pan (no water) and top with salt, pepper and several pats of butter. Place several sheets of paper towel on top of the pot, covering the entire opening of the pot, then place the lid on tightly, holding the paper towels in place (this will prevent steam from escaping). Cook the rice on low for one hour, then check to see if the tahdig has formed and cook longer if needed.
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