Aftertastes, a new website that launched last month, wants to remind us that food can often be more than the sum of its ingredients. Created by Dana Drori, Aftertastes publishes stories that evoke the emotional bonds we develop with the food we eat—the substance behind the substance. Drori, who pays her bills with a career in modeling, spent the months leading up to the launch commissioning people in her network of writers and artists to contribute essays, recipes, and in some cases open up their kitchens, in the hopes of lending resonance to a ritual we often take for granted. We recently chatted with Drori to find out more about her mission.
How did you come up with the idea for the site?
I had been thinking a lot about a recipe’s structure, how universal it is—you know, here are the ingredients, here are the directions—and how, no matter the language or measurements used, the same structure remains. That line of thought reminded me of poetic structures—the rules that define a sonnet or a villanelle—and all of the ways that those forms have been explored and deconstructed. So I thought, why not do the same with a recipe—play with the form a bit? At the same time, I was part of a recipe email exchange, and had two recipes land in my inbox, written to me by friends and which read more like letters than conventional cooking directions. They were both so clever and intimate and representative of their writers, I instantly wanted to publish them. Which got me thinking about how creative a recipe can be when it’s shared, and how creative food stories can be, in general. From there, I thought about publishing a collection of recipes that read like stories, and that’s how Aftertastes began.
What started your fascination with the stories behind food and meals?
I’ve always had that fascination. You know how some people can remember what they were wearing on a specific day? I always remember what or where I ate. On top of that, I had moved into a new apartment and rediscovered my love for cooking. I’ve been buying so many new ingredients and was curious about the history and culture behind them. In the introduction to Plenty, Ottolenghi talks about the infinite possibilities for rice. And I thought that was a great approach to storytelling as well as cooking—taking something as small as a grain of rice, deconstructing it, examining it in all its uses, considering it from all angles.
Do you ask certain people to submit stories/recipes? Who do you like to get stories from?
I asked a lot of writer friends to write pieces, mostly because I love their writing styles and it is a lot easier to ask a friend for a favor than it is to ask a stranger. Now that the site is live, I’m hoping to get stories from all storytellers—so food writers of course, but also non-food journalists, and novelists; anyone who can write a great story. For the Kitchen interviews, I have a long list of chefs, restaurant owners, bloggers, and food writers whose kitchens I’d love to profile.
What’s your favorite type of food story?
I’ll give you an example instead of a type. One of the best food stories I’ve come across recently is “Orange Crush” by Yiyun Li. It was originally published in the New York Times column “Eat Memory,” which Amanda Hesser edited, and which later became an anthology of the same name. The story has everything: adolescent sentiments, the complexities of China’s embrace of the West, sweet and funny aphorisms. And it’s not even about food—it’s about Tang.
What do you think makes good food writing?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer this question. There are so many different kinds of food writing—informative, service-providing, stories—and some people might say that a site like Aftertastes isn’t really food writing at all. Good food writing is so varied—I like the Eater 38 lists as much as I like their long form features, which read beautifully on the site’s new layout. I love profiles: Josh Ozersky’s profile on Buzzy O’Keefe, which spoke so much of tradition and Brooklyn heritage, and of course the profiles and stories in the New Yorker food issues (about to start reading this year’s). When I’m cooking, I enjoy reading cooking blogs like Smitten Kitchen, where the stories directly relate to the recipes.
How do you relate to foodie culture?
Distantly. I’m aware of Cronuts and Ramen Burgers; I’ve never eaten either. I’m not averse, just not very interested and don’t want to wait in lines. Hold a Dough donut in front of me, though, and I’ll do whatever you say.
What type of recipes are the most interesting?
The ones that have stories behind them—this often manifests in family relationships, but not always, and I think that’s important to note. Some of the best submissions forAftertastes have little or nothing to do with family, or keep family at a distance, which keeps the site from getting too precious. There are so many different kinds of stories, relationships, and sentiments behind our meals—we just might not always realize it.
What does someone’s kitchen say about them?
Everything! I mean, not necessarily traits, but a kitchen can definitely reveal anecdotes and personal history. Even in my own kitchen, I have these small—maybe 4×6 in.—wood-paneled floral paintings that belonged to my grandfather; I have a Liz Lemon “Working on my Night Cheese” embroidery that was a gift from a friend, and I have very phallic illustrations of mushrooms that I bought in Paris. Like any other room in a house, a kitchen is a collection of artifacts. If you start opening cupboards, you might get a deeper (nosier) sense of the people who live there—are they healthy? are they adventurous eaters? are they neglectful (are there expired foods in their fridge)?
What do you hope people get out of Aftertastes?
Pleasure, enjoyment, reflection; all the things that people get from good storytelling.
Why is our connection to food so important to explore?
Because food is so pervasive, so present in our everyday, and when something is that recurring and close at hand, it is easy to lose sight of its significance. Plus, there’s so much great language and metaphor. Food is at the center of so many of our social interactions and histories, why shouldn’t we reflect on it more? I think it’s especially useful in a city like New York, where there is so much choice, and where food and restaurants have this fetishism attached to them, and yet we also scarf down our lunches, or drink juice for days… I like that the Aftertastes stories exist outside of all that; it’s a place for the memorable, informative, and introspective; not necessarily the covetable or the trendy.
What’s coming up for Aftertastes?
Many more stories and recipes, as well as a new column that will feature a collection of shorter contributions, each installment revolving around a different theme. I’m also hoping to get some great photoessays and artwork up. And, once the site is humming along, I’d love to plan interesting dinner parties, and dinner party-style features for the site (including themes, menus, histories).
What’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
I don’t have one; but I have many great memories from both Northern Spy and Raoul’s.