Basic Bitchen: Joey Skladany’s new cookbook offers uncomplicated dishes and drinks served with a heaping side of humor
By Tom Reardon, July 2020 issue.
We’ve probably all heard the term, ‘basic bitch.’ Some of us may have even struggled with the existential question, “Am I a basic bitch?” No matter where you feel you fall on the basic bitch spectrum, whether there is a sting to the term or it is a badge you wear with pride, sometimes you need to take a step back and just embrace your fate.
Joey Skladany is a man who can help you come terms with your basic bitch-ness in a way that is fun and feeds the soul and the stomach. On August 4, Skladany’s new cookbook, Basic Bitchen, hits the shelves of your local bookstore or online equivalent and opens a culinary world that is delightfully unchallenging, yet highly entertaining. In short, Basic Bitchen is a must-read for those who like to cook but don’t necessarily want to create gastronomic art at the same time.
The cookbook itself is hilarious. Skladany is a deft wordsmith and his recipes are filled with and tasty drinks and dishes while his wit nourishes the reader’s brain.
Beyond the insightful wisdom that peppers the pages, the book is simply a good time. It’s chock full of pop culture references, self-deprecating humor, and full-on nods to gay culture that even the straightest arrow will enjoy.
As a current writer and editor for the Chowhound website, Skladany has created a diverse and interesting career for himself spanning television, print media, and online work. The Naples, Florida native (well, sort of) now resides in New York City. We caught up with him while he was in his hometown visiting his folks.
Echo:I feel like we must talk about the times we are living in … you’re in the thick of things, right, as a New York City resident?
Skladany: Well, actually, I escaped New York. I’m in Naples, Florida. I grew up here. I’m in full-on Republican town, which has been a really unique situation. I escaped (New York) a couple of weeks ago. I feel a little bit of guilt not being there.
I can imagine. In some ways, for us in the U.S., it feels like New York is ground zero all over again.
In so many ways. The pandemic, the protests, obviously. It feels a bit weird, as someone who has lived there for almost a decade, I’m used to being someone who is part of all the action, so to speak.
So, Naples, Florida is home?
We consider Naples home. I moved here when I was in fourth grade. I was in Marietta, Georgia until fourth grade, but I feel I spent my formative years here.
Fourth grade is really the start of it all, right?
Oh yes. That’s when you kind of realize some things about yourself. I would say fifth grade was definitely an eye-opening experience. I absolutely experienced bullying, living in Georgia, but moving to Florida wasn’t going to change that.
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I have never heard anyone say that moving to Florida made things better.
(Laughs) I feel like, back in the day, and I’m aging myself, people had this perception of Florida of being a retirement town. It’s kind of a goal to move there and being in vacation mode. I think there has been a transition in the past decade, almost a comical one, about all the nonsense that comes from the state.
I’m guessing going from Naples to Chicago for college (Skladany went to Northwestern University) was a bit of a mind scrambler?
I would say there wasn’t really any culture shock in moving to Chicago or a huge transition because even being in such a homogenized place like Naples, Florida, I’ve always surrounded myself with diversity and culture. Even times like now, I’m talking to a bunch of my friends who are minorities and we have been realizing that we really marched to the beat of our own drum, in high school, and we were rebellious if people tried to put us in a box or stereotype us. We had our lunch group, which was my two black girlfriends, my Asian friend, Jessica, and me, the closeted gay guy.
When I got to Chicago, I felt like I was at home. I felt like I was part of what the world actually represents and that is diversity. I felt more comfortable in my skin to be surrounded by people who were different.
You worked in TV, most notably doing PR for Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Was that a hard job?
It was both hard and amazing. I would say hard in that we were exposing America to a part of our subculture that people just, A: aren’t familiar with or B: are uncomfortable with. The fact of the matter is that it’s a reality. McIntyre, Georgia exists. These are the lives that these people lead and for most of them, they don’t know anything outside of it. It was hard in that I wanted to help drive the conversation and show that we should not be as judgmental.
We should talk about your book. There are tons of great pop culture references in your book. Is that on purpose or is that just you?
I’ve always been attracted to pop culture. I’ve always been knowledgeable when it came to entertainment news or celebrity. Just the term, ‘basic bitch,’ has become ingrained in pop culture. It’s become part of our vernacular and I feel like the two almost go hand in hand, so I couldn’t write a book about being a basic bitch without making pop culture references.
I also think pop culture unites all of us. I want this book to be extremely inclusive and I hope this book resonates with a large group of people. It is celebrating the shared experience of pop culture and its relation to food.
What was your first pop culture obsession?
Oh my god. Barbies. As a little kid, when I was potty-trained, the first thing I asked for was a Barbie, so I was totally stereotypically gay. I was always obsessed with television and game show culture. I’m very competitive, so my early memories are often around game shows.
I also noticed you use a lot of self-deprecation.
Yes. I’m a very confident person, but I think self-deprecation is my brand. I sometimes have to take a step back and just laugh at how really ridiculous my life can be. The self-deprecation is something that needed to happen, too, because while “Basic Bitch” is something we joke about, there is a lot of people who would really describe themselves in that way.
How did you decide to tie avocado toast to gospel music?
I think it just shows you how my brain operates. I work at, like, a million miles a minute. I can’t shut off my brain, but sometimes I have to harness myself and focus and I make these connections that I never thought would be possible but somehow it works. Sometimes it’s a little weird and eccentric and out there. I’m literally obsessed with gospel music, which is hilarious because I don’t go to church. I’m not even sure if I’m spiritual.
Well, I will certainly be listening to Mahalia Jackson next time I make avocado toast. I’ll try your recipe.
Some of these recipes will make you see Jesus. Hand to God.
Why a cookbook? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you have an epiphany one day?
Writing a book was absolutely a goal of mine, but writing a cookbook was absolutely not. It was absolutely an epiphany.
I was an extremely picky eater growing up. I was that kid who only ate cold cuts with mustard and called it a day. My parents did a great job of exposing me to different types of food as I got older, starting with sushi and Indian food and I just grew to appreciate all these different flavors and fine dining. I thought I would be really good if I had a job writing about food.
My first gig after TV was working for Food & Wine magazine. I don’t have culinary skills, but I can write about food in a way that makes people want to try things. When I got to Chowhound, I was constantly being sent cookbooks and I was kind of disappointed in what I was getting. I felt like most of them were aspirational, in nature, instead of inspirational.
While there is absolutely a market for that and we all love these famous chefs who will teach you to make a croque en bouche from start to finish, it’s just not realistic for a majority of people who really do have insanely stressful lives and not a lot of time and just want to sit down and make comfort foods. I just wanted to make a cookbook with basic food, because maybe I’m a basic bitch. I came up with the term, “Basic Bitchen” and I was like, “Wait a minute. I’m on to something here” and I thought someone had to have already done that, but I go on to Google and no one had coined the term.
I thought it was important to make something that would not be intimidating. In the intro I say that I am someone who chops garlic like I’m wearing Sally’s press-on nails. I’m not a chef, I did not go to culinary school. For a lot of us, cooking can still be an escape and I wanted to show that you can have fun with it and even make mistakes and it will still be delicious. I wanted people to know that you don’t need to go to these national chains and spend your hard-earned money on something you could easily whip up in your kitchen.
You reference having stomach issues, so food can be an adventure for folks with stomach issues. There is a lot of empathy in this book, as well, which is great.
As a gay person, we are so ostracized and told that our differences are a bad thing. We just inherently become more empathetic to people who are in our situations. I draw upon my own experiences and hope that it will connect with people. I’m the first to make fun of my stomach problems because I want to normalize it. I want to normalize what so many people have criticized us for because we are different.
What is kryptonite for a basic bitch?
The stereotype would be culture or something that challenges them, but in my introduction, I say that when you are basic, it is such a respite from the complexities of everyday life. I think most people have so much going to with work and home and just society that it is an escape to just be basic. I think it is something that is too complex or anxiety inducing. To me, basic is synonymous with comfortable. In the kitchen, complexity or unnecessary anxiety is the kryptonite and is something that is going to stop a basic from truly flourishing. People, after working a ten-hour shift, do not want to come home and make a croque en bouche. They want to come home and make some damn macaroni and cheese that is going to be amazing. This book aims to provide them with that in an easy and fun way.
The thing about a basic, too, is immediate gratification. Why do basics love a pumpkin latte? Because they’re delicious. Why do they put on Ugg’s (boots)? Because they’re immediately comfortable. The journey to get to that satisfaction is often totally anti-basic and I wanted to write a cookbook that makes people’s live easier.
Visit phoenix.outvoices.us/skladany-bitchen-kitchen for a longer version of the interview and a tasty recipe from the book.