Matters of Taste: Chef Alexis DeBoschnek Talks Ingenuity, Flavors and Family | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley
The adage that life doesn’t move in a linear fashion, but takes turns and backtracks, fits food influencers Alexis de Boschnek. Born in New York, DeBoschnek moved to Delhi with her parents, both artists, when she was two years old. She grew up on a large farm with Icelandic horses and chickens. “If you don’t cook, you don’t eat,” she said in a phone interview while reminiscing about the shortage of restaurants back then compared to the Catskills today. After stints in New York and Los Angeles, the 31-year-old is back home, and her first book, Until the last bite (Simon & Schuster, forthcoming April 19), pays homage to a rural upbringing that taught him ingenuity, flavor and family.
From the ground to the city
“Working in food media for the past decade, I’ve heard all the buzzwords about sustainability and waste reduction, but people didn’t quite know how to do it,” says deBoschnek. In high school, she learned to garden, use a chainsaw and draw maple syrup. “I took it for granted, knowing how to do these things,” she says.
Growing up on farms, she discovered early on what many American children and adults still rarely experience: fresh, ripe flavor. Whether it was a carrot dug in the ground or a blushing tomato plucked from the vine, she learned the taste of vegetables and fruits. “In this book, I keep going back to how I was raised because there was such a dedication to our food sources,” deBoschnek says.
While her background seems like a natural fit for the recipe creation and writing she’s now engaged in, deBoschnek didn’t always imagine this world as her future. Like many young people brought up in the quiet hinterland, she dreamed of escaping.
After graduating from high school early, deBoschnek took a year off and fled to Paris. Fashion piqued her interest, so she returned to New York at the Fashion Institute of Technology. During her studies, she completed an internship in a trend forecasting company. “They were talking about the Pantone color of the year, Mango Tango, like it was groundbreaking. It was very Devil Wears Prada. I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘What the hell? what I do ?’ she laughs, remembering the pivotal moment.
The summer before her senior year, deBoschnek read Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl, which prompted her to pursue food writing. She applied for an Eater internship while finishing her studies, then found a job as an editorial assistant at Tasting Table. Before she could graduate, she had moved on to the next one: the culinary school at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan. “I felt I needed to work in a restaurant or go to school, and I knew I didn’t want to work in restaurants; instead, I wanted to create recipes for home cooks,” she says.
One road leads to another
Many great stories begin with “I followed a lover to California”. While these stories often involve a breakup, the demise of a relationship rarely concludes the narrative but rather serves as a preface. For Alexis, Los Angeles, not the boyfriend, proved transformative.
“I thought I would hate it. I thought I was a New Yorker,” she says. The couple arrived in California in November 2014, at a time when New York’s trees had lost their leaves and the gardens had withered. “We got there, and the sun was shining, and the raspberries were ripe and delicious,” deBoschnek said with the delight of meeting a new love.
She got a job at Good Eggs, an online grocery store designed as a farmers’ market at your doorstep. Unfortunately, the digital retailer suddenly closed its stores in Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York. DeBoschnek then took a job with a catering company and hatched a business plan for a grocery store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown that never came to fruition. Then she applied for a job at Buzzfeed.
“That job started it all,” she says.
DeBoschnek never aspired to acting – she was hired to manage the test kitchen in Los Angeles – but the job pushed her on camera, which she ultimately found exciting. “I was able to create revenue while bridging this new space of entertainment and education,” she says.
As an in-camera talent on Buzzfeed’s culinary content channel Tasty, deBoschneck hosted the video series “Chef Out of Water” and “Friend in Town,” which racked up tens of millions of views.
In “Chef Out of Water,” a mix of game show and cooking class, deBoschnek had to create a three-course meal with a surprise household appliance like a dishwasher, toaster or power tool. “The show was crazy. More and more people are cooking with weird appliances, but back then people didn’t. I wanted it to be food that I would make at home, something a little more elevated and exciting and if you ate it you would be surprised it could be done. People were intrigued,” she says.
The first episode featured deBoschneck making shrimp salad, poached salmon and asparagus, and chocolate truffles with a coffee pot. The video made one million views in 24 hours.
Three years ago, she left Buzzfeed for the uncertainties and freedom of freelancing, and has never looked back. She creates recipes for publications like food52 and kitchn. The mastery of his time allowed him to present a deeply personal project, To the Last Bite.
Home is where the table is
DeBoschnek sold To the Last Bite in Los Angeles, but momentum spurred by a global pandemic swept away his home on his mother’s farm. (Her parents separated years before.) She moved in with her fiancé in October 2020 to save money while seeking a change of scenery. “We liked it so much we ended up staying,” she says.
The move changed the heart of the book for the better. “I thought we were going to shoot it in Los Angeles, but when I got back to Delhi, I realized there could never have been any other setting but the Catskills,” deBoschnek explains.
In effect, Until the last bite features beautiful photography that captures the vibe of rural mountains, gravel roads cutting a swath through the weather-beaten summer forest cabinets of a country kitchen.
The book is divided into familiar categories, from snacks and spreads to vegetables and seafood. DeBoschnek wanted it to be a comprehensive resource for home cooks of all levels with advice on maximizing ingredients and cooking. use leftovers in other recipes.
One chapter covers a kitchen’s storage nut soup; another advises readers on how to start a victory garden, sage advice from the past that is prescient for the future. DeBoschnek writes in the first person, simply and directly to the audience, like one friend to another.
Some recipes reference family experiences, such as her mother’s penchant for dipping fries in mayonnaise (she’s Dutch), noted in the recipe for Poached Shrimp with Thousand Island Dressing. Others dive right into the innards of a dish, like how a simple bowl of mushroom farro can reach heavenly heights of umami with the simple addition of parmesan cheese and soy sauce.
As befits his upbringing, DeBoschnek focuses on products. “I wanted the book to be avant-garde. Many of us are trying to eat better and I wanted meat and fish to be festive rather than everyday,” she explains.
One lesson the pandemic has taught DeBoschnek is that life, like a book, goes through chapters, each section filled with different people, places, experiences and ideas, while a continuous line of food as that literal and metaphorical nourishment is maintained. “Making food for people is my love language. I love seeing how people react when they eat something delicious. It’s my best way to bond,” she says with a smile.
For DeBoschnek, his current chapter continues to unfold through the Catskills, returning, for now, to where he started.