Julie Van Rosendaal Celebrates Messy Eats in Her New Cookbook, Dirty Food

The book celebrates the tactile, child-like love of messy meals while pushing back against the deluge of “clean” cookbooks that have popped up in recent years.

Photograph by Jeremy Fokkens

Julie Van Rosendaal has published 11 cookbooks. She is comfortable at her writing desk, in her kitchen, teaching a cooking class or talking about food on CBC Radio, but she’d be uncomfortable doing so under the title of chef.

“Some people call me a chef and I try and correct them, because I feel like that’s a different thing,” she says. “To be called a chef insinuates that you’ve gone to culinary school and that you work in restaurants, and that’s not what I do.”

She comfortably calls herself a home cook, one who is constantly researching, learning, experimenting and butting into other people’s kitchens. “I’ve always had a stack of cookbooks beside my bed, and I still do. When I was a kid, when I babysat, I would go through people’s cookbook collections and recipe boxes to see what they cooked. I’ve just always been interested in the culture of home food cooking, because it’s such a big part of our lives.”

Her topics vary — one book has recipes alongside the full text of the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one is full of snack recipes for dogs, one is how to make low-fat cookies — but they all have one thing in common: accessibility. “There are so many beautiful cookbooks, but I feel like a lot of them are aspirational. I want my readers to feel like we’re on the same playing field, that they won’t have to search for ingredients or go through 10 steps to make a dish.”

Her new book, Dirty Food: Sticky, Saucy, Gooey, Crumbly, Messy Shareable Food, is on-brand attainable, and celebrates the tactile, child-like love of meals that require a good hand rinsing once consumed. But it also makes a statement, or at least pushes back against the deluge of “clean” cookbooks that have drowned the market in recent years (#cleaneating has been used over 43 million times on Instagram). “I have a long history of struggling with my weight, and this whole trend toward clean eating was really frustrating me,” she says. “It feels a lot like food shaming, to suggest that there’s a morally superior way of eating, because it relies on the existence of the opposite and it applies not just to the food, but to the person eating it.”

After retweeting a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow’s goopy addition to the clean eating cookbook genre, Van Rosendaal tweeted that someone should start a “dirty food” movement. It got thousands of likes and retweets, and Van Rosendaal knew she was the one to do it. “I was already working on a different book, but I switched gears because I felt I needed to address this.” But Van Rosendaal found conceptualizing her idea in book form tricky because, while some books espouse gluten-free, or dairy-free, or sugar-free eating, there are no defined parameters around supposed clean eating.

“It’s 100 per cent a marketing term,” she says. “So then, what’s dirty food? I didn’t want it to be all junk food because that would reinforce the notion that there’s a morally good and bad way to eat. So I did messy food — things that are sloppy and sticky, like tacos running down your arm or sticky buns that you have to pull apart and lick your fingers after. Each recipe has a drippy, crumbly, messy component to it, because I think that adds to the enjoyment of it, and it reminds us that food should be enjoyed and it should be fun and it should be shared.”

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This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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