Last week, the Campus Activities Board (CAB) hosted an event that catered to college students in more ways than one. Renowned chef and activist Sohla El-Waylly Zoomed in from her apartment in New York City with a warm smile, bright attitude, and a delicious, but simple, recipe for USF viewers to try: enfrijoladas.
Enfrijoladas are similar to enchiladas except chili sauce is swapped out for a bean sauce. The recipe is ideal for college students, El-Waylly explained, because instead of having to soak dry chilis for your sauce, you can use pre-softened canned beans. El-Waylly demonstrated each step of the recipe, as she does on her current show in collaboration with the History Channel, “Ancient Recipes with Sohla,” and her other show, “Off-Script with Sohla;” often stopping to explain how her process could be modified for viewers at home. “Accuracy does not matter,” El-Waylly said as she sprinkled cumin into a bowl. “If you’re feeling like you want to use more — get crazy. Why the hell not?”
Outside of the kitchen, El-Waylly is known as an advocate for fairness and inclusivity in the culinary industry. Last year, she left Bon Appétit magazine after calling them out for workplace discrimination and racism. She was the first of several employees of color to leave the publication, after calling for the then editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport to step down when photos were leaked showing him in brownface. El-Waylly continues to speak about the importance of cultural recognition in food, as well as in food media.
El-Waylly told USF students, “It’s about doing research when you’re making food from other cultures. Don’t pretend like you’ve invented this.” Even though El-Waylly is noticing a shift in the culinary industry towards inclusion, she said it is still far from where it needs to be. “Until recently, big publications wouldn’t want to see pitches from people that weren’t white,” she said. “As the public, we need to keep pressuring them to bring in other voices and do their research.”
El-Waylly herself grew up in Los Angeles. This meant her childhood was full of cuisine from a variety of cultures. “There’s a lot of different flavors that I think of when I think of my childhood,” she said. “My best friends were Korean and Filipino, so I grew up loving those flavors.”
El-Waylly’s advice to aspiring chefs was to soak up all the flavors you encounter. “It’s important to work at many different places and learn from as many people as possible,” she said. “There are millions of different ways to cook things, and I don’t think anything is right or wrong.”
El-Waylly’s enfrijoladas recipe included a borrowed secret ingredient, for example. When she was in college, El-Waylly dated a Mexican man whose mother made sauces with said secret ingredient. “She wouldn’t tell me what was making the chile relleno so good until [her son and I] dated a little longer and she finally told me: it was Knorr.” Knorr is a chicken bouillon that El-Wylly swears by, unless you’re vegetarian, in which case she suggests using nutritional yeast.
While cooking, El-Waylly took questions from the virtual audience. Co-hosts CAB President, Charles Choi and CAB adviser, Rich Dillon, read the questions, including one about El-Waylly’s aspirations outside the culinary arts. “I want to start taking care of other parts of my life besides cooking,” she said. “I thought about getting plants, but instead I want to treat myself like I’m the plant.”
Choi said the event was a success, “Everyone just seemed so excited to interact and cook with Sohla, that no one seemed to mind that it was virtual. Some even said that they were [only] able to attend because it was virtual.”
Spending most of her time cooking, El Waylly said she often gets sick of what she’s making. “I cook all day, but I usually eat crap,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s frozen tamales.”
El-Waylly also shared kitchen tips and tricks with casual wit and infectious laughter: Fry your tortillas quickly in a little oil to keep them from getting soggy; deep frying is satisfying; rice cookers are essential for dorm rooms; stock up on radishes for a cheap, easy vegetable; add acidic ingredients to balance something too spicy; limes are more squeezable when cut into thirds; learn how to sharpen your knives; pineapple on pizza — yes! And most importantly, if you can cook and bake, you’re unstoppable according to El-Waylly.