Professional Crushes: Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy

It’s official and public: I am leaving my current job.

People usually respond: “But May… Why?” Don’t get me wrong. I still think Proximity Designs is definitely the best nonprofit/social organization in the country. Probably all of South East Asia. And in all of this galaxy. But something called instinct tells me it’s time for me to diversify my skill sets and therefore move, which is what I am doing … but to where exactly?

There are a couple of bizarre ideas.  And my mentors cannot have been more helpful. They take me out to lunches, prescribe me with relevant books, and give me all kinds of professional advice. Thank you. Sometimes even if someone is not my mentor, I make her one anyway, like this, across the cyberspace. Like a book you accidentally pick up at a library and cannot put it down, sometimes you read about someone and just know she/he must be a real star in person. And I crave for that kind of inspiration when my reach and access is still so limited here in Yangon.

It’s a slow morning at work. I just submitted a proposal. Legitimate reason for a quick indulgence on the Dining section on New York Times, right? That’s where I discovered Dirt Candy and the wonderful blog that the chef and owner Amanda Cohen writes. Why didn’t I see this when I was actually in New York City all of last year? Oh well.

Even though Pete Wells gave her only two stars in his review, he pointed out that most vegetarian restaurants look toward either the health food trend or ethnic cuisines, but Cohen is inventing a vegetarian cuisine that is her own. Her restaurant concept appears to have come straight from her (web) personality: straight-talk, pure energy bomb and her comic sense of humor (that even Pete Wells took notice of … probably because he was termed a Dinner Ninja).

A lot of restaurants these days tend to green-wash themselves with the term “farm-to-table” thrown around a little too quickly and loosely. But Amanda Cohen is straightforward. She says, “Part of our package isn’t about how green we are, because my philosophy is that you shouldn’t have to talk about it, you just should be.” BAM.

She also won a Sustainability Award and even though her restaurant has LED lighting and uses eco-friendly pest services and cleaning products, she doesn’t brand it as such. She uses organic and local produce whenever she can but is also comfortable using lemons, which do not grow in New York State.

Her food is green and vegetarian but she asks the eater to simply have fun once you step into her territory. No attitude, no food talk, no sass. She has stated that she doesn’t care about your health or your politics. Just eat her signature mushrooms, have a stellar time and leave! It’s only an 18-seat restaurant after all. Her menu famously has exclamation points. Even the place is named “Dirt Candy.” She just recently published a graphic novel cookbook too. I find myself comparing her with Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune and I must say that the book colored my experience at Prune, which is a lot darker than what I imagine Dirt Candy will be like.

All in all, as I am trying to think through my next career move at this critical moment, this bit of what Amanda Cohen said particularly struck a cord.

Question: If you had one thing that you could do over, what would it be?

Amanda Cohen: I definitely would have tried to have more varied work experiences.  I loved all the jobs I had, but my time as an apprentice in the kitchen is not going to happen again. So I wish I had taken the time to work in a pizza restaurant, or an Asian restaurant. Even though I could still do it, it’s not the same.

You can read the full interview here. Looking forward to my time of unemployment. 

From NY Times Review