Culinary queen Amanda Hesser on taking care of herself: 'I don't drink too much coffee; I don't drink too much alcohol'

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Amanda Hesser talks food and finding peace. (Photo: Rocky Luten/Food52; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Amanda Hesser talks food and finding peace. (Photo: Rocky Luten/Food52; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

From home cook to New York Times food editor to cookbook author to co-founder of the cooking and lifestyle community Food52, Amanda Hesser's career in the food space has had a lot of highlights. She credits her success in part to advice she's followed after turning to a college teacher for help in figuring out exactly what she wanted to do after graduation.

"She said, 'Why are you asking me for permission? Sounds like you know what you want to do — so just do it,'" the notable foodie recalls. "That was really helpful because I do think culturally, there’s a lot of pressure to get validation and approval in terms of success and how you spend your time and what’s appropriate to do professionally. That [advice] had such a big impact on me; it freed me! I really absorbed [those words] and I never looked back. I felt like, how nice, like isn't that the beauty of adulthood? She happened to mention it to me at just the right time and I think about it a lot. It’s human nature to gravitate towards approval and validation, but it’s great to have that reminder up front.”

Judging by the success of Food52 — recently named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies in the world — Hesser hardly needs any further validation. Founded in 2009 by Hesser and fellow Times food editor Merrill Stubbs, the site has has grown to include an online marketplace featuring more than 5,000 kitchen goods for sale, including its own in-house Five Two line. Through it all, Hesser has kept writing. Her most recent book, The Essential New York Times Cookbook, is a well-curated selection of iconic dishes (like Rao’s meatballs and Marian Burros’s legendary plum torte). The book weighs nearly five pounds and the work of putting it together, even in retrospect, seems exhausting.

“I’m not sure I’m going to write any books again,” Hesser admits with a laugh. “I’m coming off a big book project. I love writing — and writing a book is a uniquely challenging, fun experience. It always takes a lot more effort than you think. Right now, I’m really happy with what I’m doing [at Food52]. There are so many great books that come out every year. Unless I feel I have something to add, I don't imagine I'll write another.”

Speaking to Yahoo Life's The Unwind from her Brooklyn home — which she shares with her husband, twins and dog — Hesser shared how she finds joy in simple everyday pleasures, from playing with her dog in between meetings to watching cute animal videos. Practicing moderation and making sure her basic needs are met is also key.

“A lot of wellness is common sense," she says. "First of all, sleep is really important [for me]. Some people need less sleep — sadly, I'm not one of those people! When you have really intense work days, it helps to be well-rested. I eat healthily. I don't drink too much coffee; I don't drink too much alcohol. I do think all of that is important for your mental health — as [is] exercising.”

Hesser is an active athlete who makes a point to carve out time for (more than a little) physical fitness. “Pre-pandemic, I played on a basketball team and I did a lot of OrangeTheory,” she says. “Sadly, my basketball team is not back together yet, so I'm doing mostly OrangeTheory and fast walking — or doing video Pilates or yoga with my husband.”

The couple also take evening walks with their dog, something Hesser calls a "highlight" of her day and a "nice way of creating a crisp break from the intensity" of the 9-5 grind.

"Almost every day, my husband and I go for an [evening] walk with our dog," she shares. "We live in Brooklyn Heights and we do a big loop around the neighborhood. It’s just a moment to pause, get away from the screen, talk to each other [and] take in this city we live in."

Hesser says she and her husband will occasionally also try a sound bath to relax, and she has found meeting with a therapist to be "tremendously helpful." As is the case with many entrepreneurs, Hesser admits to feeling overwhelmed by being over-scheduled, and she struggles to find time offline to just be.

“I get stressed by having too many back-to-back-to-back calls and meetings where I can’t do quiet work," she says. "That might stress me out the most: [lacking] the space or headroom to think freely or work on bigger issues that I need to solve or new ideas that I'm trying to get going. I’m working to improve it — but it is quite hard, at this moment when so many of us are working remotely.”

Hesser swears by cute animal videos, long walks with her husband and dog and the occasional sound bath. (Photo: Courtesy The Select 7)
Hesser swears by cute animal videos, long walks with her husband and dog and the occasional sound bath. (Photo: Courtesy The Select 7)

The internet does have some perks, however.

“One of my sisters is always sending me good podcasts (like Brené Brown’s)," Hesser says. "One of my favorite lifestyle sites is Cup of Jo. I follow them on Instagram; she pulls these great reader quotes and shares as a feed post — they're often just so moving! And while you would not call this wellness, it acts as wellness: animal videos on Reels and TikTok. To me, they’re a delightful break from reality. It’s a little lightness that you can fold into your day. I wouldn't classify them as wellness content — but it helps me!”

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