As a supervising producer for New York Times Cooking, Vreeland brings his expressive brown eyes and a dose of millennial queerness to the Gray Lady’s legendary Food section. Reworking fan favorites of the Times, like beef stew and chocolate chip cookies, Vreeland adds new twists and incorporates fresh ideas from the Food section’s very vested online commenters. Conversing casually with his audience (“Still no salt. Little sus”) while wearing jeans, polos, and ball caps, Vreeland helps transport the newspaper of record into the TikTok era.
Initially, Vreeland considered many trades, from acting to publishing to visual arts. It was during a post-college stint teaching English in Thailand that Vreeland’s love of cooking was cemented. He moved to New York, bunked with two college friends in the city, and found work at BuzzFeed, making videos for the media company’s Tasty channel. When Vreeland was hired as a video producer at NYT Cooking, it was a humble operation; now it features a team of over a dozen and churns out videos for the Times website and social channels. Vreeland is also comfortable on the bright sets of morning shows, occasionally slicing and dicing on Good Morning America, and his newfound visibility recently landed him on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of media professionals.
Ahead, Out queried Vreeland about his gourmand background and the intersection of eating, dating, and self-love. Follow more of his culinary adventures at NYT Cooking and on Instagram @vaughn.
Mexican Hot Chocolate CookiesJOHNNY MILLER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES/FOOD STYLIST SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE
Out: Tell about your history with food and how you developed a love for cooking and cuisine.
Vaughn Vreeland: I grew up in Raleigh, N.C., surrounded by a lot of strong feminine energy. My grandmother, Nannie, was a true Southern matriarch. She had four pots of various stews and braises going on the stove at all times, started cooking for Thanksgiving in September, and never took shit from anybody. Her kitchen was her haven — it was the place she felt the most confident and where I felt most connected to her as a kid (later in life that was on the couch with her, drinking white wine at 1 p.m. watching General Hospital).
It was ingrained in me from a really young age that love begins in the kitchen. My mom lives by that mantra too. My fondest memories growing up are staying home sick with her; she’d bring me homemade soup and we’d watch Barefoot Contessa for hours before we decided it was time to break it up with a Julia Roberts rom-com. I really owe a lot of who I am today to not only the women in my family, but also the culinary icons I idolized growing up on TV, like Ina, Julia, Martha, Sandra Lee. I used to dream of the day I would be able to match my KitchenAid stand mixer to the tablescape like Sandra did in Semi-Homemade Cooking. Looking back, there were lots of signs.
In college, I was a double major in French and cinema studies, so naturally food became pretty central in a lot of my student film projects. I remember one of my favorites was about a girl who falls in love with a cupcake and dances to Yelle’s “Safari Disco Club.” I was always finding cheeky ways to integrate my love of French culture and cuisine into my productions. After college, I moved to Thailand as part of a program that placed English teachers all over the country, and I found that the deepest connections I made there all revolved around food. When I got back to the States, I worked at a bakery (more of a patisserie, but that sounds pretentious) doing mainly front-of-house operations, but whenever I got to assist in the kitchen — even if it was just filling macarons or making simple syrup — I felt so alive. I think all of these experiences, the connections I’ve made with people all over the world and the ways my mind has been expanded, are attributed to food in some way. Food connects people in a way that’s uniquely its own, which is why I love it so much.
Did you naturally take to instructional cooking and chef-ing in front of a camera?
Oh, I’ve always been a ham. This may shock some folks, but I was really involved in theater as a kid. Once I got my first leading role, the main character in me took over and never really left. I’m a Leo with a Gemini rising and a Scorpio moon, which may tell you everything you need to know.
Is cooking a paramour a meal a third, fourth, fifth, or later date activity?
Quality time and words of affirmation are two of my top three love languages, so if we can bond over a home-cooked meal and you tell me how much you love it, I’m invested. Third or fourth date seems right for this. To be honest with you, I’ve been known to bring guys cookies on the first date (this is not innuendo). It’s usually something we’ve filmed or photographed at the studio that day, but it still seems special — maybe even a little on-the-nose. I made my boyfriend a key lime pie on our second date, but I was already pretty confident by then he was a keeper.
Any suggestions for a non-hassle Valentine’s Day dinner or dessert?
My aunt used to say the only thing she knew how to make was reservations. So that’s always an option. If I’m going hassle-free for V-Day dinner, I want something quick, not too heavy, and super delicious. Probably this wonderful ginger-dill salmon from Ali Slagle because it’s really easy but feels special, plus it makes great use of all that gorgeous winter citrus. Dessert is a big focus for me, so I’m either making chocolate chip cookies (I always keep balls of dough in my freezer) or something easy but exciting like crème brûlée.… I love any excuse to whip out my torch. Ah, the flames of love.
Any tips for a single person lacking motivation to cook for one?
I know how easy it is to get into a rut, especially when it comes to cooking for yourself. Find ways to have fun in the kitchen — a playlist that makes you wanna dance, FaceTiming a bestie, Housewives on the TV — these are all things I do to make cooking more enjoyable. Culinarily speaking, my grocery list rarely changes, but I always try to find new and different ways to prepare my staple foods. Have a really great arsenal of sauces, oils, pastes, herbs, vinegars, spices. Get creative with your combinations. Try researching ways your staple foods are prepared in other cultures. Look up new methods for preparing that thing, or do a deep dive into what chefs say are their favorite ways to eat it. These are all really great ways to switch things up. And if you’re feeling uninspired or are in the mood for something bland, that’s OK too! Be easy on yourself — there’s always hot sauce.