The chef, TV host, and Instagram personality talks cooking, wellness, and social media boundaries.
A recipe isn't the whole story, according to Sophia Roe.
No, in order to understand a dish, the culture and memories behind a meal are just as important as the ingredient list and cooking instructions. It's in these nuances that Roe, a James Beard Award-winning chef, Emmy-nominated TV host, and Instagram personality, has found her sweet spot hosting and producing the Vice TV show Counter Space.
Each episode of the series (available on Tastemade's streaming channel) combines a recipe, an interview with a notable person, and information about different cultures through the lens of food. Topics include cultural appropriation in the culinary world, climate and the environment as they relate to agriculture, and the future of food.
Ahead, Roe explains the importance of respecting all kinds of foods, how cooking and wellness go hand in hand, and the social media boundaries she sets to protect her mental health.
Labeling Food As "Good" or "Bad"
One element of Counter Space involves diving deep into the background of specific dishes from a variety of cultures. In a time when many foods are vilified by society in the name of "wellness," it's hugely important to Roe to demonstrate that you can't always simply label a food group or ingredient as "good" or "bad."
"Before you know it, you're using food as a form of discrimination, and you have to be really, really mindful of that," she says. Roe uses MSG (or monosodium glutamate) as an example of how a seasoning that's a staple in one culture's cooking has been inaccurately deemed as unhealthy by so many. Although it might not seem like a big deal to call a food unhealthy, there are larger ramifications of that kind of thinking. "What are you saying about the people who grow that food or utilize that food or eat that food?"
That's where the all-important "gray area conversations" as Roe calls them, come into play. "There's a lot of nuance in the show, and I think that's really, really, really important, especially in regard to talking about agriculture and our food."
Cooking Meets Wellness
For Roe, food and feelings are wholly intertwined. She explains this phenomenon by pointing out the way that memories can impact how people feel about a meal or even a restaurant.
"Is the sauce that my mom made the best sauce? [Or was it] the best sauce because my mom made it?" she asks. "Is this restaurant that we go to the best restaurant, or is it good because the first time I went there it was my first date with my partner?"
The process of cooking can also be a form of self care, she points out. "The most basic thing you can do for yourself is make yourself a meal," she says. "I don't care what the meal is...when you make it for yourself, you're showing yourself that you care about yourself," she explains.
Despite the health and wellness industry being worth trillions (yes, really), you can't put a price on Roe's definition of wellness. "Wellness is very simple," according to the chef. "Food, air, water, movement, sunlight, purpose, community — these sorts of basic things," she says. "We all deserve those things. I feel like those are all the makings of a badass life."
Setting Social Media Boundaries
Roe doesn't hold back much on Instagram, where 466,000 followers are used to getting snippets of both her mouthwatering recipes and deeply personal stories. She's not shy when it comes to sharing about growing up in the foster system, experiencing racism, or dealing with food insecurity in the past.
However, she does draw some boundaries to protect her privacy and mental health. That means sharing her studio space with followers but keeping her actual home private. "When we [Roe and her partner, Chris] get home, we're not working," she says.
Still, she seems to thrive on being open and authentic online. "I do want people to know I'm a real person, and that's why I do choose to show real stuff," says Roe. Any one of her followers can confirm that "real stuff" includes dealing with car accidents, getting excited about mushroom-themed clothing, feeling disappointed by cancelled events, and watching her partner do yoga while she cooks. "My dream is for people to meet me in real life and be like, 'Oh my God, you're, like, the same.'"
Case in point, Roe is eager to share that just 30 minutes before beginning hours of interviews with journalists to promote new episodes of Counter Space dropping, she was baking. "I was literally making cream puffs...in this outfit," she says with a laugh, pointing out her stylish dress fit for rounds of Zoom calls. "I'm a chef," she adds, as if to say: "What else would I be doing?"