Her show features Sutanya cooking dinner for one while telling stories about her life, the food she’s making, and challenging the more easily discovered narratives about Americans in Paris. In this episode, we are going to talk about being a Black American in Paris, roasted red pepper salad, and whether or not there are chicken fingers in French supermarkets.
Thank you to Justine Sha and Laura Gianino for helping me set up this interview!
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
You can find all the episode of Sutanya’s podcast, Dinner for One, at DinnerForOnePodcast.com.
And you can find glorious pictures of food and of Paris at Sutanya’s Instagram.
And would you like the recipe for the roasted pepper salad? Of course! Thank you to Sutanya for giving me permission to include it!
Algerian Felfla Salad (Bell Pepper Salad)
4 bell peppers (any color or color combination)
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Preheat oven to gas mark 8/ 450 ° F/ 230 ° C
2. Put peppers on a baking sheet lined with aluminum and bake for 30-45 minutes, until the peppers are soft. Black spots on the skin are normal.
3. Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled peel off the skin, remove stem and seeds and cut peppers into strips.
4. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add garlic, tomatoes and peppers.
5. Cook until tomatoes are soft and all of the vegetables are well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. This salad can be enjoyed by itself, on toast or over rice.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 517 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell; thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. My guest today is Sutanya Dacres. Sutanya is a podcaster whose new memoir, Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me, just came out. Her memoir is the story behind her podcast: she met and married a French man, moved to Paris, and then their marriage didn’t work out. But it’s also the story of her staying in Paris, rebuilding her life, and learning to embrace her new home, cooking dinner for one, one evening at a time. We are going to talk about being a Black American in Paris, we’re going to talk about roasted red pepper salad, and whether or not there are chicken fingers in French supermarkets.
Please note, this was recorded while she was obviously in Paris during a thunderstorm, so there’s a wee bit of that weird Zoom metallic sound, and I apologize about that.
Thank you to Justine Sha and Laura Gianino for helping me set up this interview.
Thank you also, as always, to our Patreon community. Hello, folks! Thank you so much for supporting the show and helping me make sure that every episode is accessible, and thank you to garlicknitter for the fabulous transcripts. [You’re welcome! – gk] if you would like to have a look you can support the show at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
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This is an episode that might make you hungry, so you might want to grab a snack, but let’s do this interview: on with the podcast.
Sutanya Dacres: So hi, people that are listening. My name is Sutanya Dacres, and I am the creator and host of the podcast Dinner for One and the author of the recently released memoir Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me, and I still live in Paris. I’m another American living in Paris. [Laughs]
Sarah: Congratulations on Dinner for One –
Sutanya: Thank you.
Sarah: – on the podcast –
Sutanya: Thank you, thank you.
Sarah: – and the memoir.
Sutanya: Thank you. Thank you. [Laughs]
Sarah: Is it, is it really sort of unreal to be like, wow, it’s really out in the world?
Sutanya: Yeah! It’s the, I’ve been, I’ve been dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings, you know, from, like, excitement to nerves to anxiety. Like, my stomach, I’ve had a huge knot in my stomach since like Saturday. It’s still, still there. I’ve been, like, weepy, like my face is leaking? [Laughs] So yeah, just like a range of emotions. But, you know, the book, I guess the, the biggest or the, the emotion I’m leaning into the most is that of, like, happiness and joy.
Sarah: It’s very personal to talk about –
Sarah: – uprooting your life, moving abroad, and then getting a divorce, and chronicling that! It’s a very deep, deeply personal exercise. Can you tell me how the memoir and the podcast came to be?
Sutanya: So the podcast came to be because I was just running amuck in Paris, doing n’importe quoi, as the French say; just, like, falling back on kind of self-destructive behaviors that I’d found comfort in when I was in, living in Connecticut, where I went to university. I talk about it in the memoir: just, like, going out a lot, drinking a lot, you know, trying to use dating and getting into relationships, no matter how short-lived, with other men as the way to help me not focus on my new reality? So I did that for a while, until I was like, yeah, no, this is not cool; we need to get ourselves together. And as I started making these, like, small, little dinners for myself, and then I found them to be quite helpful just in helping me be present in the moment and gave me a moment to reflect as well and slowly get used to my new reality, which is to be alone in this, in this city and to be single. So as I was doing that, I was still kind of at a point where I wanted some guidance, or I wanted to talk to other people that were, had experienced or were experiencing the same thing as me, but a lot of my friends at the time were, you know, just – I was quite young when I got, when my ex and I broke up; I was like thirty, thirty-one – a lot of my friends were just starting to, like, get married or engaged or, like, buy apartments or move in with their partners, and I didn’t want to be the friend that’s like, love sucks –
Sutanya: – you know, so I felt like I couldn’t really vent to them, or I could, but to a certain extent.
Sutanya: So I started looking online for blogs or any kind of resources for or written by American women that moved to Paris for love, and it didn’t work out. I didn’t, I didn’t find it, and a lot of what I did find were like, you know, American women that came to Paris, lived this fantasy, and they’re still living the fantasy. And also, a lot of these women were white American women; you know, they didn’t look like me, they didn’t have the same experiences as me, and so I just thought, someone should be talking about this, adding a different perspective to the American in Paris narrative. I was like, you know what? Why not me? And so, yeah, I just – and I didn’t want to do a blog, because I’m really not good at photography, and I don’t have the discipline – that’s the real truth: the truth is I don’t have the discipline to keep up with a blog – and I thought it would be – at the time I was, I was listening to a lot of podcasts, notably like Call Your Girlfriend, which is a podcast hosted by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, and I really loved this idea of, like, having these people that I admired in my ears and feeling like they were just talking to me? And I, I wondered what that would be like if I shared my story in a podcast format. Since it’s so personal, I wanted people to feel like they were in my kitchen with me. And also what it would be like for people to experience food in a different way, not with the senses that they’re used to, which is smell, sight, and taste, but just with their ears by hearing me cooking and all that stuff. So that’s how the podcast started.
And the book, you know, my agent heard me on the podcast. I was just like, I was talking about dating in France, which is, in Paris, which is just like, ugh!
Sutanya: And so I had a lot of opinions about that and a lot of opinions, and my agent heard me, and my, the woman that would become my agent heard me on the podcast, got in touch with me, one thing led to another, and yeah!
Sarah: So basically the memoir is filling in the backstory of, of the start of the podcast, because the memoir starts with you meeting your ex and having this wonderful relationship over email and text –
Sarah: – and then things don’t work out –
Sutanya: Yeah, and then I rebuild myself through, yeah.
Sarah: Yeah, and one of the things that I really appreciated was the number of times you pointed out the very curated, very white ex-pat versus immigrant language and the way that the, the curated look at what it looks like to be an American in Paris is a very specific narrative and that when you don’t fit that narrative at all it’s really alienating and lonely!
Sutanya: Exactly. And you just, you know, you, it also makes you wonder, like – at least in my case it was kind of like, I’m an American in Paris; I was supposed to be living this perfect, curated story; why didn’t it happen to me? Right? There was a lot of, you know, feelings not only of failure because my marriage ended, but also from this, like, I’m not living the life I should be living here, you know, in this – I’m not living up to people’s expectations of what an American in Paris’s experience should be.
Sarah: So I studied abroad in Spain twice as a teenager, once when I was fifteen and then once in college, which is another time of really establishing your identity when you’re a teenager, and there was supposed to be an English speaker in my host family, but there was not! Because unemployment was like twenty percent at the time and he got a job! As a point guard for a professional basketball team, so understandably –
Sutanya: Oh cool!
Sarah: – he was not home! He was playing basketball!
Sutanya: Yeah! Of course! He’s like –
Sutanya: – he was like, adios! [Laughs] Gotta go!
Sarah: Yeah. Good luck; have fun! So the parts where you wrote about being sort of tossed into the deep end of a different culture with limited language skills and no one to really guide you through once you and your husband split up really resonated with me. I remember very clearly thinking, I only exist in the present tense.
Sarah: I can’t conjugate my verbs; I can’t do past. Future’s kind of easy in Spanish, but I mostly, in the present tense; I exist only in this moment. And I, and I loved how, as you decided to engage with learning more French, in context you did that with shopping for food, which is a very – and also, I love going grocery shopping in other countries. It’s like my –
Sarah: – favorite thing? When did you start to feel like you really existed in the past and in the present in, in Paris? And I’m curious: was it when you learned to think in metric? Because that is one skill that eludes me.
Sutanya: I, it’s been nine years; I still don’t think in metric.
Sarah: [Laughs] I’m so relieved to hear that!
Sutanya: Yeah, yeah, no. Not me. I don’t think I’ll ever know –
Sarah: All I know is that 32 Fahrenheit and 32 Celsius are both bad. That’s all I know, yeah.
Sutanya: Yeah, exactly, exactly. No, I still, like, you know, we recently had a heat wave, and I told my friends, like, yeah, it’s going to be a hundred degrees, and they’re like, what are you talking about?
Sutanya: It’s going to be a hundred degrees on Saturday, you guys. They’re like, we don’t understand your weird American way of, like, you know, describing the weather! But yeah, I don’t, I don’t, I still think, I do not think in metric, sorry.
Sarah: That’s okay! I’m, I’m kind of relieved! [Laughs]
Sutanya: I think I felt kind of Frenchifying myself, but I felt more competent with the language and I, I felt like it was becoming a part of me when I was actually able to kind of like argue with my crotchety neighbor.
Sutanya: Which, I was using present, past, and future tense in the, the same – [laughs] –
Sutanya: – you know, in the conversation. So I think it was when, when I was able to stand up for myself –
Sutanya: – and not shrink myself, and not, and not go back into this kind of like, oh, I’m just a little American in Paris; I don’t know! kind of safe space; when I was able to advocate for myself –
Sutanya: – that’s when, yeah, that’s when my, my identity, I was like a sort of Frenchified American in Paris, you know, started to feel true and, and feel like me –
Sutanya: – and I was no longer pretending and no longer scared.
Sarah: Does cranky neighbor still live there?
Sutanya: Oh, Cranky Neighbor still lives here, but like, you would not believe what happened.
Sarah: Tell me everything!
Sutanya: So on Fri-, last Friday – so I started, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I started a supper club for single women in Paris.
Sarah: Yes, I saw that on your Instagram. It’s luscious.
Sutanya: Oh, thank you. So I’ve been doing that, and Friday I had like a big kind of like blowout apéro extravaganza at my place –
Sutanya: – and, like, all the, the ladies that participated came; it was so much fun. We got, you know, we had some drinks, and we got a little loud, but my neighbor didn’t come upstairs, which is nice, and he’s been pretty nice to me recently, and the other day I, he overheard me in the stairwell talking about my book and everything, and so he, he stopped me – [vroom!] – the next time we saw each other – sorry, that’s my neighbor and his motorcycle – he stopped me and he was like, oh, so you’re writing a book, you wrote a book, and I said yes, and I told him about it, and he said, oh, that’s lovely! You know, félicitations. Fast forward to this Friday, the supper club apéro. Saturday morning, there’s like a – [knock, knock, knock] – on my door; I’m like, oh my God, it’s him. I open the door and he’s there in his, like, little white shorts – [laughs] – and he – and, like, little white T-shirt – and he has a bottle of champagne for me!
Sarah: [Gasps] Ohhh!
Sutanya: Yeah! And, you know, I, I am not making this up: luckily my – so I have a couple friends from college that are in town for the book launch events and stuff like that, and one of them is staying with me this weekend, so she was actually here, like, with half a croissant in her mouth, witnessing the interaction.
Sutanya: And yeah! He paid us, like, you know, I wanted to just, you know, congratulate you on your book; that’s so wonderful. Then, of course, he, like, scolded me because of all the noise we made, so it was like a compliment with a complaint: typical French. But yeah! So the Cranky Neighbor is still cranky, but, like, we’re, like, friendly now.
Sarah: Well, I mean, there’s been an exchange of bubbly; next you’ll be on each others’ holiday card list.
Sutanya: Right? Yeah.
Sarah: [Gasps] I feel like that’s a really big moment when you relocate your life, when you win over the crankiest person in your orbit, right?
Sutanya: Yeah. Literally. Yeah.
Sutanya: But actually I was thinking I might invite him to my place for, like, a little apéro – I haven’t opened the bottle yet, so when I open it – and, like, his story’s pretty sad. Like, we’re, you know, once we started talking he told me that, like, you know, his sister died, and they lived – so she, apparently she lived downstairs as well, but in the apartment just in front of his? And neither of them had any kids and, like, his parents are dead, he doesn’t have any other family, so it kind of made, he’s like a lonely old man, and it made me feel, like, a bit sorry for him, so I think I’m going to invite him up for, like, to share the champagne with me, ‘cause that was really nice of him to do that.
Sarah: That’s really lovely! That’s – and he’s the one who maintains all the flowers in your courtyard, right?
Sutanya: Yeah, that’s him, that’s him. Yep.
Sarah: I feel like such a creeper; like, he’s the guy that’s in your house with the flowers, right?
Sutanya: I wrote about him! Everybody’s going to know about him; I should tell him that he’s always going to, he might be known in the US. Big in America. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, you’re going to be famous, sir. Get ready. When you show up –
Sutanya: Get ready, dude.
Sarah: If you cross the pond, man, people are going to be like – [gasps] – it’s you!
Sutanya: It’s you; you’re the neighbor. [Laughs]
Sarah: I also appreciated the moments in your book where you talked about how being American in Paris –
Sarah: – supersedes being Black in Paris when people interacted with you, and I did not know –
Sarah: – that the French don’t track race in their census.
Sarah: So they can be post-racial, except –
Sarah: – not really – [laughs] – at all.
Sutanya: Mm-hmm, actually. Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: And they, they have colorism and they have racism, and they have colonies, for crying out loud, in the Caribbean!
Sutanya: Still! Still today –
Sutanya: – in the year of our Lord 2022, yes.
Sarah: How has your experience in Paris translated to your friends and family in the US?
Sutanya: I mean, I talk about it with them, but it’s not something that is unexpected from, from Black people, right?
Sutanya: Because I don’t think I would, I don’t think I would tell them anything that – I think the only thing that, maybe it would come as a surprise is, like, France is sold as this, like, racial utopia? So when I just pretty much said, like, that’s not the case, and I’m going to tell you why, it was like, okay, yeah, that makes sense.
Sutanya: And so it’s just like a, unfortunately, you know, Black people, after a certain age, are almost conditioned to expect racism and to, and expect to be discriminated against, and you kind of have to just, like, not be surprised or try, try really hard not to be surprised by it and expect it so that when you do experience it, it doesn’t, it, it, it isn’t as damaging. The thing about racism and discrimination that really sucks is how harmful it is to your confidence to your sense of self –
Sutanya: – to how you see yourself in this world. I can’t speak for Black people as a whole, but for me, at least, I think just expecting it helps to make it hurt less, because it’s like, well, obviously, you know what I mean?
Sutanya: Which is a really, it’s a really hurtful way to walk around the, to walk in this world, but I know that as a Black woman in, you know, this country that we’re living in today and the world we’re living in today, I need to protect myself in every way that I can and to just expect sometimes some stupid people to be racist towards me and discriminatory towards me. I think, when I talk to my friends and family back home, the ones that are Black or people of color, they’re not too surprised –
Sutanya: – you know. The issues that the US has with Black people and Blackness, American culture has its Black people, Blackness, and a complicated relationship, it’s not France’s complicated relationship with Blackness, right? Like, my American issues have nothing to do with France; it’s a different country, different culture. So French people just see me as, you know, yeah, looks like an American: just someone from a different country that they admire; that they find interesting; that, you know, they find American culture very fascinating. My country, my culture, my citizenship definitely trumps my Blackness. I see this all the time: if I was a Black woman from Senegal, named Fatima, or, like, Cote d’Ivoire or something and I had the same level of education, same personality, same, you know, kind of creative pursuits, I think that my, I’m pretty confident that my experience in Paris would be very, very different. I just want to be as free, and also there’s something great about being – you know, you stayed abroad – so there’s something great about being a foreigner, right? You can –
Sutanya: – be present and be there; then you can also escape into your little world and also use your foreignness as an excuse, as, like, to get, you know, remove yourself from the cultural gaps or just to, people being more patient with you. People don’t have as many expectations –
Sarah: Oh yes.
Sutanya: – as well. I think French people have a, when they think of Black Americans, they think of Josephine Baker, they think of jazz musicians, they think of the parts of American, of Black American culture that have just become a part of American culture in general, like our most celebrated icons, they think of them. So, like, our Blackness is viewed in a positive light.
Sutanya: You know, we’re not putting their colonial history, you know, what they’ve done in Africa and other parts of the world, we’re not putting it in their face as Black American. When it comes to being someone who is French, but also you have a different kind of background, so if you’re, like, French-Algerian or French-Senegalese or, you know, even French-American, like, in order to survive in France you have to become French. Like, there isn’t much room for that other part of you.
Sutanya: You know, or the other part of you is just like an asterisk, and, yeah, I think about that. I want to stay here. I would love to have kids. If I’m lucky enough to have kids – knock on wood – [knocks on wood] – in this country, my kids are going to be French! And they’re going to be so, so, so French; they’re going to be French with an American mother –
Sutanya: – which I just, I never thought about that! And, and I think it’s because, growing up in New York as the, you know, Jamaican and the child of Jamaican immigrants, I always considered myself Jamaican-American, and they were both cultures that I lived with, and both of them are a part of who I am, and I could be both of them and no one would question that, whereas here it’s just like you’ve got to be French and that’s it!
Sutanya: There isn’t much room for others. The fact that I am American, like, if I have kids, like, okay, it’s cool your mom is American; that means you, like, speak English fluently; like, that’s great and – but that’s about it.
Sutanya: Like, they’re just going to be French.
Sarah: Yep. One of the things that really resonated with me about your memoir is the idea of how the French embrace the idea of pleasure?
Sarah: And that there is no guilt. So in my –
Sarah: – in my actual, like, predominant part of my job, the, the podcast that I run is connected to a website called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which is all about romance, and romance is always called a guilty pleasure. It is something that we struggle with –
Sarah: – in the, you know, the lexicon of the romance genre’s oh, it’s a guilty pleasure, and in France there is no guilt when you experience pleasure.
Sarah: Pleasure is to be embraced! What are some of the examples of embracing pleasure that you love? And I do have to say, your memoir has made such an impression on me because –
Sutanya: Oh, thank you!
Sarah: – when I went and had lunch today I thought, okay, you’re not going to look at your phone; you’re not going to do anything; you’re just going to enjoy what you have on your plate, and you’re going to think about how it tastes, and you’re going to slow down; and I was like, wow! That was really fun! [Laughs]
Sutanya: Right? Yeah –
Sarah: Super fun!
Sutanya: Right? Yeah! Just like little things like that. I, the pleasure of doing nothing.
Sutanya: Like, French people will go to a café and sit there all day and maybe have a coffee, and then maybe they’ll have a bite to eat and they still sit there. No one’s going to bother you or ask you to leave, and they just, like, do nothing, and no one – and if you say, you know, if I say to a friend, like, I didn’t do anything today; I just sat at a café; they’d be like, you know what, good for you. You’ve got to take time for yourself; good for you.
Sutanya: You need to just relax and not do anything. So for me that’s been the biggest pleasure as a New Yorker is to just not feel guilty about taking time for myself and just, like, doing absolutely nothing. And, and not having it considered, you know, wasted time or being inefficient –
Sutanya: – or just living and experiencing life is enough of, you know, occupying my time enough. Yeah, I can get joy out of that, you know, and take pleasure.
Sarah: And that’s really a lovely idea. I, I have always been fascinated by the fact that in, in France, in schools, lunch is like an hour and a half.
Sutanya: Hour and a half. Oh yeah! And work, too!
Sarah: Yeah, and when my children were in elementary school, their lunch was twenty minutes.
Sutanya: What?! No, no, no. Not only do they have an hour and a half, they have, like, real cutlery –
Sutanya: – and they have to sit, and they have like three courses and it’s a whole thing and yeah. And their lunch menus are, are shared with the parents ahead of time, and they eat, like, really well.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Sutanya: [Laughs] They eat like boeuf bourguignon, and I’m like, what? It’s not Sloppy Joe? I remember having Sloppy Joe!
Sarah: There’s no chicken fingers!
Sutanya: There’s no chicken fingers! I don’t, you know, honestly, I, shit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen chicken fingers in a French supermarket. I’m literally going to go check out the Monoprix tomorrow to double-check, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a chicken finger. I’ve seen, like, breaded, like, chicken breast or things like that –
Sarah: Yeah, cutlets, right.
Sutanya: – but I –
Sarah: Or schnitzel.
Sutanya: – cutlets, but I’ve never, yeah, but I’ve never seen chicken fingers.
Sarah: One of the things I love about the memoir is also that the whole back of it is recipes, and I know this recipe came from your former mother-in-law, so I hope you don’t mind if I ask you about it, but can you tell me more about this Algerian roasted red pepper salad? It sounds so good!
Sutanya: And it is! And as someone that doesn’t like peppers? Like, for the – so my ex-husband is, back on his mom’s side, his mom is Algerian-Jewish, and his dad is Italian, mostly Italian with, like, his dad grew up in France, whatever, but his entire family before is Italian. So, you know, food is a part of his life, right. His family –
Sarah: Very much, yes. Extreme food.
Sutanya: Yeah, yes, and lots of it. Like, there’s no I’m hungry.
Sutanya: I mean, there’s no I’m, I’m finished. [Laughs] It’s just, like, piled on. And so for the longest time, so his mom actually introduced me to north African food and also, like, you know, Sephardic Jewish food, which I had no experience of. All this time I thought I was eating couscous in New York, but nonono, we are not eating couscous. Like, the way she cooked it, all the meats and the vegetables and the sauces, incredible – sorry, I digress. The –
Sarah: That’s fine.
Sutanya: – pepper salad is very good, and I actually didn’t like, I, I wasn’t a big fan of peppers, actually. Like, the first couple times, you know, she kind of presented it and was kind of like, you know, this is part of the meal, I didn’t really eat it, and super rude, but I was just like, I’m sorry; I don’t like peppers. And then I don’t know what happened: one day, like, my, we were at my mother-, my former mother-in-law’s apartment, we’d go there at least twice a week, she lives in Paris, and I’m really close to her, even to this day –
Sarah: Oh, that’s lovely!
Sutanya: I have so much respect for her and admire her so much, and my love for her is deep and true and, yeah, she’s fantastic. We’d go there a lot, and always food, and the salad was there, and I said, you know, I’m going to try this Goddamn salad.
Sutanya: And my mouth was just like – [gasps] – why have I, I’ve been missing out on this! It’s so good! It has this – so it still tastes like peppers, but then there’s this, like, it’s kind of like sweetness to it, and they’re really soft, and it’s just, like – and, you know, I would, like, because France, baguette, like, with the French bread, like, dipping it, oh! [Kiss noise] Chef’s kiss. Perfect.
Sutanya: So –
Sarah: And from the recipe, it seems like it’s really easy to prepare!
Sutanya: Super easy. It gets better the longer you, like, just, like, let it sit, right. So she would, like, start it in the morning; if a bunch of people were going to be there for lunch, she’s starting in the morning, and by lunchtime it’s good, but, like, if you had the other batch with dinner? Ahh! So, so good. And so simple, yeah.
Sarah: I cannot wait to try that.
Sutanya: Hope you like it!
Sarah: I hope I like it too, ‘cause I, I was like you: I don’t like peppers, and then I realized, wait a minute, I like them when they are roasted.
Sutanya: Yeah, when they’re roasted, yeah, really good.
Sarah: I also love that your podcast and your memoir also circle back to roast chicken. Is roast chicken the foundation of all things?
Sutanya: Pretty much, because that’s the first thing that I made was a roasted chicken. It’s just something that is, it’s seemingly complicated, but it’s not?
Sutanya: You know, kind of like what I did, which was stay, you know, kind of rebuilt my life after my divorce. Yes, when you’re, you’re confronted with the end of what was supposed to be your forever relationship and the love of your life, and also a new city, it seems complicated to start over, but, you know, it’s like a few simple ingredients, like self-confidence, self-love, bestowing kindness upon yourself, and just the will and determination to power through, you can do it, you know? And all I needed for the chicken was some olive, good olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, paprika, and what up? [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Why do you think people are so fascinated with Paris?
Sutanya: I think because it’s – I don’t know; I mean, it’s just really beautiful. [Laughs]
Sarah: It is. It is beautiful.
Sutanya: Paris is really gorgeous, and the French have done a really good job of, like, branding themselves – Parisians at least. And I think there is this fascination with Parisians or French people in general because they are so confident.
Sutanya: Because they are so nationalistic, and because they really, like, don’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks about them.
Sarah: They deeply don’t give a fuck.
Sutanya: No, deeply, deeply couldn’t care less. If no, if no foreigners were to come to this country, they’d be so happy!
Sutanya: I think it’s just that, like, self-assuredness. They’re just kind of like, we’re like this; if you don’t like it, well, not my issue, not my problem. The whole kind of like pleasure aspect, I mean, the luxury and the lu-, yeah, the luxury industry is just so big here –
Sutanya: – I think because they know how to live. Like, French and Italians, they know how to live.
Sarah: Oh yes. So what books are you reading that you would like to tell people about? I always like to share book recommendations.
Sutanya: Well, I have my little stack here.
Sarah: Thank you!
Sutanya: There’s – [laughs] – there’s one that I don’t have because I actually, a friend just borrowed it, and I’m, like, passing around my girl group. It is called Rethinking Sex by Christine Emba, and it is essentially questioning how much harm the sexual liberation has done to how we view, as a people – especially as women – view sex, and how we liberated the idea of, you know, sex is a free-for-all, it’s taking away from the fact that sex is actually a really vulnerable act to share with someone?
Sutanya: And the fact that we’re treating each other so badly with the advent of apps and all that stuff, that it’s really doing more harm than good? And she did, you know, her perspective is mostly from a cis, heterosexual perspective, but I think if someone that, I would hope that if someone, no matter, you know, their sexual orientation or their gender, that they can and should put more care and thought into sharing themselves with someone in such an intimate way, and it’s, it’s, it’s made me really think about what I want in a sexual relationship with someone and how I as well – you know, it’s not just, you know, one-way, like the man and me, but even me, like how I treat men that I choose to engage in a sexual relationship with and my expectations and their expectations. It’s just really made me think. There are a lot of things that people might not agree with, which is fine, and critique, which is fine, but I think her overall message of the fact that sex is a big deal –
Sutanya: – you know? And we should treat it as such, and we’re actually doing more harm to ourselves than good when we just, when we don’t give it as much care and attention as, as, as we should. And so I really, I really enjoyed that, and I’m passing it around my, all my, my girl group.
And I’m also reading the, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. I know this came out a couple years ago, and she is a British writer, and this book is pretty – so it’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone?
Sutanya: So it’s kind of like profile plus slight memoir. So she moved to New York City, I forget exactly when this was, but she moved to New York City to be with a man, and when she gets there, he dumps her.
Sutanya: And so she’s already, she’s already, like, subletting her apartment in London, so she can’t go back; she has to just stay in New York City, and so she writes about what it’s like navigating New York City a hundred percent alone while profiling different artists that, like, a part of their art was being alone, being loners, kind of. So she profiles, like, Andy Warhol, and she talks about him and, like, how loneliness played a role in his art. I loved it.
And then I also read 24 Hours in Paris, which, you know, this – full disclosure: this is a friend of mine – and she used to live in Paris, and it’s just like, it’s a rom-, it’s like a rom-com. Two people that work together in New York City, and they come to Paris on a work trip, and then they’re the only two that, you know, their flights get canceled, so they get to spend twenty-four hours in Paris together, and they kind of fall in love. You know, typical –
Sarah: Love it!
Sutanya: – but it’s so well written, and I really enjoyed it.
And this! I’ve been still thinking about it! Lessons in Chemistry: this is fiction by Bonnie Garmus, and it is about, so the protagonist is this woman named Elizabeth Zott, and she’s, you know, this, it’s set in the late 1950s, early 1960s, and she’s a chemist working at a lab called Hastings Institute, and she’s a very intelligent, strong, confident woman and sure of herself, and women like that working in a lab in 1950, in late 1950s, you can imagine she was not very welcomed. So, you know, a few things happen in her life that lead her to be a single mom, and as a way to kind of put food on the table, she becomes the host of a TV show, a cooking show. But what she does is, instead of doing a kind of typical, this is, you know, this is how you roast a chicken, whatever, she turns it into chemistry lessons, so she explains to these audiences of, like, housewives, essentially, how, the fact that cooking is actually chemistry and it’s science, and in doing so she empowers them to believe in themselves and to go for their dreams.
Sutanya: Yeah, and it is just an absolutely brilliant book, and I’m obsessed with it, and I hope I explained it right, correctly. I’m sorry; they’re really good. I still think about Elizabeth Zott and the character, and I want to know what she’s doing now and how she’s living. And I think it’s actually going to be adapted; I think, if I, if I remember correctly, ‘cause I listened to a podcast episode that featured Bonnie Garmus, and I think it’s going to be adapted. But yeah, it’s really good!
Sarah: That’s awesome!
Sutanya: So yeah, those are, those are the books that I recently finished, and I’m going to start a few when I head off to vacation next week.
Sarah: Ooh, where do you get to go?
Sutanya: I’m going to Italia.
Sarah: Oh no, more food! What are you going to do?
Sutanya: Si, si, prego, prego! [Laughs] I’m going to eat!
Sarah: Got to practice your gestures!
Sutanya: Mangia, mangia! [Laughs, speaks more Italian] I’ve been practicing essential vocabulary!
Sarah: Listen, you need to know how to get your food –
Sarah: – find a bathroom –
Sutanya: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: – get gelato, very important.
Sutanya: Get gelato, yeah, very important.
Sarah: I have a book recommendation for you!
Sarah: Because you were talking about Rethinking Sex –
Sarah: – there’s a book by Emily Nagoski called Come As You Are –
Sarah: – which is all about –
Sarah: – the science of orgasm.
Sutanya: Oooh! Okay.
Sarah: And what happens to your body and how it works, and it’s very, very interesting, because it –
Sutanya: Okay, lovely!
Sarah: – it, it reframes all of the ways in which you think about female orgasm and female intimacy
Sutanya: Oh, love that, love that.
Sarah: Well, where can people find you if they wish to locate you on the internet when you’re not in Italy drinking wine and eating gelato?
Sutanya: [Laughs] You can find me at Dinner for period, like the punctuation, one, O-N-E [@dinnerfor.one] on Instagram. That’s where I spend most of my internet time, and that’s the only place; I’m not on TikTok, I’m not anywhere else, so that’s where you can find me, and on the podcast as well. I would recommend, if, you know, this is, this is your first introduction to me and Dinner for One, I would actually recommend reading the book first so that you get an idea of, like, what kind of brought me here?
Sutanya: And then, like, what led to the decision of me falling in love – not a decision, but how I was able to fall in love with this French man, the whole, like, you know, online courtship and trans-Atlantic relationship, divorce, and then the podcast, you can listen to my post-divorce glow-up. How I’ve –
Sutanya: – been able to live, try to live my best life in this glorious city, which I feel so honored and blessed and grateful to live in
Sarah: I was listening to some episodes, and I was listening to the one where all of your friends come over for dinner, and they’re talking about the podcast, and they all recommended the episode “Greens Do the Body Good” –
Sutanya: Oh yeah, yeah.
Sarah: – which is a good one, but I think the one where you and your friends get together and talk about the language of friendship is probably my favorite episode.
Sutanya: Oh, thank you! I’m happy to hear that.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you again to Sutanya for connecting with me. Thank you to Justine Sha and Laura Gianino for helping me set this interview up, and thank you for listening, doing whatever you’re doing! I imagine you’re cleaning or cooking, or maybe you’re dyeing wool or doing something really crafty. Thank you for inviting me to keep you company.
I’m curious: have you ever uprooted your life and moved to a very, very different place? Was a culture shock a thing for you? I would love to hear what you thought and what your experience was! You can email me at [email protected]; you can leave me a voicemail at 201-371-3272. I love hearing from you, so thank you for listening and thank you for being part of the podcast community.
As always, I end with a terrible joke, and this joke is from Maggie’s door of horrible jokes. I cannot thank you enough, Maggie. These jokes make me so happy. Are you ready?
Who is Frosty’s favorite aunt?
Give up? Who is Frosty’s favorite aunt?
[Laughs] You kind of see that one coming, but it’s still really fun. Thank you, Maggie!
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Thank you so much for listening, and we will see you back here next week!
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.