APIECE APART WOMAN
As an author and Executive Editor at Bon Appetit, having a sixth sense about where food and story come together is both Christine Muhlke’s personal passion and her livelihood. On December 17, we’ll be hosting Christine at our Soho pop-up store to celebrate her new cookbook Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán, centered around the food and philosophy at the beloved Hartwood restaurant in Tulum. And leading up to it, we caught Christine at home on a busy morning (while she nonchalantly whisked up a giant batch of frosting for her son’s birthday party) for a conversation on Midwestern sensibilities, matcha rituals, and how her work inspires her to identify the connections between people and place.
New York friends, we’d love for you to join us with Christine on Thursday, December 17th from 6-8pm at our Pop-Up Store at 403 Broome Street for margaritas and shopping as we celebrate the Hartwood launch. Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase.
Can you share more about your upbringing?
I grew up in the Midwest, between Chicago, Wisconsin, and back to Chicago for high school (those three years in Texas don’t really count). It wasn’t until recently that I was able to appreciate what it means to be a Midwesterner—beyond the ability to consume incredible amounts of food. I was always so focused on trying to be from somewhere else, but now I realize that the values of simplicity, openness, and helpfulness are of more lasting importance than sophistication. (“Prairie Home Companion” is a very guilty pleasure.) As for the eating part, well, it’s made for a great career!
How do you keep your own inspirations and interests fresh when you’re constantly searching and finding new things and places to write about?
Searching for (and finding) things and places is a constant source of inspiration. Being in a new city, country, or even neighborhood makes me take off the blinders I sometimes need to get through the day. And reporting a story or researching a book means that I’m free to ask strangers all kinds of questions that I’d normally be to shy to ask: It automatically connects me to a sense of people and place. One of the many good things about what I do as an executive editor is that it’s no longer about what’s newest and coolest, it’s about what’s best and most authentic—i.e., what inspires me. The hustle element has decreased while the pleasure of discovery has been heightened.
"One of the many good things about what I do as an executive editor is that it’s no longer about what’s newest and coolest, it’s about what’s best and most authentic—i.e., what inspires me."
Describe a daily ritual.
Drinking matcha. I love the bowl and whisk, of course, but I simply enjoy the minute of whisking—that quiet moment of focus.
Please describe your last month in a word.
A low-brow essential:
If only I could get my hands on “Grazia” from the U.K. It’s the perfect blend of trashy celeb stuff and approachable fashion/lifestyle. Why aren’t Stella Bugbee and I co-editing the U.S. version?!
Christine wears TEWA SQUARE NECK DRESS in black
A high-brow essential:
The Paris Review. Every issue blows me open in some new way--and always on pages where I least expect it. Their interview series will teach you how to work, write, live.
Do you ever go through periods of creative stagnancy? How do you combat it?
Who doesn’t? If I can, I travel—preferably somewhere where I can go for a few hikes. Also, airplane time is my favorite zone for sketching out new ideas.
What have been the biggest turning points in your career?
Being tapped by Horacio Silva to work on the launch of T Magazine. Two years prior, I had set a goal to work at the Times at some point in the next 10 to 15 years. It was incredible to be able to help create something new with such talented, experienced editors. Being tapped by Adam Rapoport to help relaunch Bon Appétit. Again, there’s something about a blank canvas, a bunch of talented people, and that startup energy. I love startup energy.
What are you passionate about?
Friends, family, beauty, food, music, great writing, supporting talent.
What objects have been most significant to you lately?
A new mattress can change a surprising number of things… A Vivian Meier self-portrait that shows her looking uncharacteristically feminine in a flowing print blouse. She always looks strong, but this one also has a secretive softness that grabbed me.
My new Japanese brass bicycle bell, which replaced an older one that got dinged out of whack. I realized that a good bike bell might actually be the most important object in my life on a daily basis—I use it a lot.
When do you feel like the most true version of yourself?
With my son, because I have to be present (and silly).
What do you eat for dinner alone?
College housemate food: lentils, kale, brown rice, tahini. Or pasta with walnut pesto—my nothing-in-the-kitchen fallback.
What are some favorite recent non-food related discoveries?
It’s food-related, BUT, I’m reading the galley of Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, “Sweetbitter,” about a young waitress at a barely veiled Union Square Café. It perfectly captures the lost-to-foundness of moving to New York after college, not to mention the wild intensity of back of house. And the writing is dynamite.
A story for W led me to CAP Beauty in the West Village, an organic skincare shop and spa, where I had an incredible facial: A beautiful acupuncturist worked on my feet and wrists while another lovely woman gave me the most relaxing facial—all while fantastic music that I’d never heard before but seemed to have been generated by some subconscious internal playlist streamed over really good speakers. I wept, then I blacked out. And my skin looked great.
Otherwise, every day I’m sent down multiple rabbit holes by Idea Books’ and Camille Bidault Waddington’s feeds on Instagram (Jim Walrod, too, for a New York eye).
Something that is underrated:
We pay so much attention to our jobs and our romantic relationships, but our true female friendships often outlast them all.
Something that is overrated:
What are some cultural touchstones you consider a part of who you are today — i.e.: what films, books, artists, places, etc., have been most influential in shaping you?
Music that my father played when I was little, starting with the album cover of “Sticky Fingers” that I was given as a toy when I was three (maybe not the best judgment call): The Beatles’ “White Album,” Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” Lou Reed’s “Transformer.” Then, in fifth grade, I stopped collecting KISS and Fleetwood Mac albums and bought the B-52’s after hearing “Rock Lobster” at camp. It was the first sign to a Wisconsin girl that there were other weirdoes in the world, and that one day I would find them. A few years later, I listened to my stepmother’s copy of the first Pretenders album (Side A, not B), and Chrissie Hynde’s sexy, angry, confident cool woke up something else in me. I could fill the rest of the Internet with this list, but those were the real touchstones.
Seeing “Harold & Maude” at camp when I was in junior high made me feel less alone. I’ve always sought out Ruth Gordon types to show me how to live. Plus, that music! And that Jaguar!
When I was nine, my family drove around Spain for three weeks. Standing in a cathedral one day, I had the first experience of being overwhelmed by beauty—beauty as religion. I had the experience again in the Prado. Those experiences, and that of being submerged in a foreign culture, really shaped me. I can’t wait to show my son the world. And then, of course, there is France. When I was little, there were French girls down the street from my grandmother, and I was fascinated. I asked my parents to order me books, and started studying the language in school and doing extra work at home. Finally, when I was in 10th grade, I went on a school trip. I still dream about some of those images of France. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the ensuing 30 (!) years and have even carved out a tiny home there, but each visit fills me with that teenage thrill of being in the midst of such refined beauty and pleasure.
Photography by TIM HOUT | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON