Friend of Graza: JJ Goode

Friend of Graza: JJ Goode

The ghostwriter behind your favorite cookbooks on his go-to guajillo adobo marinade, kimbap dates with his kids, and finding inspiration in even clammier editions of linguini alla vongole.

Q: How do you describe yourself?

JJ: A cookbook ghostwriter. I'm from New Jersey. I've never lived more than a few hours from where I grew up. I don't have much to say about food myself but I love helping truly accomplished people tell their stories, most of the time in cookbook form. I'm not always a ghost. Chefs often give me credit. But the books are entirely theirs and I work really hard to get in their heads. If anything, they became like ghosts who possess me.

Q: Finish this sentence: Cooking for me is _____

JJ: Part joy, part struggle. When I want to cook, I love to cook. When I have to cook, I want to cry. Also, I was born with a short, mostly useless right arm, so even relatively simple tasks—e.g. peeling carrots, chopping herbs—sometimes makes me want to cry.

Q: What's your current favorite grocery store find or obsession?

JJ: Current and constant obsession: crushed Calabrian chiles. They just have so much flavor. One of my few moves in the kitchen is mixing them with honey and putting that on things.

Q: What's your go-to crowd-pleaser meal?

JJ: Chicken marinated with guajillo adobo, using a recipe from an amazing book I worked on more than a decade ago: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez. You de-seed some guajillos, toasted them briefly in a hot pan. Then you soak them and blend them with a few things (e.g. cumin, salt, vinegar). Season some chicken (spatchcocked whole, thigh, even breasts), slather on a little adobo, marinate for an hour or two, then cook. The best.

Q: Who do you turn to, watch, or follow for food inspiration?

JJ: I'm afraid of social media, so I'm not following or watching much! Instead I look to what my friends are cooking for inspiration. I have a friend in New Orleans who works in juvenile justice who's an amazing cook and somehow manages to make his family amazing dinners in like 15 minutes, as if he's on some food competition show. And my best friend from childhood became a private chef, so he's always sending me photos of the fun food he's making for his clients, like his famous vongole alla linguine, which is like linguine alla vongole but with way too many clams.

Q: What’s one piece of advice or a practice you see in the food world you think is overrated, overly aspirational, unhelpful, or is otherwise just not the vibe?

JJ: Ha, just one? I think the whole you-can-do-it-too optimism is a bit much. There's a lot of "cooking is easier than you think!" encouragement out there. In some ways, sure, but in many ways this attitude papers over the truth that cooking is often difficult and messy, and the results are often at least a little disappointing. At least in my kitchen.

Q: What are your all-around life mottos, mantras, philosophies? What guides you in the kitchen?

JJ: My mantra is basically "you're definitely going to die but hopefully not today." Anxious person over here. Cooking is nice because it's something you have to do every night (for my kids, not necessarily for me) and anxiety is no match for a project, no matter how simple.

Q: You help great chefs create great cookbooks—what has been your favorite food-related project you've done to date?

JJ: Oh there are so many I've loved and learned so much from. But the Pok Pok book is the one where my affection for a particular country's food coincided with a fantastic person and an amazing experience. I basically got to hang in Thailand for a month with Andy Ricker and eat tasty things and meet his friends and watch him cook and pet various stray cats. I learned so much about how little I actually knew about Thai food.

Q: What was the most challenging project you worked on?

JJ: The most challenging projects are the ones where a chef thinks that writing a cookbook is as easy as saying, I want to write a cookbook. But those are boring to talk about. Another one of my favorite projects, and probably the most challenging (in a good way), was April Bloomfield's A Girl and Her Pig. Her food is incredible. The hard part was figuring out how to communicate its magic. Because her cooking is so simple and relies on lots of little details and she isn't good at bragging. The only way to capture those details was to watch her make everything, which was obviously super fun but also took a ton of time and detective work.

Q: What is your favorite recipe from any past cookbook you've worked on?

JJ: There's a recipe from the Pok Pok book for the Northern Thai style of laap, the minced meat dish that's often referred to in English as a salad. It's so different from the laap I was used to eating, the one from the Northeast that's all bright and lime-y. It begins with instructions that basically say, clear your schedule for 45 minutes, because you're going to chop a bunch of chop with a scimitar shaped cleaver and also prepare a big bowl of raw pork blood. You can totally follow the recipe. It works. But it's also just so much fun to read and to realize how much work goes into the real-deal version of this dish.

Q: What has been bringing you joy lately?

JJ: I'm over the moon because my youngest kid has discovered Youtube videos about Korean food and all he wants to do is eat tteokbokki and kimbap. We have little dates at a Korean restaurant in our neighborhood and even his older brother, who's less adventurous, comes along, though he mainly just eats rice and broth.

Q: What's on the horizon for you!

JJ: I'm working on so many fun projects right now, including a second cookbook with my beloved Gregory Gourdet, a cookbook with an awesome stand-up comedian who can actually cook, and a proposal with Sara Mardanbigi and Edgar Rico of Nixta in Austin !