Instagram Star Alison Wu’s Kitchen Is So Beautiful We Can’t Even Handle It
Welcome to Kitchn’s series Kitchn Crush, where we highlight some of the coolest, most inspiring people in food you need to know about right now.
Brilliant bowls of avocado and watermelon radish; layered smoothies topped with honeydew and blackberries; crudité boards overflowing with purple cauliflower and lemony hummus: I think we all know the style of intensely vibrant modern health food (and its accompanying sense of well-styled mindfulness) that has come to define the visual language of wellness on Instagram. And if there is one woman who seems to own this style of gorgeous, aspirational food (not to mention matcha potions and luxurious baths), it’s Instagram star Alison Wu.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to the Portland-based blogger about her gorgeous kitchen renovation and how wellness shouldn’t be expensive.
Alison is an Instagram influencer extraordinaire with nearly 200,000 followers and beautiful blog Wu Haus. If you have ever seen a smoothie bowl or a beautifully styled matcha on Insta, it was probably influenced by her style (if not a regram of something she actually posted).
The criticism of this particular strand of wellness, of course, is that it’s not always accessible, substituting expensive “woo woo” food for more practical and common-sense ways of improving oneself.
But I find Alison refreshingly self-aware and down to earth, despite her wildly beautiful and well-styled feed. She is quite aware that wellness is what happens outside the frame too. She also likes to drink wine with her friends, eat gelato when she travels, and sometimes takes a month off from working out when life gets chaotic (you know, like the rest of us). And while her curated photos might lead you to believe everything in her life is perfect, Alison also shares when she’s struggling.
It’s what makes her one of the most refreshing faces on the social platform right now. So it made sense that that’s where we started our chat.
How do you think Instagram has changed the idea of wellness in the last couple of years?
I think Instagram has made wellness more accessible for people. The flip side, of course, is that it’s hard to sift through all the information. One of my major critiques with the rise of influencer culture is that people follow exactly what these influencers say, and that can be dangerous. It’s putting blind faith and trust in someone you don’t really know, so I think that it’s really important to check the information. It’s really important to do your own research.
I should also say that the other amazing part about Instagram — even outside of wellness — is that it brings together community. People really rally around each other. On a personal level, I met Lee Tilghman (@leefromamerica) through Instagram and we have an amazing, amazing friendship. We both just started following each other and then DMing each other. Eventually I was like “I have to just come down to LA and meet you,” and so I went down and met her. It’s so cool to have connections like that, and meet people who are doing a similar thing.
What’s something that nobody tells you about being a wellness Instagram influencer?
People can be weirdly competitive, which means Instagram isn’t always as collaborative as I’d like.
What do you think is missing from the wellness conversation right now?
Also, the cost of things. There are all these wellness influencers pushing a lot of products that people don’t necessarily need. It creates a false idea that you need to buy stuff in order to be healthy, which isn’t true!
Do you have any wellness budget tips?
My tips are pretty basic: Get enough water, sleep, and movement in your day. Any sort of exercise class is great. It doesn’t need to be expensive; there are a lot of free workout classes you can do at home, or community classes that are cheap. And then there’s also meditation — I can’t stress that enough.
Is wellness different from health?
For me, health is like these little habits that you have in your life. You eat well. You exercise. You take some adaptogens — whatever you do. Wellness , then, is this bigger picture of how you feel. Am I living my best life? Do I feel balanced? Do I feel whole? I think for me sometimes that means going out with my girlfriends and drinking wine. And that’s not necessarily “healthy” per se, but it makes me feel good in that moment. Wellness is an overarching view of one’s life and well-being.
What’s the one thing everyone can do to make their day a little better?
I think just taking five to 20 minutes for yourself and tapping into what you need. Whether it’s meditation, talking a walk, taking a bath, or sitting and reading. I think we’re all so wound up and busy, and we don’t take enough time for ourselves to just feel how we’re feeling and sit with it.
Okay, tell me more about this gorgeous kitchen renovation.
We bought our house three-ish years ago. It’s super cute, it was built in 1912 I think, and we loved everything about it except the kitchen. And obviously a lot of my work happens in the kitchen. So I’ve been dreaming about doing a kitchen renovation since we moved in, and this year finally felt like the right time.
I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted. We didn’t go crazy with changes, but we did open up the space. I really wanted to do marble countertops and I wanted the SMEG fridge. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on custom cabinetry, so I found out about Semihandmade, which does custom fronts for IKEA cabinets.
Tell me about this adaptogen wall.
That was a last-minute add-on. I thought it would be really cool to do a little adaptogen or potion-making station, because that’s also where I plug in my blender. I like being able to show off all my potion-making supplies and have it organized. It’s beautiful, but it’s also super practical.
Favorite ingredient to play around with in the kitchen right now?
I’ve been experimenting with dried citrus — specifically dried oranges. I’ve experimented with using it lots of drinks, like crumbling it on top to add a little citrus-y vibe.
What do you listen to in the kitchen while you’re cooking?
Who do you admire in the wellness space?
I really like Tonya Papanikolov (@thewellwoman) — she’s a plant-based chef and nutritionist. Lalah Delia (@lalahdelia) is a powerful voice. I find her words and work resonate on a deep level. Ashley Neese (@ashley_neese) is an L.A.-based breathwork coach. Hannah Bronfman (@hannahbronfman) is a major inspiration. And Sarah Britton of My New Roots (@mynewroots) — she’s old-school and I’ve loved her for many years now.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on a dinner menu for Vibrant, a Houston-based restaurant. I was just down there to help them open breakfast and lunch. I’m about 85 percent done with the dinner menu.
After that, I am hosting a four-day intensive workshop down in Los Angeles with two other women called “Coming Home” at the end of October. The idea for the workshop is centered around coming home to yourself after a busy summer, and really nestling in and nurturing yourself with good food, and we’re going to be doing some breath work. It’s just a lot of healing and nurturing and connecting.
And then after that, I’ve been working on an ebook about adaptogens. I’ll go through the 15 adaptogens I use most, there’ll be some charts in the book that’ll show when to use the adaptogens, and how they can help you, and then there will be some recipes.
What’s the last best thing you’ve eaten?
Working on this dinner menu for Vibrant has been really exciting. My favorite thing is probably this gluten-free plant-based pizza that’s on the dinner menu that I’m particularly excited about.
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Interview has been edited for clarity.