The Way We Eat: Joel Fox, Creative Director in Ojai, California
Name: Joel Fox, creative director and video producer
Location: Ojai, California
Who eats together? Two: Joel and his wife, Jennifer
Avoidances? Both are vegetarian, and Jennifer gets sick eating soy or any beans
Joel Fox is a creative director and video producer who lives in Ojai, CA, with his wife, Jennifer Day. When he’s not making branded videos or directing kid shows like Yo Gabba Gabba and Aquabats, he’s whipping up inventive vegetarian creations in his kitchen. “I’m just making things all the time,” he says. Of his cooking philosophy, he says “I want to cook interesting food, use up leftovers, improvise, incorporate healthy ingredients, avoid dirtying excess cookware, conserve time, and have fun!”
You’re a video producer for kids’ shows, which sounds like the most fun job. What does a typical day look like for you?
Look at phone. Realize I’m looking at my phone and get out of bed. Breakfast, look at phone, get to work at computer. Procrastinate and get distracted. Make lunch, do more computer work. Take a break from work to wash dishes and listen to a podcast (I enjoy this!). Maybe do some stuff outside, maybe more work? Make dinner, watch some of a movie or a show over dinner. Maybe more work or creative time! Another small meal. (I’m often up until 2 or 3 a.m. making my own projects, researching, or procrastinating.) Realize I should go to bed.
Your creative spirit has clearly rolled over into your colorful kitchen. Tell me a little bit about that?
My favorite part is that the inside of each of the shelves is a different color. There’s one shelf that’s very hard to reach. It’s painted black and contains a mini art gallery and rarely used food ingredients. On the outside, it’s calm and blue, but when you open the doors you have a celebration.
Did you paint them yourselves?
We’d like to redo the whole kitchen one day, but all we’ve been able to do is repaint the cupboards. But it was a big project. My wife used to be a professional house painter, and she warned me that it was going to be really hard. She’s always right. We put the doors on and none of them match up anymore so they don’t fit or close right. Oh well!
- Biggest challenge in eating? Believe it or not, getting enough good veggies in! We may be vegetarians, but when life is busy it’s easy to slide into a quick bowl of pasta or microwave tamale.
- Percentage of meals you cook at home every week? 90%
- 5 things on your grocery list every week? We probably only shop every few weeks. But staples are nut milk, cereal, Spanish olive oil, corn tortillas, and cheese. We do get a box of veggies from a local farmer every week and that really sets the pace.
- Where do you shop, primarily? Basics are big trips to Trader Joe’s and also Whole Foods for some items. A few specialty items that I don’t find in stores (like my ramen) come from Amazon, and of course there is the weekly farm box.
- What’s the last food thing you splurged on? Fancy veggie sausages!
- Top 3 default dinners? Homemade pizza, dinner salad, ramen.
- Favorite tea? Jasmine green tea.
- Favorite kitchen tool? Spatula!
What’s it like to cook with you?
I listen to a lot of dance remixes. Sometimes, I’ll be moving a pot with one hand and washing something with the other hand. I’ll give the pot a spin in the air and add little flourishes like I’m in a marching band. It’s a bit like singing in the shower.
Sounds like fun! Since you and your wife both work from home, what do mealtimes look like?
We both have big bowls of cereal in the morning and make either a big dinner or lunch. We also eat a ton of leftovers. We are both vegetarian so that makes the circle of what we eat a little smaller.
I sometimes forget that there are certain things I know how to cook, so one time I made a list and put it on the fridge and go back to it all the time. It’s one of my many systems.
Your systems! Tell me more.
We get a box of vegetables every week from a local farmer a mile from our house. We get so many that it’s hard to deal with sometimes. So if we get a ton of basil, I’ll make big batches of pesto and freeze it in portions. That’s a system that we can build a dinner out of: Frozen pesto builds into a pasta. I also take all excess vegetables we don’t get to and I blend them into a slurry with water. Then I freeze it into planks of “frozen vegetable stuff.” Then I use that as a flavor boost for things like ramen and other dishes.
It sounds like food waste is a big “no” for you.
I like buying and cooking food that we know we are going to eat. I think we choose to have components that will fit together. I have no vegetables go to waste. We compost, eat a lot of leftovers, and are always keeping an eye on the things we have that we have to use up. We save even tiny portions of things. It’s better to save four bites of something than to throw it out.
For me, efficiency is a lack of rigidity. Every time I make ramen, I do it differently. I’ll put an egg on it, throw some peanut butter in, etc. It’s a form of creativity.
Where else do you get creative in the kitchen?
We have soda pop on tap. Well, we have carbonated water on tap, and I made these homemade syrups to mix in. It all started when one day when I wanted to make ginger ale. So I ground up some ginger, cooked it with some sugar, mixed it with soda water, and it was totally better than I thought it would be.
That sounds delicious.
This formula allows us to make fun drinks out of ingredients that we already have. One I make a lot is this pineapple sage syrup with balsamic vinegar. It’s a real hassle so I make like a gallon at once.
Best cooking tip: For all sandwiches, lightly fry bread on one side and build sandwich with the browned part facing in so its crispy but tender.
At any given moment, what would we find you snacking on?
We got boxes and boxes of freeze-dried fruit left over from an event recently. They had like a pallet full of them that were going to go to waste. We were the last people to leave so we put it all into our camper. We are going to have to start giving them away, otherwise they are going to last us a year.
The last thing you cooked that you truly loved?
I made a boxed macaroni and cheese as base and then I added the last of some English peas, some sliced roasted broccoli stems, sautéed kale, a few artichoke hearts in oil, and I used the rest of the artichoke oil instead of butter. The real magic was the last few spoonfuls of leftover homemade salad dressing I added. Wow.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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