A few months back, I was wallowing in a cooking slump. I do most of the cooking at home and generally love doing it, but my lack of imagination (and funds) was turning something I had previously enjoyed into a pain in the ass. I was so bored with food and (like many of us are right now) strapped for the kind of superfluous cash required to splurge on super exotic ingredients. I knew I had hit rock bottom when I was willfully consuming frozen pizzas at least once a week. Then something magical happened. I fortuitously stumbled upon a link to HilahCooking.com and friends – I don’t say this lightly – it is nothing short of AWESOME. Check it (description via iTunes):
‘HILAH COOKING is an internet series hosted by Austin-based singer/actor/comedian Hilah Johnson. The series is focused on teaching “real people” how to cook (and how to have fun while doing it). Learning how to cook will save you money, make you happy and maybe even get you laid! You won’t need a fancy kitchen or hard-to-find ingredients to make any of our featured recipes. Each episode is packed with useful information presented in a fast-paced funny format.’
Sweet Hot Mister Mustard! Hilah’s web series is one of the most fun, entertaining things I have ever seen – being internet-based makes her show extremely accessable, not to mention the fact that it allows her to have total creative control over the content. Her quick-wit and self-deprecating sense of humor are huge assets to the show and she presents a genuine knowledge and passion for food and cooking – thus making the viewing experience not unlike hanging out with your favorite, super-talented, hilarious and pretty friend. I am happy to say that I have cooked almost every single recipe featured on her show and all of it was delicious. I have received more compliments on my Hilah food (tacos may well be my favorite food and her recipes for Migas, Tacos Al Pastor and Peach Cobbler – which isn’t a taco, but still – are among my favorites) and I love that she uses fresh, healthy, affordable and unpretentious ingredients.
While I was in Austin last month for Fantastic Fest, I had the opportunity to meet my #1 Girlcrush at her charity event, MOUTH PARTY at the United States Art Authority. MOUTH PARTY raised over $1100 for the Sustainable Food Center in Austin and featured amazing food and beverages from the following sponsors: Natural Nectars, Hot Mama’s Cafe, Cote Catering, Zandunga Mexican Bistro, Blue Note Bakery, Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, El Gran JubileoTequila and Tito’s Vodka. There was a delicious signature cocktail (made with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka and Natural Nectars juice – so good), live music, a cake walk (YES!) and the event was a blast.
As if that weren’t enough, Hilah kindly agreed to have lunch with me and discuss her show after I promised that I wouldn’t be weird. Enjoy!
[Let it be noted that when the waiter brought Hilah’s sandwich, they messed up her order and she was completely lovely and gracious about it. Many wonderful things were discussed: mustaches, stunt vaginas, Hanky Panky (a bumper feature that played at Fantastic Fest which starred Hilah and her husband, Mark Stewart) and the effects of soy milk regarding testicular health! We bonded over our mutual love of hot sauce - which has fostered a Hot Sauce Pen Pal exchange - and I had so much fun talking to her that I veered us off the rails multiple times - FUN!]
Jane Almirall - MOUTH PARTY was awesome, do you have other upcoming events that you are planning for? (Or food competitions like the Bacon Takedown?)
Hilah Johnson - Oh criminy, not any time soon! It was totally fun and I am SO glad you could make it (*rolls eyes. (J/K about the eye roll!)) and I had a ball even though I remained pitifully sober the entire night. And we managed to raise a decent amount of money for SFC, although not as much as I had expected. Dream big, lose big, right? Or something. We are hoping to make it an annual event, though, so next year we’ll probably raise like a million dollars and Sandra Lee will show up for photo ops. Oh, but if the Bacon Takedown comes back, I’ll be there. I actually suggested a Taco Takedown for next time. We’ll see if anyone takes me seriously.
JA – So what gave you the idea to start filming the webisodes?
HJ – Chris Sharpe was staying with us and he’s a film-maker who I’ve known for like five years – we’ve worked on a lot of little projects together…chris had this movie that he wrote and was directing and I was going to be in it and it was going to be super fun to work together with a bunch of other friends and then it fucking imploded – it wasn’t any of our faults or anything, but it didn’t happen. So then he was depressed and broke and didn’t have a job and he came to stay with Mark and I for a few months and I would cook and we would often end up on the porch drinking …
JA - I like porch drinking a lot…
HJ – And we had to stop doing it on our front porch because our fucking neighbor would always come up and bum cigarettes from Mark and I was like, really? This is not the free store dude. You can’t just come over here when you want cigarettes. So we finally ended up hanging out on the back porch, which isn’t quite as fun, but at any rate – one night we were drunk and Chris was…this was kind of a healing process for him – he wanted to make something but he didn’t want to make something as big as a fucking movie – so we figured like a little web-show would be kind of a fun thing to do and I was game. So we just started shooting them in my kitchen. And fortunately our kitchen looks really good on camera!
JA – It does – I love your kitchen!
HJ – We redid all of that – we put in the orange counter tops about a year ago.
JA – I love it. I’m really jealous of your range too….
HJ – That actually came with the house!
JA – I’m really curious how you learned to cook, did you come from a cooking family?
HJ – Yeah, both my parents cook and I started baking when I was a kid – I always liked to read so I would end up reading a lot of cookbooks. Then when I was in middle school my mom went back to college and my dad was working – so they were out a lot and so I started cooking dinner…I guess I was probably 11 or 12. It started being fun and I would try new stuff – my parents were pretty cool about letting me experiment – except it was always totally mortifying to go to the grocery store with my mom because she would be like, “Oh look! Pepto Bismal is on sale – this HUGE bottle is only a dollar, I’m going to get it!” Oh my god everyone is going to think that we have upset stomachs all the time so embarrassing (giggles) I always swore to myself that if I ever had kids, I would not make them go to the grocery store with me.
When I was in high school I decided to be a vegetarian (because I was alternative and shit like that) and my parents were totally cool about it but my mom said if you’re going to be vegetarian, you need to read this book called “Diet for a Small Planet” – have you ever read it?
JA - I haven’t.
HJ – It’s really good, I can’t remember the woman’s name that wrote it – she’s a very well known cook book author…she wrote it in the 70’s I think…basically it’s kind of like a treatise on the fact that we are using up the resources on this earth, raising animals for food is taking up a lot of energy (let it be known that I do love eating animals) but the book goes into how to balance proteins – and it taught me a lot. You know like, you can eat brown rice as long as you combine it with beans – it gets into details about different protein sources and all that shit…
JA – Isn’t there something similar with combining whole wheat with nutbutters …
HJ - You said “nutbutters”…
[Editor's note: the word “nutbutters” makes both Hilah and I giggle. A lot.]
JA - And ”wheat”!
JA – Well I love your food, everything I made from your recipes has been so good…I’m curious what kind of foods will you be focusing on in season two?
HJ - There’s going to be several viewer-suggested recipes since over the summer people have been writing with requests. I think probably a lot more winter-y things will be in order, too, since it’s that time again. Which makes me kind of sad, but I do like shepherd’s pie and chili and pot roast and other stuff that probably accounts for how come I’m always 10 pounds fatter in March than in October. And I’ll use the oven more since it’s no longer a hundred degrees outside. Celsius.
JA - Your newsletter is awesome, you hooked all of us up with a free copy of the Breakfast Taco Book! What are some things your subscribers can look forward to?
HJ – Well, I don’t know if you’re really going to like it, but I’ve been putting together a little questionnaire to send out to subscribers to get a better idea of who’s watching and following the show and what y’all all want to learn about. Help me help you. That’s a quote from Jerry Maguire. But it’s very applicable in this case, I think.
JA - Do you have plans for another cookbook?
HJ – I’d like to. That’s kind of what I’m hoping the questionnaire will help with, to see what would be a good topic for a book. I also wanted to do a second survey of the subscribers to see what suggestions for improvement they might have for the Breakfast Taco Book. Since it was my first book and all, and really, it was mostly pictures. But I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, the pictures Chris took and the layout, and also how when my husband edited it, he let me keep the shark joke at the end which was not really a joke, actually.
JA – Next time I am in Austin, can I braid your hair?
HJ – Yes. That’s why I’m growing it out.
The second season of Hilah Cooking premieres on October 19, I can’t wait! Click here to check out her site (and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter when you do, it really is good)! Hilah Johnson lives and works in Austin and is involved in several other creative (and fucking awesome) projects: her band, The Hot As Shits; the film-making group, Big Ol’ Tire Fire; and has participated in several Project: Rant pieces – all of which I love. You can follow Hilah Cooking! on Facebook, here; and on Twitter, here.