I raise my glass to the cooks of the world. They feed me, they inspire me, they turn meatballs into magic and goulash into golden grubbery. For some it takes decades of training to mold them into a crackerjack culinarian but for others it is a part of their blood, their life and their means of happiness. While they may never get to wear the big fancy hat, they can still make a soufflé that will make a grown woman cry.
Hilah Johnson has been creating her own culinary concoctions since she was a small child. She grew up reading cookbooks like most of us read Sweet Valley High, voraciously and with constant fascination. With both parents working full time and going to school, Hilah became the master of her family kitchen at a young age, giving her ample opportunity to make amazing creations and terrible mistakes. “I remember my first soufflé, it actually rose. I was screaming, ‘It's ready, it's ready, please please come quick,’ by the time they got there it fell.” The set backs never dissuaded her and with time and practice, the mistakes came less often and the masterpieces became bountiful.
Her breezy attitude and eye for fashion reflect a woman who is very at ease in front of the camera and, let's be honest, she is just damn funny and super easy on the eyes.
Cooking isn’t her only passion. Hilah has had great local success as a theater actress, costume designer, comedian and sketch writer and performer. Each one of these interests plays a part in making Hilah Cooking, one of the most successful video blogs in Austin. She met her comrade in cooking and video making (Christopher Sharpe) through Big ol’ Tire Fire, a sketch comedy troupe that made waves in the Austin comedy scene in the mid 00s. Her breezy attitude and eye for fashion reflect a woman who is very at ease in front of the camera and, let's be honest, she is just damn funny and super easy on the eyes. With guest celebrities, simple recipes and a fresh and direct approach to cooking, the show has grown into a fan favorite. January of 2010 marked the beginning of Hilah Cooking and though she was initially very nervous to be entering into the wilds of Myspace, the show had positive feedback from day one.
Chris and Hilah make a great team. Filming thematic shows throughout the month, each episode is a collaborative effort, and their team spirit creates a sense of fun and professionalism that anyone can appreciate in their pithy programs. The shows are helpful, clever, straightforward and witty as hell. Even for those who aren’t looking to improve their culinary chops, the show is fun to watch.
But it’s those people who were seeking guidance in gastronomy that inspired Hilah to write her second and most expansive cook book to date. As the show found budding Internet success, Hilah became a source for cooking advice. From simple grocery shopping to understanding what blanching is, people looked to Hilah for answers. So, she decided to write a book for the layperson with the same spirit of fun and passion for food that she brings to her show.
“My fall back is Tex Mex just because I have lived here for a million years. Yes, I am a million years old, I get my hair done every week.”
Learn to Cook! has been a labor of love for the past six months, and Hilah is pretty proud of what she has created. The first half of the book teaches basic skills and terms to get people over the initial obstacles they may have in the kitchen. Knife skills, grocery shopping and wacky, fancy French terms are just a few of the touchstones explained in a way that is warm and without condescension. The second half of the book is devoted to simple recipes, dirty jokes and yummy concoctions.
All of the recipes are designed to get people comfortable with actual cooking. Pared down equipment and understandable terms, but no canned foods. Hilah personally tries to use local and seasonal items in her own cooking but understands the difficulties that price and location can pose for people. She just wants everyone to cook. Each recipe can be made with regular grocery store ingredients and you don’t have to go to a fancy store just to make something good for you and yours.
The cookbook is available online and is full of helpful links, videos, fancy outfits, great photos, good hair, smart ass humor and Hilah’s pretty mug. But fear not Hilah Cooking fans, the show isn’t going anywhere and will only get better. Chris and Hilah already have the next season planned out with more sassy guests and specialized masters that even Hilah can learn a few things from. She has big ideas for new advanced cookbooks, too. Maybe we can look forward to a little Texas themed tome, after all, it is her specialty. “My fall back is Tex Mex just because I have lived here for a million years. Yes, I am a million years old, I get my hair done every week,” she says.
Hilah’s ancient wisdom has not gone unnoticed by the masses. Her videos keep getting more followers, her book sales are picking up and she was just named one of the 35 under 35 Austin influential foodies. But all these accolades never deter her from her end goal: encouraging people to cook for themselves.
For anyone who is afraid to get in the kitchen and make it happen, Hilah has some wonderful words of advice. “Don’t be a pussy! Don’t be nervous, you’re gonna probably make some things that might be gross the first couple of times you do it. Learn as much as you can before you do it. Pick a good recipe that is simple and has lots of detailed instructions and is hopefully something you are familiar with so that you have an idea of what it’s supposed to look like when its done. And do it! Make a big mess. It’s going to be messy.”
Cheers to Hilah, and cheers to any of you who get the balls to make a stand in your own kitchen. If you need any help, I can suggest a really great cookbook.