Julie Van Rosendaal
Cookbook Author, Dirty Food, Calgary

Her first cookbook, One Smart Cookie, was self-published and stored in her parents’ garage—10,000 copies in all. Twenty years, four publishers and 10 more cookbooks later, Julie Van Rosendaal has become a household name both in the West and across Canada, penning columns in newspapers and magazines like this one and greeting listeners on Calgary Eyeopener, CBC Radio's morning show. It’s all very on-point for a woman whose childhood dream was to become the food editor of Canadian Living.

But her latest venture, Dirty Food, feels different. In some ways it’s her most personal cookbook, and it just might be the catalyst to something much bigger. Just over a year ago, she tweeted a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest celebration of so-called “clean eating,” The Clean Plate. “I tweeted: We need to start a ‘dirty food movement,’” explains Van Rosendaal, “and I got thousands of likes and retweets, with people saying, ‘Sign me up!’”

Van Rosendaal started to think about what that would look like—a mindset where so-called “clean eating” doesn’t hold the power that it does. “We’re living in a world where more people than ever are coming up with these parameters about the way we eat,” she says. “But when it comes to ‘clean eating,’ it doesn’t mean anything—it’s a marketing term. Yes, it’s whole ingredients and cooking from scratch, but that’s 90 percent of cookbooks that are on the shelf.”

When something is labelled as clean, says Van Rosendaal, it becomes virtually or morally superior—and not just the foods themselves but also the people who eat them. She figured it was time to get rid of some food shaming. Dirty Food celebrates the gooey, the messy, the sticky: food that’s meant to be shared and celebrated, like sloppy joes, sticky buns and mud pies. “A lot are just physically messy,” she laughs. “People need permission to be ok with that.”

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Q&A with Dirty Food's Julie Van Rosendaal

Most underrated ingredient?

Dry pulses, particularly those beyond the usual kidney, navy, black beans and chickpeas... so many people are still intimidated by the idea of cooking them, or find it difficult to come up with ways to utilize them. Also—ghee! Clarified butter adds so much more flavour as you cook, and can withstand higher temperatures—perfect for everything from curries to fish to pancakes and popcorn. 

What’s your favourite unusual food and drink pairing?

Red wine and Hawkins Cheezies.

What’s your biggest restaurant pet peeve?

Really loud—or worse, really bad—music. You should be able to have a conversation with others at the table without losing your voice. A really good playlist has inspired me to linger longer, and a bad one makes me want to rush out the door.

What’s a kitchen hack more people should know about?

Chopping lots of onions at once and freezing them so you don’t always have to haul out a chopping board and chop an onion to start dinner. Bonus: they’ve already broken down in the freezer, so they start to melt instantly in the pan.

Meet the rest of our 2020 Foodies of the Year winners here