Samin Nosrat, the San Diego-born, Iranian-American chef, is one of the biggest stars on Netflix right now. Samin has been hailed as “America’s next great cooking teacher” by Alice Waters, and her best-selling book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, is now the most streamable show on television. To know her isn’t just to love her, it’s to adore her. Here, Samin gives us a peek behind the curtain, including a life-changing thigh-chafe spray and the products that transformed her curly hair…
How would you describe your relationship to beauty?
I never had a relationship to beauty until recently. I felt very inept at all things ‘girly and pretty’; I didn’t own a mascara until three years ago. My first pedicure was only a few years ago — and I’m 38! Growing up, I was unsure about my looks, and my defense mechanism became to reject caring about it all together. Then I grew up and I was like, well, I’m a cook; I have to be tough and that also meant not caring about looks. It was like, ‘I get a pass; cooks don’t do makeup. Cooks pull their hair back.’
How much of your childhood played into this beauty reluctance?
On one hand, our Persian family culture was all about appearance. Perfect eyebrows. Shahs of Sunset. I grew up with my mother saying, ‘I’m going to save up to fix your nose and your chin.’ That was our culture; it was actually a gesture of love when she said that. My mom’s dream would have been my saying, ‘Teach me everything about makeup.’ But I felt if I was rejecting traditional femininity, then I had to stick to my guns. When in reality, I was just too embarrassed to turn around and ask about it.
How has hair, makeup, all of it changed since you’ve had your Netflix show?
I still go to Sephora and I’m like YIKES. There are entire aisles that I feel like I don’t have permission to enter. But the show changed things for sure. I had to do an audition shoot, and they hired a makeup artist. (Remember, I am a person who didn’t own mascara until three years ago.) I loved this makeup artist. She said, ‘The first thing you need to learn is to take really good care of your skin. Invest all of your energy in your skin. If you don’t have good skin, you have nothing to work with.’ Before then I, maybe, washed my face, then did some oil or moisturizer. I didn’t know how soft my skin could be with an exfoliant! So, I went down the rabbit hole. I found out about The Ordinary. My friend Greta told me to get P50 Recherche. Check. Greta said to get Manuka Honey and rub it on your face. Check. She said to get Dr. Alkaitis face oil. Check. I bought a Clarisonic brush but retired it for a Konjac sponge — this one I learned not from Greta but from listening to Forever35 beauty podcast — a sentence I never thought I’d say.
Can we talk about your beautiful hair?
Yes, please! My friend Greta Caruso and I went to Cuba in 2012 on a cultural exchange. Greta, who also has curly hair, brought so many hair products. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had always been tortured by my curly hair, and Greta was like, ‘I won’t travel without my DevaCurl.’ I was intrigued. Greta then told me about dry hair cuts, etc. It was like I was finally liberated to be a person who spends money and invests in her hair — and it has been priceless.
What everyday products do you use?
To get the most out of my curly hair, the answer is Deva everything! Since curly hair is naturally dry, I do everything I can to preserve moisture, which includes washing my hair as infrequently as possible. When I do wash, I use Deva Curl No-Poo, rinse it out and detangle as I go, then get my hair as wet as possible again and work in gobs and gobs of One Condition, which I do not rinse out. Then, while my hair is still sopping wet, I work in Ultra Defining Gel and then use an old T-shirt to very, very carefully dry my hair. Since I usually wash at night, especially when I have an early call time, I’ll then wrap my hair in an Aquis drying turban. I also do my best to extend my curls between washes by using a little spritz of water and DevaCurl Super Cream to bring things back to life.
And dry cuts?
Now that I’ve had my hair cut dry, it makes SO MUCH SENSE — of course curls do best when they are cut dry, when the stylist can see what she is cutting! I can never go back to a wet cut!
It’s refreshing how open you are about everything.
Oh, that’s nothing! Let’s talk about my hairiness. In my twenties, I found a laser place to get my mustache and chin hairs removed; and it totally backfired. Maybe it was hormonal changes, who knows, but suddenly I had even more wiry hairs on my chin. I went through phases like, ‘Screw the world, I’m not going to do anything about it!’ And then getting really upset about it.
Where did you land?
When I met the esthetician Carrie Lindsey, who I live for, and she said to try laser again; that now there are machines that actually work on different skin types. So, I went to someone who works only on black women. These hairs had been plaguing my chin forever and finally they were gone. I want to tell the Cup of Jo readers: Keep looking until you find somebody who works. My go-to spot in Oakland is The Skin Studio.
Your smile makes everyone else smile. It’s contagious.
Here’s how I take care of my smile: I take my antidepressants and I try to sleep. Oh wait, you mean my teeth! Before the show, I was like I gotta whiten my teeth. I got the dentist version of Crest White Strips and they changed nothing. I was like, whatever.
Any other products you’ve experimented with lately?
There’s Skin Slick spray. I chafe like hell in my thigh area. I enjoy wearing a dress now — because I’m enjoying my femininity. Sometimes I’ll walk 70 blocks a day in New York. And chafe-walking is the most painful walking. I’m clearly not embarrassed talking about things most people are embarrassed about, and I told everybody about my chafing situation. A friend said professional dancers use a special silicone spray. It’s also for triathletes to get their suits on more easily. It has changed my life.
Now, a food question! What ingredients do you always have in your kitchen?
Okay, here’s the deal: I have been traveling so very much that I don’t get to cook as often as I would like. So, I make sure I always have a freezer full of frozen veggies and stock, a pantry filled with cans of beans, tons of grains and pastas and canned fish, and a fridge full of Parmesan and condiments. That way, when I get home from a long trip and I don’t have it in me to go out for groceries, I can always make a simple pasta with tuna and canned tomatoes and chili flakes, or some rice and dal, or sautéed frozen broccoli with garlic and chilies, or even just a can of black beans heated up with onion powder, hot sauce and cumin, topped with grated cheese and some cilantro from the garden.
At the end of the day, do you think it matters? Feeling beautiful?
For me, I think feeling pretty is just one other dimension of feeling good about myself. So much of the work I do in therapy is assigning self-worth and believing that I have value. I can’t say with complete honesty that I look at myself and say, ‘I feel beautiful.’ Hopefully one day before I die I’ll be able to do that. I guess — because of great lighting — there are some scenes in the show where I say, ‘Wow, I look really pretty.’ And that’s not a thought I have ever had about myself. I’m still a little bit shocked by those feelings. So many of my struggles have been about my own preconceived notions of who I am — and every time I break a little barrier, that feels profound.
Anything else you want to add?
That I finally found a favorite mascara — it’s that Glossier one.
Thank you so much, Samin. xoxo
P.S. More beauty uniforms, including Linda Rodin and Connie Wang.
(Top photo by Pamu. Porch photos by Talia Herman. Photo grating cheese by Cole Wilson. Pink and white apron photos by Adam Rose/Netflix. All other photos courtesy of Samin Noshrat.)