How Martha and Instagram Helped Food Stylist Jess Damuck Find Her Niche
She's helping people grow their cooking skills.
Jess Damuck's Instagram salad videos are the cooking classes we all need right now. Watching them is a bit like sitting in your best friend's kitchen. There's music playing, there's catching up about Damuck's day, and judgment-free answers to cooking questions. Plus, there's a delicious meal at the end (fine, that last one really depends on what's in your own kitchen, but you'll likely be inspired to at least attempt to cook).
A longtime friend of Martha, Culinary Director Thomas Joseph, and Sarah Carey, our Director of Food and Entertaining, Damuck herself is a food stylist and recipe developer. She started sharing her #3hoursalads videos on Instagram in January and recently published a 30-page PDF cookbook of basic building blocks for cooking. "Last year, Martha gave me some relationship advice that I would say gave me the push I needed to move in a direction that was better for me, and for my work," Damuck said. "I started making the salad videos after hosting a big holiday dinner party. Martha came, and hosting her amongst my friends in Brooklyn was a very big deal to me. It was a complicated year and ending it that way, feeling proud of myself, was the catalyst for a lot of the work I am doing now."
In Damuck's videos, which she often posts in two or three roughly 10 minutes parts (don't worry, they aren't actually three hours long!), we see ingredients being prepped, hear the story behind the dish, and feel a sense of connection. "To me, what I love about cooking is how relaxing and meditative those steps can be," Damuck said. "Peeling vegetables, washing lettuce, picking off the leaves from stems of herbs, things that take time and care. I was very inspired by Bob Ross and how captivating it can be to see the entire process of something being created. I also never start with an actual recipe, just ingredients and an idea. That is how I cook at home, and I want the videos to very much feel like you are my friend in my kitchen with me."
Even though we're not in Damuck's kitchen with her, she keeps the videos and her feed feeling social, responding to comments and answering questions. "The likes and comments on my videos from friends and strangers make me feel very connected every day. The best is when someone sends me a photo of one of my recipes that they've made," Damuck said.
Like so many, Damuck has struggled with empty grocery shelves recently and she touches on in this in the videos. She says that now, "I'm planning out my meals for the week and making shopping lists instead of just feeling inspired by what I see once I get to the store. And there are days where I am very sick of cooking and out of ideas." One of her tips, when you're feeling uninspired is to use fresh herbs. Damuck always keeps some in her kitchen and says they can make an everyday dish like plain rice so much more exciting. She shares more cooking tips in her recently published free downloadable, Basic Cookbook, which includes everything from simple how to cook an egg to suggestions on how to stock your pantry to recipes for salad recipes, granola, and more. "I wanted to give people answers to their questions about cooking right now all in one document they could carry with them to the store," Damuck says.
Post-pandemic she hopes to collaborate with musician friends on multi-sensory dinner parties, and is hoping to shop a book and pitch TV shows. "There were a lot of pots on the stove before the pandemic began, and I think focusing on those future projects have kept me optimistic, hopeful, and inspired," she says.