If you’re here, chances are you like to cook. But maybe, like me, you’ve found yourself in a curious place over the past two years of the pandemic—tethered to cooking as a lifeline and burned out from having to cook one. more. meal. I get it. And so does Kendra Adachi of The Lazy Genius Collective, New York Times bestselling author of “The Lazy Genius Way” and “Lazy Genius Kitchen,” and host of The Lazy Genius podcast. She leans into focusing on what matters most and not resisting the season of life she’s in—these are the Lazy Genius approaches she teaches.
Kendra’s latest book, “Lazy Genius Kitchen,” is a kitchen guide and mastermind treatise on organizing based on Lazy Genius principles that, let’s face it, are genius. Throughout the book, she references the principles by their number, such as LGP #4: “Cooking in the season you are in.” This Lazy Genius principle set me free. It isn’t cooking based on what’s at the farmers market, but instead, think about your life season. My current life season is cooking for a WFH husband and teenager who’s on summer break. The chapter on essentializing—a term she uses to distinguish essential items from non-essential items—for me meant getting rid of spatulas since I only use my favorite two.
Kendra writes in a way that’s welcoming and forgiving—as if she’s one of us. Whether “the force” is with you in your kitchen or you’re ready for a refresh, her approach is one-size-fits-all with strategies that work for each person’s specific needs.
I spoke with her over Zoom about embracing the Lazy Genius approach in the kitchen and in life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did the Lazy Genius begin?
I’ve been writing on the internet for 12 years, and food has always been a through-line. But I also wanted to speak to peoples’ lives. That is something I really love. I noticed how tired everyone was from trying so hard to do things that didn’t matter to them. I thought I could be a voice and a permission-giver with helpful tools for these people. The whole idea of the Lazy Genius is: Name what matters. Be a genius about what matters. Be lazy about what doesn’t. And don’t judge each other.
Underneath all the Lazy Genius principles, your book is really one giant permission slip to be yourself in the kitchen.
You nailed it. There are too many spoken and unspoken rules that in order to be a real cook, we have to look this way, we have to cook these things, or we have to use these appliances. I want people to feel the permission to be themselves in the kitchen, whether they grow their own food and make everything from scratch, or they only use their kitchen to store coffee, alcohol, and ice cream. There’s no one way that’s better.
“I want people to feel the permission to be themselves in the kitchen…There’s no one way that’s better.”
You say in your book, “One of the reasons you don’t like being in your kitchen is that you’re trying to be someone else.” Do you think this is widespread and if so, does social media contribute to it?
I wonder if some of the pressure we feel to be a certain way in the kitchen is that we are chasing an ideal. It’s a good ideal—people are gathered, comfortable, laughing, and enjoying each other. Perhaps there is a plate or bowl or tray of something beautiful in front of them. The problem is we focus on what goes in the bowl or plate or tray as opposed to being ourselves. We do idealistic things we see on TV, like in Parenthood—they sit outside at the big table set in their yard with their twinkly lights—and we think that is what it means to gather around the table. Instead, we should be thinking, “I want that vibe. I want that feeling.”
We can invest in the table, the lights, and the mismatched chairs, but the thing that we’re after is connection. We don’t need a specific table or a specific recipe. If we can stop chasing this ideal gathering scene we imagine in our head, we will enjoy being ourselves in our kitchens and around the table more.
This dinner queue idea blew my mind—can you talk more about it?
The idea of the dinner queue is to pay attention to the season of life you are in. Ask yourself, “What recipes or types of meals make the most sense with my season of life, and what matters to me and my family?” Then you can limit your decisions. You are limiting your choices like a Netflix queue. These are the ones that I know I want.
Take 30 minutes to do that once every six weeks—write the recipes you’re going to go to based on your season of life. And then combine them with what I call Brainless Crowd Pleasers—easy hit recipes that everyone likes. We eat a lot of Brainless Crowd Pleasers in my house.
Yes! When we are looking for recipes, the amount of choices can cause a shutdown. I like the idea of culling it down to a smaller subset, like the Steve Jobs black turtleneck and jeans.
It is. Decide once (LGP #1)—these are the meals we will eat over the next two months. Done. You can put them in whatever order you want. The decision is much simpler than picking from the entirety of all recipes in the world.
Your recipes read like an inviting template—I love how the second step for making soup and salad is all about building contrast. Can you define quiet ingredients and loud ingredients, and give examples?
I think about quiet ingredients as warm blanket comfort ingredients, like an ingredient quiet in flavor, like a bean or potato—it doesn’t have to be a carb. Loud ingredients show up on the palate and on the plate. They offer that contrast or crunch, like chorizo or radicchio. Potatoes are just like chill. Radicchio is like, “Hey what’s up? We’re bitter!” [Laughs] It’s important to consider the existence of both to make it feel complete.
How might you continue your thought, “Don’t let insecurity rob you of the joy of the table.”
The table exists because of the people around it. I honestly think that is true when you’re the only one sitting there. The humanity that exists at the table is what makes it special. It is not the food. It can be enhanced by the pleasure of food, but we can have a memorable meal without the food being memorable. So, the sooner we can embrace that, the less pressure we’ll put on ourselves about the food and the more freedom we’ll feel to try something new or order Domino’s. What matters the most is the connection.