The first time Sophia Roe stepped into a restaurant kitchen, it wasn’t exactly a dream come true. “I had just dropped out of college because I couldn’t afford it. I needed a job, I needed money. No way did I consider it to be a place for me to have an actual career,” she says. Today, Roe is a James Beard Award–winning chef, writer, and Emmy-nominated TV host known for her passion for both celebrating the beauty and art in cooking, and creating resources to help balance the inequalities and unsustainability inherent to our food systems.
Counter Space, her Emmy-nominated show “exploring our changing world through the lens of food,” returned for its second season on January 17, on Tastemade. Unlike many traditional cooking shows, Counter Space doubles as a news source and aims to examine the global stories and bigger questions surrounding what we eat, where that food comes from, and how factors like climate change, global politics, and the economy impacts it. “I just want people to understand that there are a lot of different places that their food comes from,” she says. “There are a lot of stories behind these foods and a lot of ideas and reasons why a person might eat the way that they eat.” Sophia currently lives in Brooklyn with her partner, Chris, and his son, Kenzo. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I love the morning, it’s my favorite time. I wake up early, usually between 6 and 7 a.m., get some kind of tea (sometimes I get into a coffee phase, but I’m really a tea girl), and then I hang. Like, physically hang. My partner is a movement teacher, so we have gymnast rings set up in the middle room of our home and I hang from them to stretch out my spine. I know it seems silly but, you know, we live in a place with gravity. We’re constantly compressing, which can create a lot of tension in our bodies. So I do that first thing in the morning to help decompress my spine and help with shoulder, neck, and head tension throughout the day. After that, I’m off to my studio and immediately get things going — prepping, recipe testing, writing, etc. I wake up too early to consider breakfast. I’m kind of an eat-as-I-go gal, so I just eat bits of what I’m cooking and making. A full-set breakfast for myself would never happen.
On a typical workday:
I like to be in the studio from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’m really smart about how I manage my studio time because I want to get as many recipes and as many things tested as possible. Like right now, I’m taking this call during the rise for the dough I’m making. The second half of my day always looks different. Sometimes I’m going into a studio, sometimes I take calls, sometimes I have to pick things up, or drop things off or go to an appointment. When I leave here today I have to go to Gowanus, then to go see my stylist for a fitting.
On her creative process:
I work in phases. Right now I’m really into biscuits, but maybe in three weeks I’ll be into a different pastry or ingredient. I get inspired by things that aren’t even food, too. Sometimes it’s a trip or a texture, sometimes a concept or an idea, a place or a moment. Other times I’ll go out to eat and have a dish that brings me ideas for new dishes or techniques to try. There are so many things that can be a spark.
On her social-media presence:
I always keep it real. I am not “Sophia the Chef” on Instagram, right? I am Sophia Roe. I’ve never been someone who is solely a food creator. The goal for me was always to end up on TV, and I am not shy or embarrassed to say that. One day I want to be an absolute star, but I can’t do that without the people who follow and support me. They are why I’m able to do these things, so I want to make good things for them and connect with them. So, I talk about food, yes, but I also talk about other aspects of my life that are very real, like my family trauma. I never wanted to be solely a food creator because I never wanted to feel like I was only good for that. I don’t want people to only follow me because I give them a recipe every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday — my platform is less about going viral and more like, “Yo, guys, what’s up? This is how I’m feeling, this is what’s going on in my life.” I talk about the real things happening. It can’t all be cream puffs, you know?
While I haven’t felt like I’ve “made it,” I feel like I’ve gotten very close. The moment in my career that still blows my mind, and I still cannot fathom it happened to me, is that I have a James Beard Award. I look at it in my house and I’m like … what is this? That is something that, as a young cook, I could’ve never dreamed of.
I have just recently gotten in touch with my body a little bit. I suffer from a chronic pain condition, which means there’s a lot of things I have to say no to or can’t do. Ever since I started doing that (because of my pain, not for anything else), saying “I don’t think I can do that” or “I don’t feel well,” it’s been easier for me to say no to other things. It’s been easier to take a night to myself. As women, we feel so weird about saying no. We feel like we’re going to get in trouble or miss out on something. This year, I’ve been wanting to start with, “You know, I really need to take a night, I need to take a bath, I really need to …” based on what I need.
On what motivates her:
I’m really inspired by time because it’s starting to pass a lot quicker than it used to. I know that mentality isn’t healthy, but it’s honest. We’re all multi-talented and multi-faceted. I have skill sets in other places, and the idea of blending, working on, and bringing those forward really inspires me. There are so many things that I want to do and accomplish. I want to make art, I want to make movies, I want to create more tangible things, and I do feel a little bit of a fire under my butt to do it because I’m not 25 anymore.
On loving what you do:
If you’re someone wanting to change careers, do one thing every single day for at least one or two hours that has to do with the new path you want to take. Be empowered by that, too. Don’t tell yourself it’s not good enough or waste time comparing yourself to others. Improvement takes dedication and time.
For people early in their early 20s or early in their career: Have a blast. You don’t know where you’ll end up, you’re going to change your mind a million times. Figure out what you like, what you’re into, and what really inspires you. My biggest regret in life is that I didn’t have much fun back then. I was always so focused on work and on surviving, I didn’t ever chill out enough to have fun. Make sure you do that.
On the people who help her get it done:
I couldn’t do a thing if not for my production assistant, Dani Giardina. We’ve been working together for years, and it never feels like I’m working with anyone except my best friend. I’m actually really lucky to have an awesome team. I’ve had the same manager since I started, Marissa Caputo, and she’s like a big sister to me. My partner, Chris, is also very important to me. He’s so patient and is always the person who looks at me when I’m up late working and says, “Babe, stop for the night and please eat some dinner.” Never in a million years would I get home and he would ask me what’s for dinner. Instead, he checks in and is like, “Do you want to stay in? Do you want to go out or pick something up? I can go to the grocery store and pick some things up to make.” He’s so, so good. Because the last thing anyone wants to do after they’ve been cooking all day is come home and cook some more. He helps me a lot in managing work-life balance, or at least he tries to!
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.