Interior Design

Inside Nik Sharma's Kitchen & the Cookbooks He Turns to Again and Again

April 13, 2018

Welcome to My Life at Home, where we slow down for just a minute to share a glimpse into the lives of food lovers we'd love to get to know better. Kick off your shoes and get comfy!

Hello, Nik! Photo by Nik Sharma

You might recognize Nik Sharma's hands before you'd recognize his face. They're the hallmark of his blog, A Brown Table, where you can find him kneading, rolling, and tinkering away. The site is a dramatic space, marked by tantalizing, low-lit food photos and saturated hues. It's here that Sharma brings the food of his past, present, and future to light; it's here that he makes himself at home as an influential queer voice in the food media landscape.

You can feel the care. Photo by Nik Sharma

Like many successful bloggers, Sharma started his site as a creative escape from his previous life in public health policy in Washington, D.C. (his background is in molecular genetics, not food, surprise!). Fast-forward a handful of years and a stint in a professional pastry kitchen, and he's writing a weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle; he's also won two IACP awards. Later this fall, he'll debut his first cookbook.

Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food will take readers on a culinary journey though his history, starting with his childhood growing up in a bicultural household with a vegetarian, North Indian Hindu father and a meat-eating, Catholic mother from Goa, and eventually to the States.

The manuscript gets a final top-edit from a discerning editor. Photo by Nik Sharma

Get a glimpse of what life is like for the talented writer, photographer, and recipe developer who now calls Oakland, California, home, along with his husband, Michael; dog, Snoopy; and cat, Vesper Lynx.

Best spot in the house. Photo by Nik Sharma

HANA ASBRINK: How do you like to spend your downtime?

NIK SHARMA: Depending on the weather, I usually like to spend most of my time in my garden, either fiddling around (it's a work in progress) or reading a book.

HA: What are the three most treasured things in your home?

NS: The living things would be my two pets and husband. But the inanimate objects that I'm particularly attached to are my grandmother's recipe notebook and her cake dome, my camera, and my grandfather's stopwatch. (Okay, that's four.)

Show off those cake domes! Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: Describe a typical evening at home.

NS: It's usually low-key and very quiet. We sometimes try to catch a good crime/mystery TV show. On cooler evenings, dinner is usually indoors and on warmer days, I make it a point to eat outside.

HA: Do you meal-plan?

NS: Not as much as I should; I'm usually more of a go-with-the-flow kind of a cook. I tend to plan ahead when I know I have guests joining us; otherwise, I'll try something new from one of my favorite cookbooks or authors, or plan by what's available in the market. There are times when the cravings take over: I went through a lemon phase recently and had lemon as a main ingredient for two straight weeks. It was an intense time for my poor husband.

HA: Any favorite Food52 recipes?

NS: Alice Medrich's column is one of my favorites. I love her tips!

HA: What’s one meal you make to get yourself out of a funk?

NS: It's not really a meal, but more of a dessert. I have a sweet tooth and kheer (an Indian rice pudding) does the trick for me.

HA: Are you an early bird or night owl?

NS: I'm more of a night owl during the week—but for some reason on weekends, I can wake up very early with a lot of energy.

HA: Favorite feature of your home?

NS: My workspace in the kitchen, which overlooks the garden.

What we'd do for a skylight! Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: Something you hate-to-love or love-to-hate about your home?

NS: My mudroom, where my washer and dryer live. I DO NOT like to do laundry.

HA: How do you arrange your books?

NS: In the living room, I kind of like them all to be stacked a certain way. I remember I stacked everything by color, and it wasn’t the most practical way (even though it looks nice). In the end, I went back and sorted everything by country or by restaurant, and that worked out best. But even with that, I tend to go in again and sort things out by size.

In the living room, by region, then size. Photo by Nik Sharma

In the kitchen, I put out the books that I turn to frequently. Most of my Indian cookbooks are in the kitchen with me because it feels nice, but I don’t cook out of them all the time. The rest, like Julia Turshen, Diana Henry, Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, are books that I turn to frequently, both to get inspired and because they work really well.

Constant, comforting companions. Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: If your walls could talk, what would they say?

NS: I'd love to know, too. I think they're probably amused my desire to constantly rearrange things in the house.

Everything in its place. For now. Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: How do you like to recharge?

NS: Weekend getaways and vacations as often as I can. Anywhere by the water is something we both love: Half Moon Bay, pretty much any of the spots along California's Route 1, Martha's Vineyard, Fire Island, Goa. A change of scenery really helps free up my brain and unclog my mind.

HA: What are you listening to?

NS: I really enjoy anything by Diana Henry, and her new podcast is wonderful. I also like to listen to Gravy, The Eater Upsell, BBC's The Food Chain, The Splendid Table, and Good Food.

HA: I am obsessed with your cat! How does he make himself at home?

NS: Vesper Lynx is adorable but mischievous and has never had any problems making himself comfortable. When I work at home, he usually sleeps on the sunny side of my desk.

Spot the kitty. Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: How often are you entertaining, and what are your go-to dishes?

NS: Typically I do a dinner thing maybe once or twice or month, just for a close group of friends. Because I live in Oakland, I’m surrounded by people in the food world, both food writers or people somehow involved in food media, so there’s a definitely little bit of pressure on my end.

If there’s an Indian holiday or festival coming up, then I’ll try to do something Indian because I think that’s what my guests would expect from me; but if it’s a supper club-style dinner, then I'll go with what I’m in the mood for at that given time.

In terms of flavors, it's always about connecting my past with my present, adapting and acclimating my flavors, and showcasing them in the way that I cook.

A taste of home, always nearby. Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: Ideal dinner party guests?

NS: The ones who are open and excited to eat and try new flavors.

HA: Do you run more savory or sweet?

NS: Typically more sweet. The only things I usually make it a point to avoid eating are turnips and some bitter things, like bitter melon.

HA: How often do you cook for yourself?

NS: Pretty much every day.

"I love Staub and the black matte is my favorite, so I've been building a collection over the past few years." Photo by Nik Sharma

HA: Favorite slow Sunday meal?

NS: Braised carnitas or dosas.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What is your favorite Sunday meal? Be sure to share it with us (pretty please?) below!

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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Ian S. June 9, 2018
Nik is one of my favourite food bloggers and I can't wait for the book. His turmeric and yogurt roast chicken was the star of my last dinner party.
erinely April 20, 2018
I read this before work this morning and can hardly wait to come back and spend more time learning about Nik and checking out his blog!
Nik S. April 23, 2018
Thank you so much!