By the time she was seven, Anna Yesilevsky ’04 was already taking cooking seriously. While “other kids were just going in the kitchen and making sloppy messes,” she says, “I was actually making food.” Among her favorite snacks to prepare was “pryaniki” a type of Russian cookie. Yesilevsky’s passion for cooking hasn’t waned. During breaks from school, she passes time by watching the Food Network, a cable channel that consistently stimulates her culinary interest. “It always inspires me to run in the kitchen and make things,” she says. “I can literally spend all day cooking if I’m feeling particularly inspired.”
Recently, a friend suggested Yesilevsky audition for “Food Fight,” a new series debuting in May. The show described by the Food Network as “a fast-paced battle between two teams with only their love of food in common” brings teams to a local restaurant where they must prepare a surprise regional specialty (such as a cheese dish in Wisconsin or catfish in Alabama). With a stopwatch running, the teams must prepare a scrumptious dinner for two with only some basic ingredients and an extra $20 at their disposal.
Keen on the idea of participating, Yesilevsky sent an e-mail out over several House e-mail lists looking for a partner. What type of person fits the bill? A person “who’s especially good at preparing various kinds of meat and marinades, and who’s charismatic on camera,” she says.
Yesilevsky’s request has less to do with her skills and more to do with her confidence. “I wouldn’t say that meat preparation is necessarily a weakness for me,” she says. “It’s just one of the things I started playing around with relatively late. I’d feel safer having a partner who felt comfortable enough to be a little bit braver and play around with meat.” As for charisma, she explains that the show often features bizarre themes that require personality. In one episode, for instance, construction workers faced off in a “cooking for manly men” competition.
For Yesilevsky, appearing on the show is about much more than simply winning a door prize or getting her 15 minutes in the gustatory spotlight.
“I just really love cooking and want to share my enthusiasm for it,” she says. “I think too many people treat food as just something you eat to not feel hungry. I really wish people would recognize what a powerful art form it is. I mean, just think about the symbolism of making something and then eating it. You end up internalizing the message physically as well as metaphorically.”
Beyond spreading her metaphysical interpretation of food, Yesilevsky wants to help others recognize the power of positive eating. Certain foods, she claims, can evoke certain feelings. “I’m not just talking about the organic movement or various diets,” she says. “Warm carbohydrates, such as potatoes, make you feel very comfortable and homey, so if you were stressed and I wanted to make you feel better, I would give you something warm and soft and very flavorful. If you’re nervous, I could give you something chewy or crunchy, and play around with tastes depending on your mood.”
Yesilevsky may have to start preparing comfort food for the numerous undergrads she will be forced to reject.