What To Read: Anna, Julia, Niki, and Forrest are cooking seafood

This week, we interviewed Anna Sonenshein, Julia Sonenshein, Niki Vahle, and Forrest Florsheim, the pop-up restaurant team who writes Little Fish, a newsletter about seafood.

What’s your Substack about in one sentence?

Our Substack is about the community that exists around cooking and eating together – and it includes seafood recipes that share our love of fish.

What is it about seafood that makes it unique?

What sets seafood apart is the enormous range of products – it feels like we are discovering new ways to prepare and eat seafood every day. It’s a joy to follow the seasonality of seafood, and to focus on what we can get locally in Southern California. There’s also the fact that not everyone even likes seafood or that they may have to develop a taste for it. While the four of us were all born loving it, seafood is a food many people build a relationship with over time. 

I love how you describe your childhood memories of dipping fish sticks in ketchup and watching your parents steam crab legs from Costco. How do you think your taste in seafood has evolved over the years?

Our taste in seafood has definitely broadened over time: We were lucky to learn about seafood dishes from other locations and cultures, and developed tastes for more than the fish sticks and baked salmon we grew up on. But what’s really critical is that the broadening didn’t leave things behind – we still love fish sticks. We still love baked salmon. Any number of us can be found eating tuna out of a can on saltines. The point is that we began to see the universe contained in seafood, that it can be everything.

You share such a range of recipes – poached sturgeon with mustard beurre blanc, Thai coconut shrimp soup, salted salmon with koji mushrooms. How do you decide on which dishes to feature?

Our recipes follow the seasons and what’s readily available, but above all, we feature the food we want to be eating that week. A recipe might come from a craving from someone on our team, or a take-out dish we ate and need to recreate. The news in the world impacts what we cook: On a rough day, we need comfort food, while on a hopeful day, we might try something more complex and aspirational. 

We are also constantly reading cookbooks and learning from other people, so we may share a recipe that was shared with us and expanded our conceptions of what seafood cooking can be. (Case in point: miso black cod that was definitely not our recipe.) 

Above all, we want to share recipes that feel special, regardless of how complicated they are. We’re big into making the everyday a celebration, and our recipes reflect that.

In addition to your newsletter, you also run a pop-up seafood restaurant in L.A. What has it been like building a community of people who love seafood?

We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response to our pop-up. People show up for us in so many ways: They like and share our posts, story pictures of the food, and bring their friends and roommates and parents and dogs. They respond to our newsletter with expressions of love. And they show up with their wallets – we have been able to donate portions of our profits to on-the-ground organizations serving our larger community.

We really just feel so lucky that we are able to do this pop-up. A grab bag of privileges came together to allow us to take a risk on this work, and we don’t take any of them for granted. 

What’s your favorite fish (or shellfish)?

Shrimp, no doubt. 

Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?

Illyanna Maisonet’s Substack Eat Gorda Eat has everything: smart writing about the food of the Puerto Rican diaspora and more, a mother-daughter relationship we can’t get enough of, and gorgeous pictures of Northern California. Her Youtube series and Instagram accounts are also not to be missed.

It might seem funny to recommend a writer whose beat is primarily vegan food, but From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy consistently makes us reevaluate our relationship to food. Alicia Kennedy’s work about food justice is sharp and vital.

Subscribe to Anna, Julia, Niki, and Forrest’s newsletter, Little Fish.