Food & DrinkHolidaysInterviews

Cooking, Family, and Community: A Conversation with Dan Pelosi

New York Times’ bestselling author, bear cook and social media personality Dan Pelosi joins us for an intimate conversation about food, family, the holidays and the bear community.

Dan Pelosi’s latest bestseller, “Let’s Eat: 101 Recipes to Fill Your Heart and Home,” arrives at a time when the world yearns for the comfort of home-cooked meals. This delightful book made its way to bookstore shelves this past September, and since then, we’ve been savoring its delicious recipes. In March 2020, as New York City entered lockdown, Dan turned to his well-stocked pantry, finding solace in his kitchen. He began sharing his daily culinary adventures and moments with his community through Instagram. As the pandemic persisted, his audience continued to expand, underscoring his unique ability to support people during the global crisis. We were fortunate to connect with Pelosi just before his book’s launch and wholeheartedly recommend it as a thoughtful gift for your loved ones. While Dan shared one of his favorite recipes, “Italian Holiday Cookies” with us, you can own the book, featuring an additional hundred recipes, for just $30 at your preferred bookseller. Wishing you all a joyous holiday season, filled with delicious meals – “let’s eat!”

Jeffrey James Keyes: Tell me about the name Grossy Pelosi! 

Dan Pelosi: Well, I’m older than I look. When I was in college Never Been Kissed, the Drew Barrymore movie was out, and her bully nickname was Josie Grossy in the movie. Of course, she emerged to swag from being Josie Grossy but all my friends in college just thought it was hysterical and started calling me “Grossy Pelosi”. I was like, that’s so funny, I love it! So then when we were forced to do I always used Grossy Pelosi. Then when Instagram came out, I was like, oh, Grossy Pelosi. Now that I have become this thing, Grossy Pelosi just sort of is the name. It’s become this hysterical kind of brand name in a weird way. But I love it because it’s not serious and it’s not fussy and it removes the layer of people thinking food is pretentious or fussy. 

Dan Pelosi

Jeffrey James Keyes: You’re really great at social media. What was your vehicle into social media and how did you figure it out? 

Dan Pelosi: I’ve always talked to a wall, and my dad is the same way. I’m hyper social. I’m a Gemini, so I’m either right in your face or you can’t find me very much, I have that duality. I think that with the emergence of social media from college on, it just always became a natural place for me to share. I love sharing, and I love talking about myself and my life. My Flickr was on fire. I would post every photo from every part of my life on Flickr and it just became this thing that I did and I loved it. As social media emerged, I really got into Instagram. For ten years on Instagram, I was posting endless photos to no audience. So, when you say how did I get so good at social media, I think I was shooting my shot for a long time and practicing. My friends would always be like, why can’t we eat, why are you taking photos of dinner, can we just eat? And I was like, no, my two thousand followers need beautiful photos of my food. I just shared and thought it was important and always thought that my voice needed to be heard and then as the pandemic hit, in the end of 2019 — I had a really bad year in 2019 – and my annual holiday cookie party was a day that brought me a lot of joy. It always does. But that year really stuck out to me. I was like, wow, I’m super happy here and I have so many great people; all my friends talking about food, eating food, sharing recipes. I was like I should really take Instagram, which is something that I use for a photo of anything and make it about food and see what happens. By March 13th of 2020, I had somewhat of a food Instagram. I went from sharing everything I made on Saturday and Sunday because I was a weekend cook, to cooking from home every day of the week and sharing everything I made and how I stocked my pantry. My apartment was decorated in a way that looked like I lived there, which was unique to a lot of people my age in different cities. People were just like, wow, do you know how to stay home? I did, because that’s all I’ve done. My whole life is really focused on the home and food and all of that stuff. It turned out that the lifestyle that I’ve always led was really relevant when we were all asked to stay home. With my background in marketing and design, I was pretty easily able to listen to all of their questions and the things that were coming into my DMs and then make usable content for people. And then it all just took off. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: I’m really interested in the story of your pandemic dinners. How did this idea come about? 

Dan Pelosi: I’m very lucky. In my life, I’ve had some incredible dinner parties. I built this gigantic dining table in my apartment to host people. As soon as the pandemic hit, I was like, oh my gosh, we can’t gather. It was March and as the weather started getting slightly warmer, everyone was feeling a little bit like, OK, we could be outside. I started taking all this energy I had with cooking and creating food and sharing it. I invited people to join me outside at my table that I’d had for years. We put a picnic table on our stoop, which was for blocks the only dining table on the front of anyone’s house in Brooklyn – and then this really great thing happened, because that summer people started adding tables. It became a place for other people on the block to come outside and talk to each other and get some human interaction. We were ringing the bell for the healthcare workers. I would invite friends who I hadn’t seen in a while or people who I knew were living alone during the pandemic, to just come by and eat and they could either sit 10 feet away or a little bit closer at the table, whatever felt good for people. It was just sort of a way to bring people together in an outdoor, safe environment during this wild time. It also was really great for me to share with everyone else and say, here’s how I’m doing it. Everything from how I prepare food indoors, how am I carrying it outside, how am I packing it, what am I making, how am I using my pantry? It was really great. I really wanted to shoot a section of my book that was an homage to that table because it really got me through so much.

Jeffrey James Keyes: It’s really special seeing pictures of you all out front like that. It’s important. I feel we need to hang on to those moments coming out of this time, some of the good things that came out of this experience. I know we still have one foot in the pandemic, literally, but coming out of this moment is there anything that you feel you like you learned informing this semi-post pandemic life? 

Dan Pelosi: There are so many things. To me the value of entertaining and bringing people together. Meeting people and socialization keeps our brains sharper. When I would have dinner parties, I always liked to invite people who didn’t know each other. I’m one of those people who wants all my friends to become friends with each other and then go hang out, without me even. I’m just like everyone needs to know each other, be obsessed with each other. Coming out of the pandemic, I think the focus on gathering is just so exciting and I think that I was really glad that I was able to sort of help people come out of the pandemic with a stronger ability to cook and entertain, which I think is what this book is celebrating. I think it just helped me further learn the importance of family meals. When that’s taken away from you it’s really hard. I also think people who had never done that sort of thing were fetishizing it when I was doing it on my Instagram. And so, they came out of the pandemic being like, I want to do what Grossy Pelosi’s doing, even though I’ve never done that before. So many people are messaging me and saying the first time I’ve ever cooked anything was your vodka sauce. Getting people into the kitchen to cook for themselves was really great and really powerful. And that’s why when everyone’s like you should open a restaurant or whatever, I’m like, no…that’s not what I’m doing. I want you to cook for yourself and that’s why I’m here.

Jeffrey James Keyes: I feel like your book is really truly coming out of this moment as well. Going through it has been such a joy. 

Dan Pelosi: That makes me so happy. The book is really a response to the experience I had helping people get through the pandemic. The way that I was living during the pandemic was not too different from the way I’ve lived my whole life. I’ve always cooked for myself, and I’ve always had a great stock pantry and I’ve always had leftovers and I’ve always done all these things that I do. But I think I was able to learn what people need to learn themselves, what questions they have. All the guides that are in the book, every chapter, has a guide really to help people with the questions they’ve been asking me. It was incredible marketing research going out of my DMs for two years. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: How did the book come about essentially? 

Dan Pelosi: In early 2020, the summer and then by early fall book agents and different publishers started reaching out. I always thought I would print a book at Kinkos and that if I wrote one, it would be five recipes. So, I reached out to my community of people who I’m friends with who are in the food world, like Molly Baz and Andy Baraghani, all these people who’ve written books or had book deals and started asking around about agents. And I signed with the book agent around Thanksgiving. Then I started writing a proposal which I never really got around to before. A publisher approached my agent with an offer to buy my book without a proposal, which was kind of crazy and it ended up being a really good offer from a really great editor and we took it! By August of 2021, I had a book deal! Now, two years later, here we are. I think people really responded to what I was putting out there. I said to my agent when I met her, “so you don’t need a proposal?”. And she was like, “I think we all know what your book’s gonna be.” I was like, “OK, sure, but also, I get you. I understand what you’re saying. I’m not a mystery.” 

Dan and his mom

Jeffrey James Keyes: I love the layout of your book. It really feels like we’re in conversation in the kitchen with you. I love the blend of storytelling as well, how you share family stories. I notice a lot of recipes incorporate either names of your family members or that kind of story about your uncle or your grandfather. I’d love to hear a little bit about your relationship with your family and food. I loved reading about your grandparents and cooking in their kitchens with them. Can you share a little about your family experience? 

Dan Pelosi: I grew up in all the kitchens of all my many family members, and pretty much everyone was cooking. I would be with my grandparents in their basement kitchens, watching them cook, tasting their recipes, pretending like it wasn’t perfect so I could keep eating it, more and more tasting. They were so great and let me really get into the kitchen at an early age. My mom tells stories of having me in my little baby seat, on the countertop while she was cooking. It was just a safe space for me. It was a place where without even knowing, I was watching and learning and taking notes. I never really wanted to go outside and play with my friends. That wasn’t interesting enough to me. I wanted to be hanging out with my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, hearing all the stories, tasting all the things, cooking all the things. We were the kind of family that would talk about lunch at breakfast and dinner at lunch. 

My grandparents, my grandfather, would come over on Sunday and clip coupons with my dad and they would talk about grocery shopping, and I would go with them. It was always the dialogue, very Italian-American, also Portuguese-American, focused on family and food and meals. I went on a tour of all my relatives’ dinners and all their houses to eat all their food. Everyone had a different version of the same recipe because we’re all making the same things, just slightly different. And you have to tell everyone that theirs is the best when you’re at their house. I think all of those stories and all of those relationships are what makes my book and informed the way that I cook -that’s how I learned. I didn’t go to cooking school. I’m not a professional chef. I truly am a person who’s spent a lot of their life in a kitchen and surrounded by people who love and celebrate food. That’s where my journey comes from. It’s always been the thing that people have connected closely with me.  Over the past three years, they just love the stories and the people, and it goes way beyond me. Everyone knows who my mom, my dad, my grandparents, they know who everyone is and that’s really special because they’re welcomed into my family. During the pandemic, when I was doing all these recipes and couldn’t see my family, I spent so much more time on the phone with everyone, calling people, saying, hey Chris, how did you make your cheesecake? All those conversations led to other things and other connections and other stories. It was so great. I get followers new who say to me, “hey, you know, I called my aunt to talk about this recipe and it’s the best conversation I’ve had in ten years”; someone else said, “my grandmother went to the grave with her cookie recipe, and I made your cookie recipe and my family decided that your recipe is now grandma’s recipe.” It goes beyond my family. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: I’m a very novice cook and I get stressed out about cooking and so your note about reading through the recipe all the way through before starting completely resonated with me. It’s like the simplest thing, but I think this is why I get stressed out because I don’t know what I’m anticipating. And then I freak out when I’m like, Oh my God, I don’t have that ready! 

Dan Pelosi: I literally had no idea that people didn’t read the entire recipe before starting to cook. It blew my mind, and I would get these questions from people, and I’d be like that’s in literally the next paragraph of the recipe. As someone who has been so interested in cooking and cookbooks, I have a million cookbooks and I love cooking other people’s recipes. I read recipes for fun without even cooking them, it just comes naturally to me. I couldn’t imagine starting a recipe and not knowing how it ends, how do you plan your day? I’m glad that that resonated with you and hopefully it changes things for you in the kitchen. Because to know what’s coming is a gift that a lot of us don’t have in a lot of areas in our life. But with the recipe, it’s all right there. The stress about cooking is that they’re halfway through something and they have to do something else that they haven’t prepped or pulled out. So, they don’t have that ingredient, or they don’t realize certain things. I also think people also are just so intimidated by the final product. I always remind people, first of all, forget about what it looked like, did you eat it? And they’ll say yes. And I’m like, great, that’s the only measure. If you ate it, we’re good. If you didn’t like something, guess what? You can make it again, mess around with it and make it better. I love people who go take my recipe and they change something or do something different, make it work for you. My goal is to get you in the kitchen, and if they did that, then we’re good.

Jeffrey James Keyes: Can we get back to talking about holiday cookie parties? First off, tell me about that and how do I plan a good holiday cookie party?

Dan Pelosi: If you go to my website, I have a guide to my holiday cookie party, and it has tons of photos and stuff so you can wrap your head around it further. Basically, to me a holiday cookie party is inspired by my childhood of growing up with everyone in my family making tons of holiday cookies, keeping tins of them in the basement or on the porch to keep them cold. The whole month of December was baking, and you would bring cookies to everyone’s houses. You’d have a tray of cookies, and every time someone visited that tray would get a new member and it became this amorphous cookie tray. I always loved that. So, when I moved to New York I finally had the space to really embrace that tradition and make something new of it with my friends. I started having my holiday cookie party where I would bake six or seven of my own holiday cookies. I would put a big piece of craft paper on my table. I would tell people if you’re gonna come, bake homemade cookies or bring a drink, but don’t bring Starbuck cookies because the goal of the party is to get people to share recipes, talk about a recipe and really to get people to walk around being like “who made the Peanut Butter & Jelly cookie? Oh, that was you. Tell me about it, can I get the recipe?” People come, they put their cookies on the table. Everyone’s set up is the same. You write your names with the kind of cookie you made and then it just becomes people circling the table and having really great conversations all afternoon. I’ve been doing that for 10 years now. It’s just the best day of the year. I think it really brings you back to my roots in the Italian cookie tray. The table becomes this gigantic mass of cookies. I have hot chocolate and we have drinks. People bring me gallons of milk, which makes me really happy. It just has taken on a whole life to it. I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of holiday cookie info and recipes in the book. I have the Italian holiday cookie, which is like the girl that’s at every party all year round, much less the holidays. Then I have the Cuccidati, which is an incredible Italian holiday cookie. Then I took the rainbow cookie and made a cake out of it because everyone is always asking for a rainbow cookie recipe, but I don’t think most of my girls know how hard it is to make, so I wanted to make a simpler version of it. Every time I eat the Italian rainbow cookie, I’m like, why isn’t this just a slice of cake, it’s such a good cookie. There’s plenty of holiday info in the book and the holidays are just the best time. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: Are there any other holiday traditions that you have? 

Dan Pelosi: Putting up a tree is always really fun. I am allergic to Christmas trees, which is hysterical. I have a fake tree, but I love decorating it. I love having my friends over making food. We have fish on Christmas Eve, my linguini with clams is often on the table. I also have my aunt’s seafood stuffed shell, which is a great Christmas Eve recipe that we would eat. The cheesecake is a big Christmas tradition. A lot of the stuff is inspired by those holiday gatherings –  the biscotti, another great holiday cookie recipe. I love that photo from the book. It’s one of my favorites because to me it’s enjoyed after dinner when everyone does their own thing. I would always sit with my aunts and my mom, and they would be having espresso and cookies. That’s where I learned everything I know – that girl talk combo where they spilled the beans and me as a young boy soaking it all up while eating biscotti and having espresso was heaven. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: In which ways would you say the Hudson Valley inspires your cooking?

Dan Pelosi: The farmers markets, the produce, all of these places up here. I think places like Talbott and Arding, places like Random Harvest, which I live nearby, and the Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market. There are just so many beautiful things being made in the food world up here. I just think there’s space and room to create up here. And in the city, everything feels piled on top of itself. I love having so many great people who are doing what I’m doing in the world, because there’s so much space for all of us; and there’s also physical space and air up here to grow and connect with people. It just already feels so nice to have roots up here after having come up for years, renting houses with friends and shopping at all these places. Now I feel like I can buy something and put it in the freezer and cook it in three months and really invest and settle into all the wonderful things that are happening up here.

Dan with his dad.

Jeffrey James Keyes: Could you tell a little bit about your relationship with the gay community and more specifically, with the bear community?  

Dan Pelosi: I’m definitely a bear. I use the bear as iconography in my own personal life and have for many years. I don’t know that I really connected the dots to the gay bear community and me loving the actual bear. I used the bear on a lot of my merch and my branding. The fact that a bear community exists is something that I wish someone had told me about when I was younger. I didn’t know about it until I moved to San Francisco in my early twenties. So much of the anxiety and feelings that I would never be loved or accepted by the gay community because I didn’t have that body or that whatever would have really been eased if I had known that there was this really beautiful, incredible, warm, loving, sexy community out there that would make me feel really great. It’s just such a great celebration of body acceptance and body positivity plus so many other things. I’m really grateful that the community exists and that they identify as such. Sometimes it’s hard to self-identify, especially in a community where there’s a lot of one way to be and I’ve never been a one way to be kind of person. I think it’s great to have Bear as a self-identifier for shorthand in the community, but also just for so many other reasons. 

Jeffrey James Keyes: Thank you for speaking so positively about the community. 

Dan Pelosi: Yeah, of course! I love the body acceptance and body positivity. I always joke that I wanna go on a tour to high schools and tell kids not to sweat it because someone’s gonna love them and their belly just the way they are! 

For more information on Dan Pelosi and Let’s Eat check out Dan’s website here.

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Jeffrey James Keyes

Jeffrey James Keyes is a New York-based writer and artist. He recently co-authored the New York Times Bestselling book Killer Chef with James Patterson and wrote and produced the award-winning short film Uniform. He writes about travel, weddings, and wellness for a variety of publications and websites.