092 – Polina Chesnakova, Chesnok. What happens when a baker/writer loses the use of her hand?
Baking Work. With New Normals. And Tons of Community Support. Welcome to Episode 92 and a conversation with a great writer and a dear friend. Polina Chesnakova of Chesnok blog first struck me with the level of expertise in her food writing and her enthusiasm for Charlottesville and its community members who do the Work of Food. After meeting her several years ago (when we both wrote for Our Local Commons), I discovered this enthusiasm is infectious.
Polina is the Queen of Hustle. Food writing is just part of the equation. In her career, she’s been a baker, a sous chef, created food programming for the Tom Tom Festival, taught cooking classes, even done some recipe testing. But what happens when an accomplished baker and writer loses the use of her hand because of disastrous circumstances? What happens when your whole world changes? We talk about it in this episode.
Polina was in a serious car accident in December 2016. Her hand was badly maimed and for a time, she thought she’d lose it completely. Multiple hand surgeries saved the day, but the paradigm shift has also forced her to move back home to recuperate and figure out next steps. It’s not like the movies folks. Healing is a long road full of little victories and major setbacks. Navigating your way through this New Normal can be challenging, frustrating, difficult. Potentially losing your livelihood is no joke, and Polina has moved through this period of her life with grace and aplomb. She credits a lot of this to the support of her family and the community of Charlottesville, who stepped forward in a big way, raising over $17K through a GoFund Me campaign set up by a friend, Kelsey.
“It was tremendous. So many times it left me absolutely speechless…a lot of it was people I didn’t even know…part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it…with all of the political turmoil of the past year…it was such an outpouring of love and positivity it almost kind of gave hope for me. Humanity. There’s a lot of bad in the world…but there’s also as much if not more, good.”
Charlottesville was not only elemental to her recovery but an important part of why she works in food. Polina asserts more than once during the conversation, had she landed in a metropolitan city like New York, she wouldn’t have had the connection and dynamic opportunity and collaboration that a town like ours provides on a daily basis.
How is she doing now? What are her next steps? My opinion? Girlfriend needs to write a Georgian cookbook immediately because the dishes she describes and writes about on her blog sound phenomenal! What do Georgians eat and why is the cheese bread khachapuri having a moment? What does Chesnok mean in Russian? What are Pheasant’s Tears? What are khinkali? And why are they made with a sense of urgency? Definitely, watch the video on her website where she makes them with her family. It’s a hoot! Chesnok blog is one of the few newsletters I subscribe to because every entry is thoughtful, well-written, beautifully photographed. I always learn something. Worth your time in this busy world of ours. As is this fabulous episode. Enjoy!
“Writing is a muscle you have to work out every day. If you’re not writing it gets out of use…when I read other people’s writing I try to pick up their style and the way they describe foods and memories and surroundings.”
“I’ve worked every position there is in a restaurant. It gives me a more well-rounded base of knowledge so when I go sit down to write about food I can pull from different experiences and viewpoints…I find that the best restaurant food critics are the ones who have such a broad background.”
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Sara Moulton Speaks Out – Chef Moulton was on the podcast a while back. I thought she might have more to say on this topic!
- Amanda Cohen Speaks Out – She has worked in restaurants for two decades. And she’s pissed.
- Fire, Flour, Fork Women in Food Panel Episode – We talk about this episode. It’s a good one. But I’m biased.
- Rappahannock Restaurant – Get the mussels with blood sausage. Or the bourride.
- Jessica Fechtor’s Book, Stir – What happens when a baker loses her sense of smell? Grab the tissues. One of my favorite pieces of food writing…..EVER.
- Polina Chesnakova’s blog about her hand injury – Grab the tissues.
- Molly Reeder – An accomplished illustrator. Her kitchen drawings are phenomenal.
- Honest Biscuits – My favorite place in Seattle. Art Stone is a dear old friend. That’s in spirit, not in age.
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