Salad Party! Salad Party! Salad Party! 🎉
Kristy Mucci's brilliant, compact, underrated book practically makes salads for you. It could put us out of business! 😃
And Mucci doesn’t mind if you do. Her book’s simple, vividly colored illustrations (by Ophelia Pang), economical text, and ingenious format are meant to be a primer on how to put together beautiful and delicious salads as naturally and automatically as you read a book or write a letter or do math (or refuse to do math).
It’s fun to use, and a great starting point for the salad-inept. Each page of the book is broken into three panels—the top one is for dressings, the middle is for toppings, and the bottom is for bases—which the reader flips back and forth, mixing and matching, to make over 3375 different complementary combinations. You could close your eyes before flipping the panels and still come up with a terrific lunch.
In fact, the book’s childlike enthusiasm and devotion to fruits and vegetables are a reflection of Mucci’s own life. Long before she’d grown up, moved to NYC, made a life in food (including as a recipe developer, writer, and editor at Food52 and Saveur), she was—there’s no other way to say it—precociously enamored of beautiful produce. (Her official bio includes “produce enthusiast.”)
“As long as I’ve been eating solid food, I’ve had a preference for vegetables and fruits in a really weird way,” Mucci told me, by Zoom from Paris, where she moved in May. “I’m produce’s number-one fan. And the farmers—the small farmers. I’m pretty sure no one can love those things more than I do.”
Most of her favorite childhood memories revolve around beautiful produce—thanks in part to growing up in California, which she describes as magical. “Every place we lived had some kind of fruit tree in the backyard,” she said. “My grandpa Danny had a fig tree, a pomegranate tree, and a plum tree right next to his fence. We were able to get plums, avocados and lemons.”
She added: “My dad was telling me recently that in preschool I used to trade my Gushers for another girl’s fresh green beans from her family’s back garden.”
Maybe you’ve known plenty of kids who liked a nice vegetable or pretty piece of fruit. But how many of them grew up to be the kind of person who, upon meeting a bunch of farmers at Chicory festival in Seattle would end up traveling with them to Italy to tour the Veneto and visit radicchio growers and breeders and seed companies? Who among them tried to get a rutabaga-appreciation campaign started during a pandemic?
And how many are as devoted to salad as young Mucci was: “I used to sit on top of the kitchen counter in front of a giant bowl making salads as a child and —really—dreaming that one day I would grow up and be known for making good salads.”
I just love it when the dreams of little girls come true, especially when the odds seem stacked against them—as in Mucci’s case—but they maintain an appreciation of their good fortune, anyway—the way Mucci has.
Salad Party almost didn’t happen. It started out as a pasta book—which an editor had invited Mucci to write before deciding her catalogue had too much pasta in it and she’d rather have something with vegetables. Naturally, this thrilled Mucci: “I couldn't believe that was my life at that time. I felt so so lucky.”
The timing was great, because everyone in NYC was obsessed with SweetGreen, standing in long lines at noon, waiting for their fancy, expensive salad lunches. But Salad Party would show them how make their own.
Mucci was especially grateful to have the project to focus on once she started going through a “confusing and gutting” divorce. But when Salad Party came out in May 2020, the Pandemic had started raging and had rightly become the entire world’s main focus. (The publishing date was on her ex-husband’s birthday, of all days.) “I felt like this poor little book was doomed,” Mucci said. Like a lot of books published during that time, Salad Party didn’t get the attention it otherwise might have. In the opinion of the Department of Salad, it has been seriously overlooked.
But the most challenging thing: Mucci contracted Covid quite early, before a vaccine was available, and today she suffers from Long Covid, which kept her completely bedridden for over a year and continues to limit her ability to get out more than once a week—along with other severe complications. The difficulties of the disease were a big factor in her decision to move from NYC to Paris, where she finds life not just cheaper but much easier. (Unlike New York, where you must visit several stores for various ingredients, she said, “You can go into one shop and get all of the good things and they’re all from farmers and everybody cares and everything's beautiful.”)
Mucci continues to marvel at how good her life is. “That’s my regular takeaway: Lucky me,” she said. “This is ridiculous! This is my life.”
The two of us bonded over our constant anxiety about running out of lemons and our constant incredulity that people still see salad as a side dish. (“It’s the meal!” Mucci said.). But as someone who cancels plans and stops answering the phone if I get a bruise or a splinter, I ended up as inspired by her positivity as I was by her creativity.