15 Minutes with CSA Members: Tejal Rao + Hugh Merwin


They have a dog named Kimchi. What else is there to say about Tejal Rao and Hugh Merwin?

The awesomeness of that overshadows everything else. Even the fact they’re both writers (he’s working on a novel; she can be found frequently at TheAtlantic.com) and have lived in and loved Red Hook for three years.

You can often find Tejal writing recipes for the Collard Courier. When she does, know you can trust her: She studied pastry/cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Plus, she grew up in London, Kuwait, Khartoum and Paris, which means she has an easy fluency with flavors and spices.

Hugh, on the other hand, grew up in New York. Which, to those of us reared outside the City, is just as exotic and magical.

And still, they favor sammiches from the Ice House and Defonte’s. That makes them humans worthy of a dog named Kimchi.

What was the food culture in your house growing up?
Tejal: My parents cooked at home a lot — big roasts on Sundays with the occasional ready Chicken Kiev from Marks and Spencer’s. We rarely went out for dinner, but when we did, we went to pretty nice places. Michelin starred restaurants in the middle of nowhere.

Hugh: Lots of square meals. But sometimes my sisters and I ate sugar from the bag. With a spoon. We ate Chicken Kiev too but my mom made it from scratch.

One food you won’t you eat?
Tejal: Raw bananas or raw bell peppers.

Hugh: I eat everything.

Favorite vegetable?
Tejal: Tomatoes or Brussels sprouts

Hugh: Artichoke

Favorite food experience?
Hugh: Tejal took me to Fiamma for my birthday when Fabio Trabocchi was
cooking there.

Tejal: Hugh made a salad last night with radicchio cut up into little petals, cucumbers, queso fresco and sherry vinegar. We had it with some delivery pizza. It was perfect.

What do you value about food or eating?
Hugh: I like sharing meals with other people.

Tejal: Yeah, I love sitting down with people to eat and drink. Not feeling hungry, that’s good, too.

Favorite appliance?
Hugh: I would have to say my Cuisinart Belgian waffle maker. It’s not really my favorite, but I got one for free and I was supposed to write about it but never did. And I feel bad about that. It does make good waffles.

Tejal: I use this crappy $20 stick blender more than any other appliance. If I had a stand mixer it would be my favorite, I imagine, but I don’t have one.

Favorite food book or memoir:
Tejal: In Madhur Jaffrey’s memoir, Climbing the Mango Trees, she remembers walking down the streets of Dehli while the fruit vendors are bragging about their sweet green mangoes. They say, “These are the fingers of Juliette, the ribs of Romeo.” I loved that book.

Hugh: I like French Feasts by Stephane Reynaud.

Most disastrous kitchen or garden experiment:
Hugh: Too many. One time I thought I could make pizza dough with cake flour. My roommate called it pizza cake.

Tejal: I like to bake without measuring, so every now and then I turn out something really bad. Gummy, dense, rubbery. I made an apricot cobbler the other day and it was like pie slurry.

Why are you involved in the Red Hook CSA?
Hugh: It’s the first NY neighborhood I’ve lived in where I don’t have to drive to pick up a share.

Tejal: Ditto.

What’s the best lunch option near you?
Tejal: I work from home so every now and then I walk over to the Ice House for a pulled pork sandwich and a beer. Mostly I just put something together at home.

Hugh: Tejal makes delicious lunch, and I have a special sandwich at Defonte’s: Virginia ham, fried eggplant, mayo and mustard on a half.

What inspires you?
Hugh: Bad movies.

Tejal: Walking to Valentino Pier with the dog.

Your opinion: Does talking to plants help them grow?
Hugh: Absolutely.

Tejal: I didn’t think so but Hugh and my neighbor L started talking to a plant of mine and it grew back again after it had mostly died. It was a miracle.

Do you sing to them?
Hugh: Don’t be ridiculous.

Tell us one thing about yourself that would surprise us.
Hugh: I have a shard of glass embedded in my foot.

Tejal: I can throw knives.


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