Winter 2020

Emily Paster, ’99: From Legal Appeals to Appealing Recipes

Emily Paster
Emily Paster, ’99

Take a peek at Emily Paster’s West of the Loop blog, and you’ll find recipes for braised beef brisket, potato latkes, and kreplach. Hungry yet? Paster has more recipes to share, including beginner peach jam, apple and honey cupcakes for Rosh Hashanah, and parmesan green bean fries made in an air fryer.

Paster, ’99, is a Chicago-area food writer and cook who specializes in from-scratch cooking, particularly Jewish cuisine, and home preservation. She develops original recipes in her own kitchen, many of which appear on her blog or in publications such as Midwest Living, Allrecipes Magazine, and The Nosher.

As long as she can remember, Paster has had “a passion for food and cooking,” no doubt fostered by the “outstanding Jewish cooks in my own family,” including her mother, aunt, and grandmother. She fondly recalls being a young child and looking forward to the traditional meat dumplings her grandmother would make for the Jewish High Holidays.

A former appellate lawyer with the City of Chicago’s Office of Corporation Counsel, Paster made the switch from law to food by accident. When her daughter was diagnosed with food allergies more than a decade ago, Paster became concerned about the ingredients in prepared food and began making recipes from scratch. After her second child was born, she decided to stay home full time, and spent more time experimenting in the kitchen.

Paster taught herself how to do home canning and preserving; her expertise led to The Joys of Jewish Preserving, her 2017 cookbook published by Harvard Common Press that features 75 recipes for fruit jams, pickles, and other preserves. Her favorite? “The plum butter, which is just delicious,” Paster says. “It’s a fruit spread that is low in sugar and cooks down for a long time until it has a thick consistency.”

The fruits of Paster’s labor, so to speak, also produced overflowing shelves of canned pickles and jams in her basement, which prompted her in 2011 to co-found the Chicago Food Swap, where she and other community members get together to barter or exchange their handmade foods. It also was the basis for Paster’s first book, Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing, and Giving (Storey, 2016).

Paster’s more recent culinary adventures have focused on creating “more sophisticated, global recipes” that can be made with an air fryer, the trendy kitchen countertop appliance that is similar to a small convection oven. Those recipes are featured in the newly released Epic Air Fryer Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2019).

Launching a second career focused on food—complete with television appearances on local cooking shows—has been pleasantly surprising for Paster, who “loved practicing law.” She attributes her success in part to the cultural emphasis placed on food. “Growing up, food wasn’t as big a deal as it is now and was almost considered a hobby,” Paster says. “There’s so much more food media and interest in food these days that I think it opened up careers that didn’t exist previously. I feel very lucky that I get to do this as my job.”