Sophia Roe is in the middle of making cookies from her Brooklyn culinary studio when she hops on a Zoom call just days after Thanksgiving.
“I’m in the process of creaming some sugar and some peanut butter and butter together for some cookies,” she shares.
Four days after the food-centric holiday, most of us are still overcoming cooking fatigue, opting for take-out or easy-to-do meals in the Thanksgiving wind down. But most of us aren’t a James Beard Award-winning chef, writer and Emmy-Award-nominated TV host.
Recently, Roe has teamed up with Johnnie Walker to offer insight on all things food and cocktails as we head into the holidays. Centering the brand’s excellent Blue Label bottle, Roe is on a mission to demonstrate how the whisky can enhance culinary experiences.
“Not only is Johnnie Walker Blue Label delicious to drink, but also delicious to cook with, she explains. “And I think for me, those two things are really really, really important. I also just think from an education perspective, it's really good for people to understand that this isn't just a beverage that you should just have in your bar cart. You actually can use and drink this—not just neat! People think, ‘Oh, whisky neat,’ but you can incorporate it into cocktails. You can incorporate it into caramels. You can brulee with it, you can incorporate it into hard candy. You can do so much with it that I just want to demystify whisky a little bit. I think some people are intimidated, particularly women, I think are a little intimidated by whisky.”
Roe has done so by crafting Blue Label-based recipes for brûléed figs, honey thyme vanilla ice cream and the Perfect Pear cocktail. “'I’m really just trying to get people in the kitchen and actually use Blue Label, actually incorporating it into their cooking habits,” she says.
In addition to her partnership with Johnnie Walker and chef responsibilities, Roe is excited for what’s to come in 2024. She’s been working on the first issue of a new food magazine, Family Style, and is getting ready to launch a magazine through her own culinary studio, which will debut in March.
“Those two projects are really important to me,” she points out. “They take a lot of energy… I'm really pumped for those things to be birthed and out into the world.”
Read on for more from Roe about her own holiday traditions, a magical green bean casserole and how to get over feeling stressed in the kitchen.
What was your starting point for developing your Johnnie Walker Blue Label dishes?
I start backwards, so I'm just tasting something as it is. Smell is really important to me. What does this smell remind me of? What is my first inclination? I think when I tasted Blue Label, it was something that I immediately thought I really would like to enjoy this at night. What do I want to have at night? Oh, I really want to have dessert at night. I think that's why dessert was the first thing that came to my mind, in particular.
It’s officially the holidays. What do you enjoy this time of year?
The holidays can be about whatever you want. For me, I just have no pressure. I’m a low-pressure kind of holiday. It's OK if you travel for the holidays. It's OK if you don't; it's OK if you’re with friends, it’s OK if you’re with family. I think my big thing is I don't ever do anything I don't want to do during the holidays.
I travel. I always go somewhere. So I've done a three-week solo drive-through the Yucatan. I have gone to South Africa. I have done London, Paris, Portugal. I have done the desert for two and a half weeks. So typically, for me, I think this might be the very first Christmas since before maybe 20 that I actually might stay in New York, which is pretty wild. I have a little anxiety about that actually.
Do you have any tips for this self-preservation during the holidays?
There’s just a lot of expectation, and I just think that you can create new traditions. I came from a pretty broken home, so I don't have kind memories. I don't know how to decorate a Christmas tree. And that's probably not normal for some people, but that's my normal. So my normal looks like going to Japan. That's the tradition I've created for myself and I guess that's why I feel like the pressure of what you should do and where you should go. I think it's one of the rare times where us living in this capitalist place, we actually have a moment. Most of us take a beat or take a break. And so I feel like because that time is so coveted, you should really go out of your way to find something about it that is just for you. I think family is great and spending time with family is great, and if that's what you want to do, you should do that.
My favorite thing about Thanksgiving food is green bean casserole. So what I do is I make one for myself. Every single year, I just make one green bean casserole for me and I leave it at home. So even if I don't get any for Thanksgiving, I got one when I get home for me. I think incorporating those things for yourself is so crucial, especially if you're coming from a trauma-framed background. Trying to reframe the holidays has just been really, really top-tier important for me.
I'd love to hear more about your green bean casserole. Did you take a basic recipe and make it your own?
Oh, I mean, it's so bougie, girl, and terrific. It’s one of those recipes where I'm like, I hate myself. I'm frying the onions from scratch and I do a little cornmeal and rice flour. I basically tempura onions. I'm not kidding. It's obnoxious, but it's so delicious. I use white pepper. I cook down cream and essentially make a cream shallot custard, but it's almost like super buttery and beurre blanc-y. I don't know, it's so bougie and stupid and it takes forever, but it's so good and I am not willing to share. And, separately, it feels sacrilegious for me to make it any other time. I wouldn't just make it in February. This is the Thanksgiving favorite. I love it, so I make myself two batches.
I feel like the holidays are a time of year when people who usually steer clear from the kitchen decide to take a stab at baking or cooking. Do you have advice for beginners navigating the kitchen?
Oh, kitchen anxiety. OK, well first things first: just make sure your kitchen when you start, it's very clean. All these tips, I never seen anyone say that. If your kitchen is chaotic, by proxy, you're going to feel chaotic. So just keeping things as tight and as organized, I think is really important. Also, the pressure to make a very specific thing I think is silly. I am team no one asked for pumpkin pie. Why do you have to make it? You don't have to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving if you don't want to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. At this most recent Thanksgiving, there's pumpkin pie and apple pie and all anyone's doing is talking about milkshakes and chocolate ice cream and chocolate cake that they love. I'm like, “Why didn’t we make chocolate cake and milkshakes?” I think making things that you love that are just completely separate, you don't have to have Turkey during Thanksgiving. You can have chicken, you can have a London broil, whatever you want I think it’s really great. And also incorporating your family. I think there's this huge push to get people out of the kitchen and let you do your thing. I couldn't disagree more. Having someone in there to bounce off of: “What do you think this tastes like? Do you like this?” I think is really actually super, super helpful.
Get your aunt involved. Get your kids involved. Everybody wants things to be perfect. It's like, you're not a personal chef. It's OK. I'm a professional chef and mess things up all the time. So I think it's just really the anxiety itself is anxiety. Everybody's coming over; they're gonna be thrilled and excited to see you. You're seeing your friends or seeing family. I just think that a lot of that pressure can be alleviated by just remembering, “Hey, these people that I love, we're having a meal together.” That's it. It doesn't matter what it is.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Find Sophia’s full Johnnie Walker Blue Label recipes below.
Honey Thyme Vanilla Ice Cream
● 2 cups heavy cream
● 1 ½ cups whole milk
● 3/4 cup honey
● ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
● 1 vanilla bean
● 1/4 cup thyme (keeping stems on is fine)
● 4 egg yolks
Add all ingredients to a pot over low to medium heat except the egg yolks. Heat the mixture until 150F. and then turn off the heat. In a large bowl, add the egg yolks. While whisking the egg yolks, take 1 cup of the cream/milk mixture and add it slowly to the egg yolks, being sure to continue vigorously whisking.(If you don’t whisk this mixture, the eggs could cook and split your custard) As you whisk the mixture, add another cup of the cream/milk mixture. Once you’ve added two cups of the cream/milk mixture. Pour the entire egg bowl mixture back into the pot and heat the mixture to 175F to make sure you adequately cook the eggs. Then strain your mixture, and place in a refrigerator-safe container to cool. Once cooled, process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Place in freezer-safe container and enjoy!
Coconut Caramel Sauce
● 1 can full-fat coconut milk
● 1/4 cup butter
● 1 tsp vanilla extract
● 1/2 cup coconut sugar
● 2 tbsp maple syrup
● 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Add all ingredients to a pot on low. Allow mixture to cook down/reduce for 20-30 minutes until an emulsified caramel starts to form. The longer you cook this, the thicker and darker and richer the flavor. Be sure to keep the pan on low. The caramel will thicken even more as it starts to cool. Use immediately or save in an airtight container.
Smoked Salt Hazelnut Brittle
● 1 1/2 cups sugar
● 1 cup water
● 1 cup light corn syrup
● 2 tbsp molasses
● 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
● 1 tsp vanilla extract
● 4 tbsp butter
● 2 cups chopped and toasted hazelnuts
● 2 tsp smoked Maldon sea salt
Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper and/or silicone mat. Mix sugar, water, corn syrup, and molasses in a saucepan. Stir to combine and then let cook over medium heat, until candy thermometer reads 240°F. Then stir in butter and chopped hazelnuts. Cook mixture until thermometer reads 300°F. Then quickly stir in baking soda mixture until light and foamy. You’ll want to move kinda fast during the part so you can properly spread out your brittle on your sheet pan. Pour the candy mixture onto each cookie sheet and quickly spread about 1/4 inch thick. Immediately sprinkle the top of your brittle with the smoked salt and let brittle sit for an hour until brittle hardens. Then break brittle into large pieces.
● 1/4 cup coconut butter
● 1 tbsp coconut oil
● 3 tbsp coconut sugar
● 1/4 cup maple syrup
● 3 tsp vanilla extract
● 5 tsp ground cinnamon
● 3 tsp ground ginger
● 1/4 tsp star anise
● 1 tbsp orange zest
● 1 3/4 cup rolled oats
● 1/4 cup chopped and toasted hazelnuts
● 2 tsp kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together and bake on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then rotate the pan in oven, mix up granola with wooden spoon, and bake for another 5-10 minutes. Let granola cool and then blend 1/3 cup of granola in a spice grinder until the granola is a sand like texture. Use on top of any preferred dessert.
1.5 oz Johnnie Walker Blue Label
.5 oz Jinro 24 (Shochu)
.5 oz at George Pear Liqueur
.75 oz Lemon Juice
3oz Martinellis Sparkling Cider
Garnish: Thyme or Rosemary Twig
Preparation: Add ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into an
ice-filled highball glass. Top with sparkling cider and garnish with a sprig of thyme or
● 1-2 pints of fresh figs, halved (any variety will work)
● 4 tbsp butter, separated
● 1/3 cup brown sugar
● 2 tbsp maple sugar
● 2 ounces Johnnie Walker Blue Label
● 1/4 cup heavy cream
● 1 tsp kosher salt
● Garnish: fresh thyme, black pepper
In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Once butter is melted add the brown sugar. Allow sugar to melt for 2-3 minutes and then add figs to the pan, flesh side down. Let figs bubble and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. With a match nearby, add the Johnnie Walker Blue Label to the pan. Gently tilt the pan and light the figs with a match. Let the figs brûlée until the alcohol cooks off. Let figs cook until the liquid reduces and figs caramelize. Gently remove bruleed figs from the pan, and add the remaining tbsp of butter, heavy cream, and salt. Let reduce and cook until caramel is golden and smooth in color. Place cooked figs and pickled pears on top of toast that’s layered in miso ricotta. Finish toast with fresh thyme, black pepper and a drizzle of the fig caramel from the pan.
● 10-12 Seckel pears, peeled
● 1 lemon, juice and zest
● 1 tsp cloves
● 2 black peppercorns
● 3 star anise pods
● 2 cinnamon sticks
● 4 inch piece of ginger, sliced
● 1/3 cup maple syrup
● 1 cup rice vinegar
● 1 cup white wine vinegar
● 1/2 cup pear juice
Place all ingredients, except the pears, into a large pot on low. Cook until sugar dissolves and flavors have time to develop, around 5 minutes. Add the peeled pears to the pot and cook for about 10 minutes. Strain out the cooked pears and place in sanitized jars. Pour the vinegar maple liquid on top of the pears. Let the jar come to room temperature and then place in the refrigerator. Pears should be ready to eat after 24 hours, but will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Whipped Miso Maple Ricotta
● 1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
● 1 tbsp white miso
● 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
● Zest of one lemon
● 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
● Black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or conversely whisk together all ingredients until desired texture is reached.
Photography by: Courtesy Sophia Roe