Looking for a publication about food, art and all things in between? You’d be hard pressed to find anything more comprehensive — and beautiful — than Compound Butter, helmed by cousins Jaya and Jessie. Interested in what they have to say about food media, creating a magazine and working together as cousins? Read on.
How did you two meet?
Jessie: Jaya and I are cousins, so we’ve known each other for quite some time! However, we actually didn’t become close until our early 20s. I was living in San Francisco and Jaya messaged me about coming up to visit. We hadn’t spent much time together outside family holidays, but that trip ended up spawning a great friendship.
Jaya: I feel like getting to know one another as adults more so than children gave us an interesting perspective on each other. Having a lot of shared experiences in our past also helps the perspective of the magazine. I think we always understand where the other is coming from.
What made you decide to create a magazine together?
Jessie: On paper, we existed in very different worlds when CB was born. I was going to culinary school and working as a butcher and pit master while Jaya was at Art Center studying illustration. We knew we wanted to collaborate on something, but it was hard to know what exactly that should be. At the time, we had both recently discovered Lucky Peach and were also just fans of magazines and zines in general. When we finally landed on the idea of making a magazine, it felt so obvious!
Was food, art and food culture an integral part of both of your lives prior to CB, or did something spark an interest?
Jessie: I’ve always had a deep interest in and connection to food. It was the only link I had to my Burmese heritage and it was the main focus of most of my family get togethers growing up. I think for my formative years, food media made up a majority of the film and print media I consumed. Art on the other hand, was something I didn’t really understand until I met Jaya. I had gone to galleries and museums but beyond that, it felt like something I would never be able to fully grasp. She really opened my eyes to art in general and the ways in which it connects with food.
Jaya: While eating food has been something I’ve obviously enjoyed; Jessie definitely opened my eyes to the culinary world. I felt intimidated by food culture; I wasn’t a part of that “world” and didn’t really think I had the knowledge to be included. I felt safer in art related spaces because that was what I had surrounded myself with most of my life. But through Jessie and some food-related classes I was taking at the time I started to break down my own preconceived notions of what food culture was. I saw a lot of similarities between artists and chefs, once I realized the connection it made it easier to fall in love.
What’s been the most challenging part of running the magazine? The most rewarding?
Jessie: For me personally, staying organized and focused on the magazine can be really difficult. We both work full time jobs on top of running the magazine so there have definitely been times when I’ve fallen off during a big project or deadline with my full-time work. Still, when the first print copy of an issue arrives in the mail, no matter how many times we’ve gone over the PDFs for editing and rewrites, it’s like seeing it for the first time. I thought it would wear off but every time I see the final product it feels just as exciting and fulfilling as the last time.
Jaya: The most challenging part for me personally is trying to design every issue in a better and more unique way. I can get stuck on an article’s layout for a whole week trying to make it work, which can be super frustrating. I know that’s a luxury compared to other publications but sometimes being your own boss and timekeeper can be even more difficult in terms of motivation. The most rewarding part is seeing how excited our readers get for every new issue. When people post about it online, or when they reach out saying how much an article or piece affected them, that really makes it all worth it.
Was there ever a moment when you wanted to step away from the project?
Jaya: I think there have been times where we’ve had serious talks, and each have given each other an “out” so to speak...but we’ve never taken it. It seems we’ve reached a point where we accept that the issues are much larger now and it’s alright to take a little bit longer for the final product, and life can get in the way sometimes.
Jessie: We both work full time on other jobs and projects and there have definitely been moments where it’s felt like it might be too much. As Jaya said, we’ve definitely had to have hard discussions about the magazine, but I think we’re lucky that we’re so close because it makes it easier to be open and honest about things. Overall, like any passion project, CB has definitely had its moments, but we’ve always found a way to make it work.
Do you both have a favorite culinary experience (meal you had during your travels, favorite comfort food dish, etc.)?
Jessie: I know we both share a deep love of pie, something we usually get whenever we’re traveling together. It was probably born from our mutual love of our Grandmother’s pies, she’s an incredible cook and baker. Otherwise, I have so many experiences that immediately jump to mind, it’s hard to choose. A lot of my friends work in the food industry, so I’ve had many memorable meals visiting them and getting to share in and appreciate their culinary experiments and triumphs. I also really love pizza and have a lot of memories going for slices with my dad. I actually got a tattoo of a slice of pepperoni pizza for my birthday one year.
Jaya: We definitely talk about our Grandmother’s cooking frequently and always look forward to the holidays where we can eat Yorkshire puddings and custard pie again. For me, one of the best culinary experiences we had together was when we visited Seattle and had dinner at “How to Cook a Wolf” and then ended the night with a slice of pie to go from “Pie Bar.”
How do you see the food world and the art world intersecting?
Jaya: The food world very much needs the art world, and vice versa. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The preparation and presentation of a meal can be quite artistic and take a lot of work; just like the amount of effort that can go into making a piece of art. Creatives need food and drink to fuel, sustain and invigorate them. Chefs need to trust photographers and writers to represent their food to a mass of people who haven’t tasted it, but with the right imagery and words, they’ll want to.
Jessie: Reiterating what Jaya said here, I think they are intrinsically related. The act of creating and plating a meal out of raw ingredients is similar to that of creating an image with paint and canvas or a subject and camera. Food and art are both such personal forms of expression and I think that’s part of what makes them connect so well. A drawing or photo of a dish or ingredient can draw up the same emotions and memories as eating it would.
What makes Compound Butter unique as a publication?
Jaya: I love how personal most of our writing is. It really feels like a journal or scrapbook sometimes. We feel really lucky that our writers and artists give us such moving glimpses into their lives and thoughts. We’re in-between a lot of worlds which gives us the freedom to experiment and push ourselves with our content, and since we are truly DIY, we don’t answer to any higher ups and can do whatever the hell we want, any time. That can make every new issue something unexpected for our subscribers.
Jessie: Being contributor driven, we never fully know what an issue will look like until it’s done. When I write out a prompt, we usually have some preconceived notions of what kind of work will get submitted, but it doesn’t always go the way we expect. In many ways, our issues are at the mercy of the current political and cultural climate, which makes them topical and keeps us current. However, the pieces within them are also deeply personal and unique, which helps keep the issues from becoming too dated. Each issue feels like a time capsule that’s beautiful enough to keep on your coffee table and really take your time with.
What do you hope your magazine evokes/inspires?
Jaya: I hope it inspires people to get more involved in topics or worlds they feel intimidated by, to try new things and overall feel inspired enough to create something themselves.
Jessie: Compound Butter has been an incredible experience for us as artists and writers and I hope that our readers are able to enjoy and relate to that with each issue. We really strive to create a magazine that is diverse both in the background of our contributors and the topics we cover and I hope that by seeing that, folks that haven’t been as well represented in the art and food worlds feel inspired to create and push their work out into the world.
What have you gained from creating, designing, researching and taste-testing for the magazine?
Jaya: I personally have become a much better designer and illustrator through the magazine. When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to be an art director but didn’t have enough work experience to get any of those jobs. Compound Butter was partially created to push myself to learn those skills, and through the process of writing, editing, designing, and illustrating CB we’ve been recognized and given really amazing projects by people who like what we’re doing. Those connections have been really important to us.
Jessie: I think one of the greatest takeaways from creating the magazine has been all the incredible friendships and connections we’ve gained. We have contributors that have been in multiple issues and have also become close friends. We’ve gotten to work with incredibly talented people from around the world. The community within the independent print world and food media world in general is filled with fantastic people and getting to work on and talk about the magazine with them has been really wonderful.
What’s on the horizon for Compound Butter? What are your goals in relation to it?
Jaya: We’re currently working on our 12th issue themed around “Tradition” which should be coming out in a couple of months. Otherwise we have a couple Zinefests and festivals we’ll be tabling at in the Fall, so follow us on Instagram (@compoundbuttermag) to keep up to date on announcements!