Claire Olshan Makes the Snacks She Wants to See in the World
The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Claire Olshan is the founder of DADA Daily, a healthy-snack company, and Fivestory, a celebrated fashion boutique inside a New York townhouse — businesses that are more similar than they sound, since they share Claire’s eye for style and pursuit of pleasure. At her Manhattan home, she discussed her lifelong passion for snacking and showed us how to cook cauliflower in The Dutchess.
I am obsessed with the taste of the ocean — that’s why I started eating seaweed when I was around 8 or 9. I was very intolerant of many foods when I was little; I always had a stomachache. I used to go to health-food stores on my way home from school in the city. By the end of college, I became a real subscriber to “hippie foods.” I didn't ever want to smoke or binge-drink again. I just became really aware that being healthy makes you feel good.
In these health-food stores, I’d always get to the snack aisle and think, Where the eff are all the vegetables? I wanted a vegetable in the form of a snack, without all the fillers. I was like, "I'm going to create a snack that keeps its integrity.” Every single bag of Brussels sprouts that you open, all you'll see are Brussels sprouts. Every single bag of cauliflower you open, all you'll see is cauliflower. That's how DADA started.
It took about two years to get the Brussels sprouts right. That was my first big idea! I wanted to create a Brussels-sprout chip, and little did I know that when you dehydrate a Brussels sprout the stem gets really hard. I thought it was the greatest idea in the whole wide world to create a dehydrated Brussels sprout because it didn't exist, but the reason it didn't exist was because it was really hard to execute. That took a long time. The cauliflower, on the other hand, took six months. We just figured out a process to freeze-dry and dehydrate and coat it in the right way that it keeps it crunchiness — we call it cauliflower popcorn.
That was my first big idea! I wanted to create a Brussels-sprout chip
The first thing I ever was obsessed with was food, but the food I was obsessed with wasn't cool back then. It was actually really uncool to be drinking green juices and eating seaweed. I remember my brother being like, "Don't tell anyone what you eat.”
I got a bachelors and masters in art. I worked as an assistant at the New Museum when I was in college. I was director of a gallery; I got exactly where I wanted to be, and I was like, "This sucks.” I was not cut out to be an art dealer. The commodification of something I really loved felt off.
But I was still in my state of mind that I need to be cool. I thought, I'm going to build a really amazing fashion store where people can discover new brands. I wanted people to be inspired to dress up in the morning. Slowly but surely, I don't know, Fivestory wasn't enough for me, and I was like, "I think I need to go back to the food thing.”
Funny enough, at this point, food is pretty cool. I’ve taken basically everything I’ve learned over the last 15 years in all the industries and meshed it together. DADA is going great, but it’s very hard. I've never worked in the food industry before, but I love to jump headfirst into industries I don't know.
The idea of a cool snack is like an oxymoron.
The whole ethos of our brand is that snacking is almost a cultural decision in your day, like any other — where you go for dinner, what clothing you wear, what shampoo you use. Anything you’re ingesting is one of the most intimate decisions of your life. Our tagline is "Elevate your snacking moment.” You should feel inspired or proud of something you used to do mindlessly, in the shadows. If you're eating this snack by yourself on a couch at 11 p.m., you should be eating it at your dinner party with your friend. People should say things like, "Wow, that's a really cool snack." The idea of a cool snack is like an oxymoron. We think that we could change that.
Everything I eat, truly, is super simple. This recipe is very indicative of how I eat. I put four handfuls of salt and rosemary in The Dutchess and then coat the top layer with water and my favorite seaweed-flavored Sea Seasoning. I usually wait for it to bubble, stir a little, and then I throw in the cauliflower, whole, and let it boil. Every 10 minutes I'll check on it, until it gets nice and soft.
Everything I eat, truly, is super simple.
Cauliflower, to me, is a miracle food. It’s my substitute for a mashed potato, and I’ve even used it to make soufflé and ice cream. I've used it as almost like a butter.
I’m very intuitive by nature; I don’t really make lists, I just kind of wing things. Cooking to me has always seemed very calculated. It always felt like gymnastics to get from deciding to cook something to actually eating it. I consider what I do in my kitchen experimenting with food rather than cooking.