Food Helps Stephen Satterfield Understand the World

“I have an insatiable appetite.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Stephen Satterfield is a food writer, producer, and the cofounder of Whetstone, a print food magazine and media company. Frequently on the road, Stephen “freestyled” a hearty peanut stew in The Dutchess at his friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. 

I became interested in food my senior year of high school. I watched a lot of cooking shows, like Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, old-school PBS. The first recipes that I ever made were all by Julia Child. I used to hustle for money to go to nice restaurants.

I did one year of college at the University of Oregon, and after that I decided that I wanted to go to culinary school. I felt sure that I wanted to pursue a life — kind of a career, but more a life — in food. I went to culinary school when I was 19 in Portland. Then I started studying wine when I was 19, and worked in the wine business when I was 21. That's pretty much when my career moved from more explicitly culinary to a focus on wine.

I felt sure that I wanted to pursue a life — kind of a career, but more a life — in food. 

After culinary school, I started working at a restaurant in San Francisco called Nopa. I was a manager but was given a lot of autonomy from the owners, so one of the things that I did on the side was start to build a food media enterprise. I worked with other writers, photographers, and media makers in the Bay Area and traded gift certificates to the restaurant for their services. It was a really cracking restaurant, so it was a good trade. 

It started off as a blog, then it got pretty serious, and I just got really interested in that as a pathway. Prior to that, I had started a nonprofit called International Society of Africans in Wine. The goal was to use wine as a catalyst for social and economic equity in South Africa, where the wine industry has a very long history of exploiting native and black Africans. That was the first time that I started to see media as explicitly a part of my work and as an amplifier for my point of view.
Through this media project, I went out on my own as a freelance writer and hustler. The idea for Whetstone started in 2016, but it took me a year to get the magazine off the ground. With Whetstone, we just wanted to make media that helped us understand more about the human experience. Now, a few years in, the goal is to just try to keep developing the product and the resources that allow us to keep making this work possible. 

There are no other black publishers in food media.

There are no other black publishers in food media, and my business partner is a Chinese woman. I think there's a lot of power in us working together. We've since expanded into a podcast with iHeartRadio that I host called Point of Origin. It’s a food anthropology podcast with the same alignment as the magazine — our fifth magazine, which comes out in December.

I want to think about food holistically, in a way that connects me to the experience of being a human being. Looking at food origins helps me understand the world. It's useful for someone who loves food as much as I do, but eating, I'm just good at that. I'm really good at eating. I have an insatiable appetite. I don't tire of it. I've made it the central part of my life and career.

I don't cook as much as I would like to because I do spend quite a lot of time on the road. But I’m frequently staying with friends, and in those cases I can leverage meals for them having to suffer through my company. Also, anyone who I'm close enough to be staying with is going to know that cooking is central to my mental health, too. I can only go so long without cooking. While cooking is no longer a daily ritual, as it has been at different points in my life, it's enough a part of my life where it's still a practice. 

Eating for me is about pleasure. 

Eating for me is about pleasure. It's about a destination or breaking bread or some solitude. There's usually a lot of intention around it; I don't usually just end up at places. I usually have an idea of where I'm going to be eating. In a way, I think it's separate from my work for me. The origins give you a profound respect and framework, but the experience of eating is about pleasure.

Look for farmers' markets in the places where you're traveling because, when you do that, you're tapping into an entire subculture. You can get crazy intel from farmers, who are just happy to talk to you about anything.

For this dish, I was freestyling, but it went something like this: Sauté scallions, half of a habanero, fresh turmeric, and ginger. Add planks of white sweet potato and carrot, and cook until softened. Add a mixture of water and broth and one lime, juiced, and bring to a boil. Stir in peanut butter, then pulse with an immersion blender, and reduce to a simmer while you prepare your garnishes. Sauté sliced scallions with habanero pepper, and set aside. Toast peanuts in the same pan, and set aside. Serve the stew over rice, and garnish with the scallion-pepper blend and toasted peanuts. Photos by Liz Clayman