How Aya Kanai Uses Color in her Cooking

“I’m at the stage of learning to cook where I want it to be fun.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Aya Kanai is the head of content and creator partnerships at Pinterest and the former editor-In-chief of Marie Claire magazine. Inspired by her 3-year-old daughter, Aya has recently embarked on a journey to expand her cooking skills. We joined her at her home in New York City to discuss how she builds her confidence in the kitchen while making chicken and carrots using Little Sheet and Holy Sheet.

I will say, I still haven’t used the rice cooker that I bought when I was in college, so that’s a good example how my cooking abilities have evolved. I’m incredibly lucky to have a husband who loves to cook, but, because of that, that means I am not as motivated to learn. As my daughter, who is 3 and a half years old, grows up, I want her to see examples of everyone in the house cooking. That’s why I’ve recently decided to embark on this cooking journey and try out new tools. 

I wore pajamas while cooking this morning because that’s how I like to do it. 

 

When it comes to feeling prepared, I’m all about taking small steps. I’m a busy working mom, so I’m awake at 5:45 most days. I’ll prep my lunch the night before or get food ready before we go to school dropoff; otherwise, the prepping part is what trips me up. I wore pajamas while cooking this morning because that’s how I like to do it.

When you have high-quality ingredients, it’s actually sort of straightforward. 

The other thing that I think is important is selecting great ingredients. We have a butcher near our house named Paisanos. We can’t leave this neighborhood because we love it so much.When you have high-quality ingredients, it’s actually sort of straightforward. You don’t want to do too much to them.

I think having ingredients be colorful makes the process of putting food together more fun.

 

I also go to two farmers’ markets andI don’t work with a list — I just have at it. I’m really obsessed with pickled okra, so I always visit that vendor. When I shop for vegetables, getting ones that are colorful is really inspiring. I’m at the stage of learning to cook where I want it to be fun, and I think having ingredients be colorful makes the process more fun.

Having the presentation be a little happy is part of what makes cooking fun for me.

 

I’m a very visual person. I used to be a fashion director and a stylist, so having the presentation be a little happy is part of what makes cooking fun for me. I work at Pinterest, so usually I’ll pick ingredients from the farmers’ market that I think look interesting —  for example, fennel — and then I’ll just type that ingredient into Pinterest and see which ones come up. I still think it’s fun to learn about new ways to treat ingredients and the different ways to bring raw materials to life.  

I oversee creator partnerships at Pinterest. It’s organized kind of like a magazine. My team and I onboard the creators, whether they’re publishers or high-quality content makers, to make content on Pinterest. We work with creators across lifestyle categories, and that creator could be a publisher like Food & Wine, or it could be a high-quality creator who makes content like Dan Pelosi.

I’m of the belief that the quality of the materials is everything.

 

 

Lunch, to me, is the bane of my existence. When you work from home it’s very easy to forget about food until it’s 3 p.m., and suddenly you’re starving. I like to do an easy work-from-home lunch, which is why I made easy chicken and roasted carrots. 

Again, I’m of the belief that the quality of the materials is everything. We got these chicken thighs from Paisanos. We seasoned them with salt and pepper, bread crumbs, and that was it. Because I’m doing this at 6 a.m., I don’t want it to be complex. I season it on each side and put them on Little Sheet. Then with Holy Sheet I prepped the vegetables.

Having it be colorful makes the process of putting food together more fun.

The vegetables that I got were just carrots, but I got the purple kind, the orange kind, and then the white-looking kind because I think that having it be colorful makes the process of putting food together more fun. I like to cut the carrots lengthwise, mainly because I think it looks pretty. The other thing is, I wash them with a vegetable brush, but I don’t skin them — that’s just my personal preference. I just think it’s more tasty that way. 


I left them overnight in olive oil, salt and pepper, and a honey mixture that I drizzled over everything. I put that in a container and shook it around. I shoved that in the fridge, and the next morning all I had to do was take the chicken out and put it on Little Sheet, then take the veggies out and put them on Holy Sheet. I then placed them all on the Great Jones baking mats, and literally that was it.

We used to have sheet pans that are not high-quality, so when we got Holy Sheet and Little Sheet, we were so excited. Obviously, the colors are so beautiful, too, and I’m excited to use them to bake cookies next! I just got a bunch of cookie cutters that are unicorns and hearts and stars and stuff that she will really love stamping out into cookies and decorating. I’m sure it’ll be a real mess, but that’s why I wanted Holy Sheet in Raspberry. 

As I have started to cook more, I’ve embraced the fact that it’s very ephemeral.

 

I think that cooking used to feel daunting to me because it’s so much work, and then you eat it and it’s gone. As I have started to cook more, I’ve embraced the fact that it’s very ephemeral, and when you’re done consuming the food you can think of the next thing you’re going to make. And I will say, as someone with a small toddler, having her really like my food feels like a major win. 

"The sheet pans are gorgeous and really durable, so we are super excited to continue using them. They just have the heft that you know they’re going to stand up for a lifetime."

 

Photos by Noah Fecks.

Aya's Go-To Cookware

Holy Sheet
Ceramic Nonstick Half-Sheet Pan
$40
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Sheet Show
One Half-Sheet Pan & Two Quarter-Sheet Pans
$85
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