Lily Rosenthal on Food and Family

"It’s not just the eating of the food — it’s getting to have this community."

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Lily Rosenthal is an actress who grew up in the L.A. food world. But dining out with her with family was always about more than just the meal. We joined her at home to discuss how she’s building community and bridging cultures today with Live A Lil, a passion project bringing restaurants together for pop-ups across L.A. We also learned how Lily finds recipe inspiration on TikTok — all while making her grandma’s famous icebox cake in Dutch Baby!

I kind of grew up in the food world — I say food world and not cooking world because, growing up, no one in my family really cooked at all. Food is a big part of my family: We love it; we see it as an art, a craft; and we appreciate it. 

Photos by Bradley Meinz

For my family, everything revolves around food. The food is the destination; we never took trips that weren’t centered on the restaurant itinerary. Like, if we need La Super-Rica tacos in Santa Barbara then that’s where we are going and spending the day. My love of food just grew as I got older.

For my family, everything revolves around food.

Over time, when you walk into a place over and over again you learn people’s names. After going to all these restaurants, I became close with all the chefs, servers, and hosts while I was just a kid. Now I go to restaurants and it’s the same. Last night I went to a restaurant and there was a woman there who I have known since I was 10. It’s like seeing family. 

Last night I went to a restaurant and there was a woman there who I have known since I was 10. It’s like seeing family. 

There are some people in the restaurant world who we are still really close to to this day, and it just starts from asking someone, “What’s your name?” It’s that simple, and it changes the whole dynamic. I love that community, and I think that’s a huge part of the food world. It’s not just the eating of the food — it’s getting to have this community who all appreciate great food. 


It’s not just the eating of the food — it’s getting to have this community who all appreciate great food. 

 

My friend Olivia and I started Liv A Lil together last year. We met during the pandemic and kept having potlucks together. When people were raising awareness to stop anti-Asian hate crimes, Olivia and our friend Luther Chen (who owns a spot called Luther Bob’s with incredible fried chicken!) were going to do a fried-chicken pop-up where all of the money would go toward would go toward organizations aimed at stopping anti-Asian hate." Olivia brought me onboard, and I’m Jewish, so we decided to do an alliance meal with a Szechuan chicken sandwich on challah bread with latkes instead of fries.

The pop-up was a success, and it was so much fun. Afterward, my dad gave me the idea to keep going and keep bridging different cultures so people could try different restaurants and cuisines together. We worked with a barbecue place and a ramen place, brought the chefs together to make a dish, and they chose brisket ramen. They also chose a charity for the  proceeds to go toward. That’s how it is every time: No one makes a dime, and all of the money goes toward charity. We organized another with an Ethiopian restaurant and Thai restaurant, and then a pizza place and a bagel place.

We just kept cranking out these pop-ups, and now we’re talking about doing a show around it, which is really exciting. My friend Eli is an incredible cook, and we’re starting this podcast together about trying foods and getting our friends to try new foods. We are the food people in our friend group. I get texts all the time from people asking for recs, so our podcast will reflect that and be this glimpse into the L.A. food scene. 

Ultimately, I’m an actor — that’s what I consider my “career” — but I feel so privileged that I can have this true passion project. The acting world is so unpredictable that it’s exciting having these endeavors where food and community are at the center. That’s what it all boils down to. Even my family's absurd habit of dining out all the time — it all comes back to creating friends and family around you just by being kind to the people around you.

It all comes back to creating friends and family around you just by being kind to the people around you.

 

Even though I grew up eating out, I was so excited when I heard about Great Jones because I live alone now, and I am at the point where I don’t want to go out for every meal. I’m also really inspired to cook by my friend Eli — he’ll take some tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil and create something delicious. I see that and I’m like, I can do it, too.

Sometimes cooking can feel stressful — everything has to be timed perfectly … However, when it does work out for me and everything that's supposed to be hot is, in fact, hot? Nothing better. So far, I can make some really good pasta and chicken. I’m focusing on the basics, but I’m exploring. Honestly, I credit a lot of my cooking endeavors to TikTok.

Honestly, I credit a lot of my cooking endeavors to TikTok

Obviously, I’ve made the Emily Mariko salmon bowl. I made it for my family, and everyone loved it. I love that recipe because each task on its own is pretty simple. I had seen dozens of videos showing you step-by-step how to do it, so when I first made it I was ready. My mom still asks me to make it for her when I go to their house, which is very nice, but I truly cannot eat it again — I made it too often. But I’m keeping my eye out on TikTok for new recipes. 

Today I made my grandma’s famous icebox cake in Dutch Baby. My grandma lives in Pennsylvania in this tiny house that was my favorite place in the world, and she is an amazing chef — the best cook in our family. When I was a kid, we would get off the plane, head to her house, and she would have a feast for us. At the end of the meal there would be one of two desserts: Wesson oil cake or this icebox cake. It’s the best dessert because it basically tastes like an Oreo … but it’s a cake. 

I feel confident making this because it’s so easy and delicious. When you stick it in the fridge the cookies absorb the whipped cream, and the whole thing turns into something new. It’s the easiest thing to bring to a dinner party, and everyone will say it’s unbelievable. It’s almost like a mousse … it feels kinda fancy. It also has the best name: “icebox cake.” 

I usually make it vertically in a casserole dish, but I thought it would be fun to serve out of Dutch Baby. So for the recipe today I pivoted and came up with a new and improved technique where I layered whipped cream and cookies. I went off script, and it still turned out perfect. 

Just for fun, I also made chocolate-covered strawberries using Stir Crazy and Little Sheet. The bowls are so chic and nice, and I love how they nest. I love that each one was the perfect size for everything I needed to make.

I have my Dutch Baby sitting out on my stove because it’s so cute and yellow. I love that it’s so easy to clean, too.

Photos by Bradley Meinz.

Lily's Go-To Designs

Dutch Baby
3.5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$120
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Stir Crazy
3-Piece Nested Mixing Bowl Set
$95
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Little Sheet
Two Ceramic Nonstick Quarter-Sheet Pans
$45
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