Rachel Antonoff Loves Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon

I'm a repeat cooker.”

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Rachel Antonoff is a fashion designer and activist who’s collaborated with Planned Parenthood. She’s also a reformed “serial order-inner” who now makes elaborate Julia Child recipes several times a week.

I didn't grow up cooking. My mom cooked a lot, and it definitely wasn't something that we appreciated. We were little brats who were just like, “Great, dinner!” But she's actually since given me a lot of her recipes, and it’s cozy for me to make things that were so integral to our kitchen growing up. Weird things, like stuffed zucchini, which she made at least once a week. It’s a mixture of corn and ground beef — like what might be in a shepherd's pie — but in zucchini.

In the last five years, I've gotten really into cooking and baking. I got Julia Child’s book, and that had something to do with it. I've always been a serial order-inner, and it was just one of those classic, boring, growing-up, looking-at-your-finances moments of Holy shit, I have spent my life savings on takeout. So, I had to learn to cook. And that's really why.

Holy shit, I have spent my life savings on takeout.

But it’s become a hobby for me; it's something I find deeply relaxing. In my business, you don't get results immediately. You make something, you love it, but by the time we find out how it's doing in the market, it might be, like, six months later. I love how with baking and cooking, the results are immediate. Even when they're bad. You're like, “Okay, that didn't work out, but I know.”

Before I became a designer, I was a freelance writer who really wanted to write nonfiction essays; I was obsessed with Mary Karr. But I loved clothes, and I loved fashion, and I was always thinking, Oh, if there was only a dress like this, but that had — I don't know — a more functional pocket.I had this roommate at the time, and I don't remember what made us decide to go from just chatting about the idea to attempting it, but we did. We had three samples made by this woman who lived in the town I grew up in, in New Jersey. We brought her these crude sketches and fabrics, and she made us three dresses. Neither me nor my partner had any formal designer production training. We just went for it. And that was almost 15 years ago.

We were young friends who started a business together, and as sometimes happens, it didn't work out. I started my current company, and now I just continue to learn. My brand has grown and evolved as I have. At first, it was all gut instinct.I’m a repeat cooker. I'll cook the same dish over and over and over again. And I feel like it always turns out a little different. I’ll make beef bourguignon often — I made it three times this week — and it's so different every time. I always marvel at how restaurants regulate what something tastes like. I do not understand how that happens! I’ve made, like, 30 lemon meringue pies for my office, and a handful of them have been really bad.

The prep for beef bourguignon is insane. It’s Julia Child’s recipe. The part that is really annoying is that you first have to dry all the beef cubes, and then you have to brown each of them in this hot, bacon-y oil that is in your face. Turning each beef cube over, I find I get crazy muscle spasms. But the browning of the beef is the hardest part. Once you're done with that, you're kind of home free. You put it all back into the pot, season it, and then it goes into the oven for a bit. Then you put in the red wine and it goes in for three hours. It’s the feeling of, I don't know, sending your kids to camp. You're like, “Okay. You're in there.” And then you go wash your hair, ’cause it stinks.

Cooking is strenuous, but it's just so nice to feel like I've done something — you know what I mean? I've taken a block of time. It's a goal-oriented project. And then, hopefully, at the end, you have something that tastes good and you can eat all week.

Cooking is strenuous, but it's just so nice to feel like I've done something.

The Great Jones Dutchess is so pretty! A thing I am interested in is getting food to look aesthetically the way it seems to look when professionals make it. I make homemade pie crust, and it looks like shit. But this pot is also incredibly sturdy, so I didn't feel like I had to be too precious with it.

I want to start hosting dinner parties. I'm really going to start doing that. But the few times that I've cooked for people in an organized way, I've ended up feeling so resentful of them by the time I'm finished — and then a little tipsy from having been drinking while cooking, and irritated that they're not talking about the meal the entire time. I cook for my family a lot. My family is kind of like my guinea pigs. My brother lives next door to me, and I cook in his kitchen because it's bigger than mine. He gets annoyed because he's always trying to be healthy, and then there's muffins and pies just, like, coming out of nowhere. He's not as comfortable eating pie at midnight as I am.

Without saying too much, there’s some vegetable-garden inspiration in my new collection for spring. I feel like everything I do — cooking included — ends up in my designs, in some way or another.Photos by Liz Clayman