Kylie Jenner’s Matzo Ball Soup for the Soul
Finding solace in the semiotics of a billionaire maven’s kitchen.
I love it when Kylie Jenner makes matzo ball soup.
I love it when she makes shrimp tacos with Karrueche Tran. I love it when she prepares candied yams using all-organic ingredients except Aunt Jemima syrup and Jet-Puffed marshmallows. I love it when she mostly poses in underwear while baking a lasagna. And I love it when she makes the crucial distinction between Häagen-Dazs’s vanilla and vanilla bean ice creams, still opting to buy both.
But I love it when she makes matzo ball soup most of all. It’s a recipe she returns to every so often, even in the waxing heat of a California June, and each time it brings me joy. She documents her process on social media, ever since her Snapchat early days before turning to Instagram. Her take is more maximalist than I’m used to (vegetables sautéed in butter rather than boiled in the broth, loads of Manischewitz egg noodles in addition to matzo balls) and we never see her actually make the matzo balls themselves (where do they come from, and do they contain schmaltz?), but I like knowing that she and I are bound by our goyish affinity for the dish. Kylie Jenner loves to cook, and so do I.
Sure enough, this past Monday, while her half-sister Kim was considering the lobster in Calabasas, Kylie prepared a new batch.
Currently, the youngest Jenner is, hopefully like the rest of us, under COVID-prompted self-isolation, albeit (as is often the case) kind of famously so: this past week, she not only went on record to advocate for social distancing at the behest of the surgeon general, but she also made headlines for saying her covert pregnancy in 2017 prepared her for being confined to her home for months on end. (Whenever I think about Kylie being pregnant without us really having known about it, my equilibrium feels off, like that Mr. Krabs meme.)
This past Monday, understandably, sucked, but tuning in to Kylie’s Instagram story to see a slide of sliced carrots and celery announcing “bout that time” filled me with a tremendous sense of excitement. I saw the first slide shortly after she posted it, and I waited anxiously to be sure the matzo balls were on their way. Next slide: sautéing, and for a second it looked like the veggies could’ve been mere aromatics for a regular chicken soup. I refreshed until there they were, bobbing in liquid, overlaid with text that read, “matzo balls make me happy.” An ASMR-like sense of relief washed over me (I might even venture to say that I get those goosebumps every time). I felt like I could exhale for the first time in days. Matzo balls make me happy, too.
While matzo ball soup is something I grew up eating at friends’ houses, my mom made homemade chicken stock every month or so, freezing it in quart containers, later defrosting the icy, golden-brown cylinders in the sink to use. They say that if you’ve got leftover chicken bones, you’re throwing away money by not saving them in a bag in your freezer, to eventually throw into a pot with leftover onion skins and carrot peels and celery nubs, adding water and spices and letting it simmer, simmer, simmer away for hours, returning periodically to stir and skim off the gunk that floats to the surface.
Making broth or soup, to me, is emblematic of a sort of divine femininity. I feel more womanly whenever I make it, and not simply because I am doing the binary-mandated feminine task of cooking at home (distinct from the masculine task of cooking professionally), but because it means I am being resourceful, thrifty. I am making something stretch, creating a new thing from a preexisting thing. Methodic, nurturing, ritualistic. Broth is something I like to make when I’m at my house with a lot of time on my hands, when I feel like I need to accomplish a task. The process calms me. It makes me feel powerful, domestic, useful.
Every so often, the satisfaction I get from home cooking feels like a gnawing affirmation of something sinister. Sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen, I think of Martha Rosler, and her Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). In the black-and-white conceptual video piece, set in a mock-studio kitchen, Rosler dons an apron and alphabetically lists the names of kitchen utensils to the camera, her tone and gestures giving way to the thrashing confines of domesticity and performative femininity.
While we’re long past the days of “Cooking With Kylie,” Kylie’s uncanny-valley cooking vlog contained within the Kardashians’ now-defunct schema of personal apps (though I highly recommend reading Marshall Bright’s delightful breakdown of its short run for Refinery29), Kylie continues to cook and perform for us, her audience, frequently. Often, she dictates her process with words alone—the semantics of which may then, of course, be chronicled by the Daily Mail alongside a headline like, “Kylie Jenner flaunts her chiseled post-baby belly as she makes matzo ball soup.”
(For the record, while I do not wish to manifest a mashup of “Cooking With Kylie” and Semiotics of the Kitchen into existence, if it appears, I will gladly like, comment, and subscribe.)
In a way, cooking feels like the only thing keeping me together right now. While practicing social distancing and sheltering-in-place, texting or FaceTiming with friends has meant “How are you doing?” is immediately followed by “What have you been cooking?” We’re all connected by our domestic isolation, and the act of preparing (or preparing to eat) food can be grounding: a thing to plan your days around. It’s a reality that only emphasizes those who do not have the same access to food or ways to cook it, those for whom cooking or eating are sources of immense anxiety, and the grocery store and food service workers who are put at risk so we can eat.
My obsession with the domesticity of a billionaire—relatively twee by nature given how many others people must prepare food for her in her life, though we’ve always loved when stars seem just like us—is a reflexive comfort I can crawl inside of, looking through its hypothetical walls back down at myself. As Rosler said, “When the woman speaks, she names her own oppression.” Find solace where you can.