I’ve always been a terrible chef.
Wait, that’s not the right way to introduce a cooking blog. Let’s try this again.
I have eleven grandmothers (and counting.)
Ah crap, I’ve just gone and confused you now. Let me explain.
I am a chef.
I have a degree that says I’m a chef. My resume says I’m a chef. I’ve worked in New York City kitchens and been called “chef.” I’ve taught classes at the Institute of Culinary Education as a guest chef-instructor. In 2011, I co-founded Prohibition Bakery, and our tagline was “A chef and a mixologist walk into a bar…” In 2014, I was named as one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30. In 2015, I co-authored my first cookbook Prohibition Bakery (buy my book! Seriously. I need to eat this month.) In 2016 I competed on — and won — an episode of Food Network’s most popular series, Chopped, which definitely means I’m a chef.
Clearly, I am a chef (and apparently, a relatively accomplished one) but I am terrible at living the life of a chef. The unrelenting hours, monotony of day to day repetition, and required focus for 150 identical plates isn’t for me. Nor is the physical toll, the antiquated hierarchy, or the six hour adrenaline rush that comes from a fully committed dinner service. I tried it in various forms for nearly a decade, and now, I don’t want to be a chef. I simply want to cook.
I want to get back the feeling I had when I stood next to my favorite of three grandmothers, Ellie, as she made me a grilled cheese sandwich out of a single slice of American cheese and two slices of Wonder bread (or occasionally, raisin bread.) She used an old waffle iron from the 60s, and the sheer weight of the thing would flatten the sandwich until it was no thicker than a deck of cards. She cut it in half lengthwise, not diagonally, and served it to me on a paper plate with potato chips and dill pickles. For nearly thirty years we sat together, exploring history through her stories, over the world’s simplest food.
Chasing grandmothers around the world.
When I began my worldwide travels back in September of 2016, I knew I would continue to explore the culture’s culinary roots through the food in each country I visited. I also knew, though, that I wasn’t interested in finding the latest trend or blowing hundreds of dollars on a few Michelin stars. I wanted to learn and expand my repertoire, but I wanted to keep it simple, humble, and adaptable. Chefs are none of those adjectives, so I knew I needed to look elsewhere. Also, each recipe needed a story. The best stories are told over a something homemade, and the best homemade food comes from those who have been making it the longest: grandmothers.
And so, ba(broo)shka was born. So far, I have cooked with eight grandmothers across five countries. For now, I’m focusing on desserts and sweets, but that could change. Everything could change. ba(broo)shka is an ever evolving space that blurs the line between cooking and life, and everything about my life changes on a daily and often continental, basis.
Though I am a professional chef, the recipes in ba(broo)shka are not about technique, precision, or presentation. They’re about feeling, whimsy, and making a mess. While I’ll always provide the original recipe as given to me by the grandmothers, expect a fair amount of cultural crossover as well. And don’t call it “fusion,” either. I will nod to the past, but ultimately, I am creating something new.
As with all new things, I expect to fail a lot in this space. Translating and recreating scribbled recipes handed down (in another language) over generations tends to result in a few bad batches of kolache and kuih koci. I’ll be sure to let you know when something goes wrong. Maybe you can help me fix it. Worst case scenario, we’ll just eat the delicious parts straight out of the bowl and forget the rest.
If, perhaps, you find yourself less interested my cooking and more interested in me, head over to brookesiem.com to see what I’ve been ruminating about lately. Or, you can say hi to me personally on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!
Recipes are coming soon. I promise!