Brooke Bass is a rising talent in America’s food blogging scene. Her blog, Chocolate + Marrow, is inspired by her New Orleans hometown, her current residence in Portland and her chocolate Labrador, Bourré. Brooke crafts delectable dishes and photographs them beautifully. We catch up with her to talk about her favorite dishes, her food-filled childhood and culinary travel destinations.
When did you first start cooking?
The first memory I have of cooking is in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was about six years old. She was making fried catfish and as it popped and splattered, she shielded me using this old, tattered frying screen that I can still see perfectly. I was learning to write at the time and I asked her if I could write down the recipe so that I could make it for myself in my mother’s kitchen. The two of us sat there while she cooked and she helped me list out the steps with a crayon – very formal. She also let me slice the lemon that night, which was the first time I had ever held a knife. I still have the piece of paper, actually. It’s fun to have that little reminder of the moment when my interest in food and cooking really began.
Is there a specific dish you can recall from your childhood which has influenced you?
I remember watching family members make fried chicken when I was younger and it’s something I take great pride in making now. There’s just something about that golden, crispy, fried skin and that tender, flavorful meat that just feels so comforting and warm.
You moved from New Orleans to Portland. How have your hometowns been embodied in your food?
Both New Orleans and Portland are serious foodie cities. I’m lucky to be able to call them both home. The interesting thing, though, is how different the food is in each. Portland places a serious emphasis on seasonal food, fresh produce, and inventiveness. It’s a place where chefs are really playful with their dishes. In New Orleans there’s a special emphasis on history and tradition, which is what diners and chefs take the greatest pride in. There’s a lot more fried food there too, not that I’m complaining! My food is kind of a mashup of both of those things; sometimes playful, sometimes classic, and influenced by the bounty in both regions.
Is your food influenced by any travels you have made, or different cuisines you have tried?
Absolutely! I’d say that travel is probably the biggest inspiration for my cooking. I’ve spent lots of time in Italy, France, and Thailand, so those places are big in the food I create. I’m finding that US-based travel can also be hugely inspiring. For instance, I just returned from a culinary tour of Idaho and was wowed by the Snake River Farms’ kobe beef. We had one of their filets at a restaurant called Ketchum Grill and it cut like butter. It definitely inspired me to do more with steak in my own kitchen.
Do you consider a country’s cuisine when you select your travel destinations? If you could take a culinary tour across one country in the world, where would you go?
Oh my gosh, that’s a really hard question. I love travel more than anything and I absolutely choose my travel destinations based on the cuisines I want to explore. I think right now, I’d really like to discover more of Eastern Europe. Some might think that sounds a little crazy. It does. It also sounds really cold. But I’ve become totally enamored with food from that region lately. Especially all the pickled things, cured fish, and warm, hearty meats.
If you could sit down and have a meal with one chef in the world, who would that be?
I’d very much like to meet Anthony Bourdain at some point. I’ve been saying this for years and he hasn’t quite caught on yet. I love how travel and food have influenced his life. I also very much appreciate his willingness to try anything at least once – I’m the same way, although I think it’s safe to say I’ve had far fewer ‘weird food’ experiences than he has!
Henry Miller penned 11 work schedule commandments in his book, Henry Miller on Writing. Number 7 is ‘Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it’. Do you adhere to a particular morning routine or way of working which helps you to be productive?
I do have a routine. I actually try to keep to a traditional 8-5 work schedule. I typically spend my mornings doing busywork like answering emails, catching up on social media, doing paperwork, or just generally going back and forth with brands, companies, or magazines that I’m working with. I work out at bootcamp late morning, pretty much every day. Regular exercise is a must if you’re a food writer! Luckily, I love to get a good workout in. Then afternoons are usually spent either cooking, writing, or editing photos. By evening time I’m usually exhausted so I’ll unplug (mostly) from everything and spend the rest of the day cooking (no cameras or iPhones allowed), loving on my dog, and unwinding in the backyard with my husband.
What are you thoughts on being part of the first generation to make a living out of social and digital media?
That’s such a great question. I’ve never even considered that before! I guess the standout thing for me is that none of us really know what the hell we’re doing most of the time. We’re kind of just going through, day by day, piecing things together and hoping we make ends meet at the end of the month. It’s definitely not the career path I thought I would be on (I’m a former academic, so this is really different!) but it is probably the most fun job in the world because we do what inspires us daily. We can grow and change with that, too. For instance, I’ve recently been branching out of the ‘cooking only’ side of blogging and started doing some more culinary travel writing for both my blog, other blogs, and print publications. It’s genuinely special to have the ability to have your job evolve with you rather than trying to force yourself into fitting into one single stagnant job.
What is the inspiration behind your blog name, Chocolate + Marrow?
It’s funny because most people think I named it that just because I like those two food items (which I do). But, actually, the ‘chocolate’ comes from my chocolate lab, Bourré, who is the best kitchen helper in the world. My kitchen floors are always spotless – the rest of the house, not so much. The ‘marrow’ part comes from a Henry David Thoreau quote that I love: ‘I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…’ I fell in love with that quote when I read it because it was speaking to this strong desire in me to cultivate a life filled with deep feeling and emotion, both the good and the bad, which was something I just wasn’t paying attention to as much before. I’m just glad I stumbled across that quote, who knows if the blog would even exist without it!
Where would you advise foodies to go in Portland and back home in New Orleans?
There are so many fantastic places around Portland that it would take me a whole day to list them all. So instead I’ll just give you my favorite restaurants at the moment: Kachka, Nodoguro, and Bamboo Sushi. Don’t miss these places if you make it out to PDX! For New Orleans, there are, of course, the classics: Antoine’s, Gallatoires and Café du Monde, among many others. There are also chefs there who are shaking things up and doing really amazing and inventive things outside of the traditional New Orleans fare, like Chip Flanagan of Ralph’s on the Park, who does this insanely awesome PB&J-inspired foie gras, and Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon. Those are the kind of restaurants I’m most excited to dine at whenever I go home.
Brooke is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s Portland Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman