|The Art of Food with Wendy Brodie - Coastal Grower|
INTERVIEW BY LORRI A. KOSTER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY BATISTA MOON STUDIOS
FOOD as an art medium? You'd consider it so after meeting
Wendy Brodie, one of our area's most accomplished and creative culinary talents. Not only does she deserve kudos for what comes out of her kitchen, she also deserves credit, along with her husband Bob, for having a keen business sense. She diversifies her culinary talents into a variety of formats. Restaurateur. Caterer. Cooking Instructor. Television personality. It's an ideal example of how one can be in the food business without necessarily being on the line in the kitchen full time.
With her husband, Bob Bussinger, Brodie was co-owner of Lincoln Court Restaurant in Carmel, which had become a very popular local restaurant generating outstanding reviews. Currently she has her own weekly television show Art of Food, broadcast every day on the local Comcast Cable channels 2 and 34.
A graduate of the first class of the California Academy of San Francisco, Brodie has held executive chef positions at prestigious world-class resorts, including the Preserve at Rancho San Carlos, where she developed her own innovative style of ranch cuisine, Stonepine Inn and Gardiner's Tennis Ranch, all in Carmel Valley.
In 1991 Brodie was selected to attend Madeleine Kamman's graduate program at the School for American Chefs at Berringer Wine Estates and has been inducted as an honorary member of the American Academy of Chefs of the American Culinary Federation. She has cooked for numerous celebrity chefs including the late Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Roy Yamaguchi, Paul Prudhomme and Martha Stewart. She has also been a guest chef at the Master's of Food and Wine in Carmel and the Monterey Wine Festival.
I met with Wendy in her elegant home in the Carmel Highlands she shares with her husband Bob. We sat down in her kitchen (which serves as the set for her show). I arrived preparing to talk about food but left knowing what we really talked about, was art.
Who are some of your mentors?
My mother says that I came from a dysfunctional kitchen that's the why I learned how to cook. My dad started the field of courtroom reporting for CBS News years ago so at a moment's notice he was off on a plane for a story. A dinnertime routine was never the norm. It really was the TV dinner type of thing. Anything my mother could bribe us to eat. Her mother was a very good cook, but she had such a small kitchen my mother never got to see it being prepared. She liked watching Julia Child so she encouraged my interest and we'd invite my high school friends over for dinner and cook things from Julia's books. Madeline Kamman is another mentor. It was like turning in a Master's Thesis to get accepted to her school at Berringer.
What inspires you?
I need to digress a little. I don't really consider myself a chef. I look up to chefs, I want to be one some day, but I come from two artists' backgrounds and I approach food really as art. Artists are not known to be terribly organized and chefs are extremely disciplined. !'m into color, texture, flavors and in California it's at your fingertips. Food is an art form you get immediate gratification from.
If someone wanted to become a chef today, what advice would you give?
If you can afford the education, it's fabulous, but you should really be in the industry beforehand so you know how to get the most out of it. You need to know how to apply it better. You know better what questions to ask. But I'm not that good at the business side of things. If I see a beautiful purple cauliflower that costs four dollars and something else is available for $2 I don't care. I'd still go for the purple.
For women chefs or women looking for a career as a chef I honestly say they would have to choose between a career and a family. That's a very tough thing to say, but I haven't seen any female chefs who have remained chefs that can do both. The hours are challenging and the flexibility is just not there. There's other ways to be in the food business, catering for example. But if a chef is what you want to be, it's a real challenge. The industry has very high divorce rates. Men also move up the management ladder easier and faster.
You seemed to do a good job funneling your talents into different avenues.
I need to be hands-on and with people. I've helped set up restaurants before. I love the process of creating the restaurant. I only have a certain amount of energy and when I get in a routine, like you have to be in a restaurant, I don't thrive. Spontaneity and flexibility are what seem to drive me. That's why the catering is so stimulating. It's working with people and combining ideas. The dasses are wonderful because I learn from the Students as well.
What does produce bring to the menu?
To me it's everything. Think of a Sunday morning hash with a purple potato and all the different colored bell peppers red, yellow, orange. How vibrant and exciting that looks. I love the color, the texture, the taste. The heirloom tomatoes mesmerize me. Zucchini squashes that come out where half is yellow, half green. I'm like a kid in a candy shop. I think. vegetables are the only things that can make a pasta dish a pasta dish.
What are some mistakes people make when cooking with produce?
My stereotypical take is people grew up eating overcooked vegetables so they not only had a negative experience but also don't know how to prepare them correctly.
How can the produce industry get people to eat more fruits and vegetables?
My guess would be the Farmer's Markets would be instrumental. I think if people are not in an area we're so spoiled out here...but if you don't live where it's grown the Farmer's Markets can help educate. Pike's Market in Seattle is a showcase. Whole Foods Markets do a brilliant job with displays.
What's your favorite food magazine?
Oh, gosh. I get them all.! would say Art Culinaire is one of the higher end ones. It shows the cutting edge of everything.
What is your favorite kitchen tool?
Probably a knife. A good sharp knife. With a good chef's knife you could do almost anything.
What is an overrated kitchen gadget?
Well so many of the things are really fun and I love using them. The food processors have so many safety gadgets so the effort to getting them all just right isn't worth it. It's so complicated you might as well just chop things yourself. I know in restaurants that's why we get so good at chopping. You can't be taking the time to wash out a food processor.
Oven guards are coming out with snap on material that doesn't burn. So that will be a godsend because we're always rolling up our sleeves to reach in the oven. The hot racks tend to burn us the most.
What's your favorite ingredient? One you couldn't cook without?
The luxury of having fresh herbs is so wonderful. I also love onions and garlic.
What is the most overused ingredient these days?
It's one that I like, so I hate to say it, but balsamic vinegar is everywhere, but I really haven't tired of it.
Where is your favorite place to eat for under ten bucks?
That's a hard one. Probably the fresh burrito place at Del Monte.
Chipotle, yes. I love that place. It's so fresh and you can pick your own ingredients.
If you had a $1,000 to spend on dinner, where would you go?
I would've said French laundry or True or Charlie Trotter's. But Le Cirque would be it because of its rich history. Just to experience it. I would gladly go back and spend that at The French Laundry but to try something new would be fun.
What can the produce industry do better for you?
Some colored items, like purple asparagus, go back to green when you cook them. New colors are great but you don't want to lose it in cooking. As much as I love the mixed baby lettuces, it is so overdone in salads everywhere. I'd rather have the choice of making my own blend. We need fabulously tasting food and as long as the industry keeps striving for quality and variety... it's just a gift to us chefs.
For more information visit: www.wendybrodie.com.
Coastal Grower Fall 2004©