If you ever want a second family, then stop by Adrienne’s Bed-Stuy home. I was warmly welcomed inside with a sparkling smile and a mouthwatering aroma luring me straight to the oven. Inside I found a beautiful quiche that we ate for lunch while discussing food, growing up, family, and just about everything in between.
As an adventurous home cook myself, I am always looking for advice and Adrienne did not shy away from offering some much appreciated words of kitchen wisdom.
Where does your interest in food stem from?
It is hard to pinpoint one specific aspect as it is truly every part of food, cooking, and eating that intrigues me. Everything is so connected and that is so amazing to me. You have to consider what is in season and where the food has to travel from.
I became interested in nutrition and health in my early teens and that quickly led me to a stronger interest in food. In college I had to do a lot of cooking for myself and my roommates, and eventually found a knack for it. Soon, I was cooking all the time and was having so much fun. My career path has taken many different twists and turns, with some relating to food more than others, but cooking has always remained very important to me. There is a whole wealth of knowledge surrounding food and its preparation. I find it all fascinating and I am enjoying sharing this passion with my kids as they grow up.
What has influenced your style of cuisine?
I would say health, nutrition, and my family. A lot of my interest in food comes from ingredients and their nutritional value. I think a lot about seasonality when making a meal. It can be really fun to create something out of a bunch of random ingredients. If you look hard enough you can always find a meal in your fridge or pantry. I love messing with and changing a recipe on the spot. It is so much fun to be inspired in the moment and be spontaneous with your cooking. But with this spontaneity, it is also important to remember that it is okay for dinner to be a simple thing. It doesn’t have to be so complicated like people often think.
Olive oil or butter?
I love them both so much, but I would have to say butter. I’m the kind of person to smear butter so thick on my toast you can see bite marks in it. However, I’ll make sure that the butter is grass-fed, and I always do my best to try and limit myself to just one piece.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I think it may be cassoulet. It has started to become a January tradition that I will make this dish for my family. Cassoulet can be a real pain to make, but it is totally worth it in the end. This is the perfect dish for me as I am such a hard worker, it is only fitting that my favorite dish to cook requires plenty of labor. I have a vivid memory of my daughter coming home from daycare at the age of two and asking me to make ‘castle.’ It is often hard to decipher what children are talking about and it took me some time to realize she meant cassoulet. When I finally asked her if that was what she meant she gave me a huge smile and started jumping with joy. I love seeing how happy my kids get when I make certain meals for them.
Who’s your Umi? (that person who first nourished you and inspired you to want to nourish others)?
Since food was not a focal point of my childhood, I think that the original Umis in my life have to be myself and Mother Nature. Without sounding too crunchy, I do believe that there is a lot of learning we can do from our planet. She is an educator. As a part of multiple Mycological societies I do a lot of hiking and mushroom hunting and I have learned something very important from them, every mushroom is edible once. And that’s so true and so simple. We must appreciate all that we have at our disposal and push ourselves to a deeper understand. I am always thinking about how I can improve upon things. I like to be familiar with the seasonality of ingredients because an eggplant in July is vastly different than an eggplant in September. Later in the year it will have a lot more water in it and as a cook I have to figure out how to make that work as an advantage in a dish. So I am very inspired by myself and the Earth. Style is a function of limitations, but I am always working towards breaking down those barriers. I try to use every part of a fruit, vegetable, or animal that I purchase.
What is something you plan on cooking in the near future?
Well, for my husband’s birthday I decided to bake a cake with my kids. The problem with this is that anything that takes more than an hour will bore my children. Thankfully, another rock star Umi, Shalini, has a fantastic recipe for a quick bake cake. So I will make this with my two kids and surprise my husband.
Every time I step into an Umi home I am amazed by how gracious and comforting my hosts are, and that was definitely the case for Adrienne. She made me feel like her third child from the moment I entered her home, and by the time I left it I would have loved to stay. Who could complain about delicious nutritious food made with love and passion?
Editor’s Note: special thanks to Umi correspondent , Ben Ynocencio. You can follow him on Instagram @benjaminhasinstagram