Bright photography, engaging personal narratives, and simple recipes with smart, unexpected tweaks make The Chef’s Wife a Site We Love. Angela Brown writes about her experience opening and running a sandwich shop with her husband in Manhattan, alongside recipes and her own home cooking to fit her mood.
Blog Name: The Chef’s Wife
Live since: June 2013
Posting rate: About once every week to week and a half
Geographic location: NYC & NJ
Why is the site called The Chef’s Wife? Since we first opened our sandwich shop, Mayhem & Stout, people always ask me what it is like to be married to a chef (I get the impression that people think it is way more glamorous than it is) and, in many ways, what it is like to be “married” to our shop. My overall goal for my site is to respond to these two common questions and to capture the whole experience from my personal perspective. I guess, in that way, the name just felt very natural.
What’s been your most popular post? Quick Pickled Golden Raisins
What’s something great that you’ve learned or that’s happened to you since starting your blog? In short, I think I’ve learned how much I am truly inspired by food. My goal with every post is to tell a story about our lives as shop owners, but to also intertwine that story with the recipe I’m featuring. It’d be kind of awkward to write this whole meaningful narrative about something significant going on at the shop, and then at the end to be like, “oh hey—here’s this random recipe for pickled celery, too!” In other words, I’d like for the narratives and the recipes to sort of mesh and coincide with each other, which I’m learning happens much more naturally than I once would have thought. As a result, I think I’ve come to realize that this is because I’m learning how truly connected my husband and I are to food, how much it influences us, and how much it truly shapes our lives and our marriage. It’s strange to look at a bowl of produce, say, and to suddenly see a “story” there, but it is something that, with each new post I write, I’m learning that I tend to do.
What’s the usual process for developing one of your posts? All in all, it is about a weeklong process from start to finish. With the exception of taking photos, I tend to do a little something related to each post for about an hour or so each night before I go to bed. Day one I will sit and browse through our cookbooks, our basket of recipe clippings we keep in our kitchen, or whatever other recipe resource is inspiring me on that particular day. Day two is when I will prepare the recipe. Day 3 I will wake up early to take photographs. We get amazing natural light in our home kitchen—we have three giant windows—so I try to take advantage of it early in the day. Day four I will upload the photos and play around with them a bit. Day five I will draft the text. Day six I will read back over the text, make sure I really like how everything looks/reads and then hit that magic little button that makes the whole post go live.
What are your favorite ingredients and tools? I should not be permitted to visit a farmers’ market while left unattended. I go absolutely crazy for fresh, local produce. I love all the colors and all the little imperfections. I’m also big on citrus, and tend to add fresh lemon zest or juice to nearly everything. As far as tools are concerned, I adore the look of wood in our kitchen. We own this beautiful set of bonded teak knives from Schmidt Brothers, which I highly recommend. We also recently purchased a really beautiful cutting board from Brooklyn Butcher Blocks—it has a slot built into it that holds your iPad. I’m obsessed with it. I have a collection of wooden spoons that belonged to my grandmother that I just adore and use daily. Last year, we also invested in a smoker. I rarely mess with it myself, but I’m in awe of the stuff my husband creates with it—we smoke all our own bacon nowadays, which has made us quite popular with our neighbors. We are constantly throwing stuff in there to see how a little bit of smoke will transform it, which is really fun.
What are your favorite food and cooking resources? Our copy of the Silver Spoon is constantly on our kitchen island—the poor thing is covered in splashes of tomato juice. We splurged on a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, which I love to flip through. I am totally not cool enough to dare to cook anything from it, but I just love being reminded of all the possibilities that exist. I’m a big fan of visiting garage sales and estate sales to find old, tattered cookbooks. Although I love colors and patterns, when it comes to our home kitchen I value simplicity. I purchase most of our dishes and things from Crate & Barrel (give me a good, basic white plate and I’m a happy girl). Although I do not have one particular “store” in mind, one “resource” I am wildly inspired by is the city’s pop-up food markets. They’re just the most incredible events. There, in one relatively small space, you have dozens and dozens of people who are so intensely passionate about the products they are creating, whether it is charcuterie or chocolates or pizza or popsicles or whatever. It’s so inspiring to talk to these people, to hear about their craft and technique and what cool things they’re testing out. I’ve written a little bit on my site about how these markets are just these insane melting pots of flavors and culinary traditions. I feel very fortunate that we get to take part in them. I never leave them feeling uninspired.
What photography equipment do you use? I shoot with a Canon EOS Rebel T3 and an 18-55 mm lens. I’ve tried to shoot with a tripod, but every time I have the moment has ended with a jar of brine spilled across our table or a plate somersaulting toward our floor—I can’t help but move around a ton when I shoot. It’s quite comical, really.
Where else can we find your work? I’ve created a few “Small Batch” pieces over at Food52 and have recently had some work published on Culinate. I’m currently working on a few short personal essays inspired by our shop and our life with food, which I’m hoping to find venues for this spring.
What food blogs do you follow? I tend to follow food blogs that feel somewhat narrative driven. I read both Orangette and The Wednesday Chef regularly. I really admire both Molly’s and Luisa’s voice and the stories they create in each post. Whenever I have a case of writer’s block, I head over to Smitten Kitchen—Deb is an amazing food writer. I love all her descriptive language. For photography inspiration, I like to check out La Buena Vida, 101 Cookbooks and The Year in Food. I also stop by Food52, oh, I don’t know, probably a half dozen times per day (not kidding).
What is one thing that sets your site apart from others? I hope the thing that sets my site apart from others is the stories that readers will find there. While I always try to include quality recipes and photos in my posts, the real driving force, for me, are the narratives in which I aim to capture a relatively authentic snapshot of what it is like to own our own little piece of New York’s food scene. Some of the posts are introspective. Some are inspired by the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a small (food) business owner today. Some are related to our involvement in New York’s ever-evolving pop-up food culture. Some are related to how this whole journey shapes our marriage and our home (which it certainly does). Before we officially started Mayhem & Stout, I used to spend hours reading various news articles about other people that had chased similar dreams; I wanted to know their stories and how they accomplished it all. Where did they start? How did they navigate all the uncertainties? How did they launch themselves into success? When we decided to take the leap from operating exclusively as a pop-up vendor to opening our first brick and mortar space, I knew I wanted to capture that whole journey somehow. Ultimately, my site has become a way for me to document that whole process and to offer our response to all those questions we once pondered for days.