I have been following Brandi’s stunning kitchen exploits for a long time now, and everything she makes looks so inviting. A true home cook, in every sense of the word. Her food is comforting, sumptuous and always exciting. From her incredible cake displays, to her delicious drinks—she clearly loves to cook, and is a very talented home cook at that. I was so pleased that she said yes when I asked her to do this. It has been so lovely to get to know the person behind the food. So please, everyone, meet Brandi Fullwood!
What is your food philosophy? Or what are some fundamental things you enjoy or believe in when it comes to food?
Ooooh, starting with big ideas. I really had to think about this one.
And it sounds silly, but I have this recurring need to write a long read about how the meal scenes in the real housewives franchise are a site of healing. Usually healing insecurity, deepening connections, and filling a void. And yes, I know! The explosive fights, the throwing things, the elitist bullying, it's all a mess. But they get it out? Or they sometimes resolve the issue as a result of those meals. At the very least, they are sitting down to share something together. And find the moment to get it all out.
And so, from those scenes and my own experiences, sitting down to have a really intentional meal with yourself or your people brings clarity. It reveals many of the needs we ignore.
I realize how much I need to love myself to allow space for unmitigated joy, expression, and connection.
For me, I feel like my needs explained via food have changed year over year — or at least it gets an expansion pack every year. In all the ways I come across food. I realize how much I need to love myself to allow space for unmitigated joy, expression, and connection. The reassurance that I am loved by others. I also needed structure and stability. I need a balance of validation and seriousness, and silliness. All these things and more. It's funny that all of these needs seem to hang in the balance until you're mapping out the plan, sitting down for the meal, or even posting on Instagram!
And it's not that food being healing is new. But I can more clearly see how making it, eating it, reading or writing about it is restorative.
Fish! Foraging! Farming! The local food scene here taps into a lot of the reasons I am often really excited about food.
What part of your local food culture influences or is important to you?
Ok, I'm in Seattle, and the local food scene in the pacific northwest is really what you'd expect. Fish! Foraging! Farming! The local food scene here taps into a lot of the reasons I am often really excited about food. It leaves a lot of room for experimentation and a sense of place. I love going into a grocery store or getting a CSA box and picking out some berries or mushrooms that I have literally never heard of in my entire life.
The local scene here has also strengthened my belief in biophilia—this instinct to connect with nature. I love the earthy taste of mushrooms and the coastal brininess in oysters. It situates itself kinda poetically. And I like to take all those feelings and flavors and turn them into dinner parties or meals to celebrate how the seasons show up in the region.
When did your love of food begin + what is your earliest food memory?
I don't know if I could really name a beginning, but a time when the love went into overdrive was in early March 2020. I lost my smell and taste right before it was named a symptom of COVID-19. I thought it was something else entirely and spent the first few weeks scrolling r/anosmia and spiraling. Lots of people wrote about having loss of smell for most of their lives. Sometimes after sickness or accidents, and then also randomly. I read a lot about how they could not smell their partner or taste their family meals. I cried a lot and read a lot about how people coped. I learned how to appreciate temperature and sensation. And I learned that Ben (of Ben & Jerry's) has anosmia and how important texture is for him. I started ritually trying to smell garlic and citrus. I watched seemingly millions of people make bread and whip coffee, and I was sad and jealous. When my smell started to come back, I wanted to make everything. On the monthly grocery trip, I bought limes, fish sauce, smoked fish, chamoy. A bunch of stinky cheeses— soft and hard. I reached for eggs with orange yolks with a grassy/fatty flavor. I made cheese, butter, and caramel. I fermented honey and yogurt. And I made several jars of strawberry and blackberry jam.
I have a lot of family memories of food that brought a lot of this together. But carving out an independent relationship with it helped a ton.
None of this felt particularly new. Not the love, anyway. I have a lot of family memories of food that brought a lot of this together. But carving out an independent relationship with it helped a ton. This connects back to one of my earliest food memories.
One of my earliest memories of food is making fried shrimp and fish with my dad. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old and felt so … mature. Hot oil? On the stove? And a multi-step battering and seasoning process? The trust! Until that day, most of the things I could make involved a few minutes in the microwave or dragging a chair across the kitchen to reach the foods I could assemble: cereal.
I started seeing friends post their mise en place—and as a film major, j'adore. Food as science and art really just… ugh… fills up my heart and my mind.
What made you start documenting your food?
Hmm, a strong need for community and self-love. It happened in two waves. First, the real IG and then @afterdinnerbrandi. In the first wave, I was tickled and excited about having a job right out of school and buying random things at the grocery store. random because I'd never eaten them or thought about them… I just would pop them in my little basket and figure it out at home. One day I bought some dandelion greens and wanted to prepare them like my aunt makes collard greens, and it just wasn't working. It was sooooo bitter (and like.. if you like it, that's great. But it's not for me). So I added ginger, maple syrup, and chicken broth to pair with the bitterness. And…. Voila!
Eventually… I started seeing friends post their mise en place—and as a film major, j'adore. Food as science and art really just… ugh… fills up my heart and my mind. Anyway, a dear friend, @cartereats, and I talked about how kind and proactive the IG community felt, so I made the account.
What are some of your main influences? It doesn't have to just be food?
People: my family, Kia Damon, Sohla El-Waly, and Martha Stewart, rank high. But a younger me lived for Chopped, the tv show. And I still kinda do. I am really into thinking about how food works together. I read a lot about ingredients and food science. I spend a lot of time getting feedback about how certain things taste or if they work for others.
Do you like hosting? And if so, what are some of your go-to dinner party recipes?
I love it! I simply don't do it as much as I wish, though. I also don't think I have a go-to recipe, but I do love a theme. For example, we threw a spring dinner party earlier this year. I managed to find a lot of poems about spring that helped us create a menu based on different sentiments and staples!
I don't write out recipes, and I hardly follow them closely. I really wish I did. I would love to share what I make with people that way, but I'm often cooking intuitively.
How about your comfort food, what comes to mind? Are you cooking something or ordering in?
This year has been incredibly tough in all the ways that sudden and expected loss can be. I am incredibly difficult to comfort because I'm picky about the mood or vibe. But a few things help. Almost every other week this year, I've wanted kimchi jjigae or chicken noodle soup (shells and ground chicken). Macaroni and cheese, stewed fish, neck bones, and rice. Also, every few months, I crave sweets like a decadent chocolate cake, hopefully, balanced with espresso or vanilla.
Tell us a little more about your process, how do you plan out your ideas when recipe developing?
In all seriousness, I don't write out recipes. And I hardly follow them closely. I really wish I did. I would love to share what I make with people that way, but I'm often cooking intuitively. Lol, an intuition based on cooking, reading and tasting a lot.
The way that I learned to cook is by sight and taste—flavors, measurements, etc. Example? My grandmother would make these peanut butter cups, and she would tell me to cup my hand and a tsp was about the amount of the center of the palm without spilling over.
But, I love combining different ideas from dishes I've learned to make, had at a restaurant, or read about. I keep meticulous notes and post them in and on all my cookbooks. There's a massive joy for me in imagining meals and flavors together. I keep a notebook for weekly plans and big ideas for the future.
What does the online 'home cook' community mean to you? Who are some of your favorite home cooks?
Well, so many of my favorites have dipped in and out of professional cooking in some shape or form. But that doesn't always mean they aren't still home cooks, I suppose. Some of my favorite home cooks are my close friends and family. I learn a lot from the people that have cooked for me or with me.
I like that it means being vulnerable and supportive and silly with one another. I like that people wear their confidence and encourage other people to do so.
The online community for me has been so unreal. I've had the most intimate conversations about family, disordered eating, classism, and racism in the DMs with people whose names I didn't know for months. I like that it means being vulnerable and supportive and silly with one another. I like that people wear their confidence and encourage other people to do so. For a time, a few of us got together and took a free class from MIT about food and food justice. We would do the readings and have a virtual hang out talking about why time in low-income kitchens is one of the most significant ingredients or how various Pacific Island nations and their food systems endured so much harm via New Zealand and Australia. This online community has been way more than I expected it to be when I first made the account. And at the same time, I wish it were more tangible. Either way, much love to the IG food community.
Name a few of your favorite cookbooks.
Bar Tartine, A Very Serious Cookbook, Jubilee and Night + Market.
Do you see a food career for yourself in the future? And is that part of the plan?
I definitely want to make the space to imagine what that would look like. I admire people that have launched into supper clubs and pop-ups. I think that would be really wonderful. I would love to plan menus and bring strangers or distant communities together. Finding something that allows me to curate some experiences would be a joy. I've floated (in my head) putting together a magazine cookbook of family recipes and others. But there is no set plan, but I appreciate that this question makes me want to take up more lanes. Watch this space.
Tune in to more of Brandi’s gorgeous cooking adventures by following her IG account here @afterdinnerbrandi