Meet Brittany Baldwin, the creator of Portland Home Chef, an innovative home chef and catering business offering fresh meals prepared from ingredients grown on Baldwin’s own farm. This month, she shares two exclusive recipes with Williams-Sonoma: Braised Lamb Shanks with Chanterelle-Sausage Crust and Mashed Brussels Sprouts and Mustard-Crusted Spatchcock Chicken with Grill-Roasted Fall Vegetables.
We also asked her to share the story behind her unique business, why home-grown foods are special, and her favorite dishes for a fall dinner party. Read on to hear what she had to say.
Who or what inspired you to start cooking? How did you get started?
I come from a family of great cooks, my mother being the best. I grew up snapping beans, peeling garlic and prepping brussel sprouts for her before large family dinners. Professionally, I started out washing dishes and making pizzas in a small mountain restaurant/bar at age 15. It was my only choice for employment because it was the only job close enough to walk to.
What’s the story behind Portland Home Chef? How did you decide what you wanted to do after culinary school?
I was first introduced to the idea of cooking privately while visiting New York during college. My friend’s cousin had a personal chef and we went over to peek into their fridge and see how it all worked. After graduation I moved to the northwest to attend culinary school intent on retiring from restaurants and becoming a personal chef. Once my business was well established, I fulfilled a second dream: moving to the country and growing much of the food that I prepare for my clients.
Why farm-to-table? Why do you think growing your own ingredients in this way is important?
Taste. Anything freshly picked that morning by someone who nurtured that plant from the beginning is going to taste great. Being a chef, I start cooking even before the food is grown. In early January as the seed catalogs arrive I begin to anticipate the season ahead and what specialty items I can feature on dinner plates in the coming year.
Describe your cooking style.
I’ve always cooked like the women in my family: healthy, fresh, from scratch and French-inspired. I like to enhance what is already there, letting quality ingredients speak for themselves with only the help of a little butter and excellent technique.
What is the inspiration behind the recipes you created for Williams-Sonoma?
I wanted these recipes to be healthy, satisfying and full of ingredients that the average gardener or CSA recipient might have on hand. There seems to be a tipping point at the end of summer and into the fall when you’re faced with mountains of vegetables you can’t think of anything new to do with. The recipes are designed for a night when you have extra time and want to make something special or try to learn something new.
How do you decide what meals you’ll cook for clients? What’s a typical meal?
I cater high-end, private events that feature what is best in the garden and market that week. I also teach private cooking classes where I tailor the menu to the skill level and style of food that the client wants to learn about. In addition, during the week I cook for about eight lucky households that choose from a 50-item seasonal menu that rotates weekly including entrees, soups, lunches, salads and desserts.
Sample Fall Dinner Party Menu:
Roasted Filo-Wrapped Figs Stuffed with Prosciutto and Stilton
Crostini with Pear, Arugula and Fig Jam Topped with Shaved Pecorino
Filo Tarts Filled with Ricotta, Gruyere, Proscuitto, Leek and Thyme
Mixed Greens Served with Warm Buttered Apples, Fromage Blanc and Toasted Walnuts
Lamb Racks with Mustard Crust Served with Root Vegetable Gratin, Rapini and Chanterelles
Brown Butter Pear and Hazelnut Stuffed Crepes with Spiced Mascarpone
What tips do you have for people interested in cooking for themselves but who don’t have a lot of time?
I make dinner every night in 15 minutes. Using food methods that are quick (grilling, steaming, sautéing) or that slow cook while you’re at work in a crockpot, you can make dinner a snap. In winter I set up the crockpot with stews and braised roasts, infusing the house with delicious scents that greet me when I arrive home. In the summer I use the grill or sauté on my stove top to quickly cook fish, steak, chicken, etc. My rice cooker can make rice while also steaming vegetables and fish all at the same time for a healthy, one-pot meal.
What reactions have you experienced from clients when they start eating locally and organically?
Clients don’t always understand what’s in season in Oregon and when. We’re generally a month behind due to our wet springs and cold night temperatures. Being so close to California, we get produce at least a month or two ahead of when it is available locally. By the time our peas, spring onions and cherries are ready, people are already craving tomatoes, corn and melon. I really enjoy how surprised they are when they recognize the difference in flavor of something that was picked that day or from a local farm in the past few days.
What are you growing in your garden and on your farm?
I inherited apple, pear, plum and cherry trees along with a large Concord grape arbor. I just sprouted my first shiitake mushrooms and have oyster mushrooms on the way. I have young blueberry bushes, raspberries, cardoons and artichokes. I am working hard at creating a small but dense herb garden with hard-to-find plants such as chervil, pineapple mint and shiso. In the main garden plot, I grow tomatoes, peppers, edible flowers, lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, corn, radish, cucumber, winter squash, zucchini, potatoes, peas, beets, baby turnips, green beans, fennel and onions. In the future I intend to have a flower garden and offer fresh bouquets. Learn more about Brittany’s farm here.
Do you cook for yourself at home? If so, what do you like to cook?
I love to make Sunday dinner for friends. I try to use what’s in the garden along with my fresh eggs and whatever meat I can pull from the freezer. (I get ¼ of a grass-fed cow and half a pig once a year). This winter I’ve been trading my ¼ cow with the neighbors for elk. On St. Patty’s Day I made elk tenderloin steaks with a sherried mushroom cream sauce seasoned with juniper, garlic and rosemary served with a potato soufflé, winter greens and Logsdon Farmhouse Seizon Bretta. It was divine.