Cooking Up Connection: Three Local Food Bloggers Share Their Stories
June 30, 2022 @ 9:00am
On a warm summer afternoon, we gathered with food bloggers Britney Brown-Chamberlain of “Britney Breaks Bread,” Shani Whisonant of “Begin with Butter” and Anina Belle Giannini of “Le Chef’s Wife.” Brown-Chamberlain, her husband and adorable baby boy graciously hosted us at their Maryland home. Brown-Chamberlain made a mouthwatering chocolate pound cake with a peanut butter glaze, Whisonant brought a beautiful lemon blueberry Bundt cake and Giannini constructed a colorful French Riviera-inspired salade niçoise and a homemade baguette. Over two hours, Brown-Chamberlain, Whisonant and Giannini described the genesis of their love affair with food and baking, traded kitchen horror stories and recalled cherished childhood memories connected to cooking.
District Fray: What is your first memory of falling in love with food?
Anina Belle Giannini: I remember this very vividly because I grew up on an organic farm in British Columbia, Canada. My dad had 20,000 peach trees. And I’ll never forget taking a peach off the tree and biting into it. The juice ran down my neck and my arms and it was the most incredible, wonderful experience; I think I was about six years old at the time and I’ve never forgotten that.
Britney Brown-Chamberlain: We were on a family vacation, and we were stuck stranded at Charlotte airport. My mother bought me a piece of key lime pie and it was delicious; it’s been my favorite food ever since. It was so good, and I’d never had anything like that. I was about eight years old and was like, “I want to make this. How can we bring this home?”
Shani Whisonant: It was Thanksgiving and my mother made collard greens. And to this day, collard greens are one of my favorite foods in the whole wide world. I remember sitting there with all of this food on my plate; she made my plate with this little thing of collards on it, and I ate around it because I didn’t really know what it was. I’ve always eaten vegetables, but I just hadn’t had it before. It had collard greens and a little bit of ham hock in it. And then I finally made my way to those greens. It was the biggest taste sensation — I don’t know why it sticks with me. I was maybe four or five years old, but it was incredible.
What inspired you to transform your love of food into blogging?
Whisonant: For me, cooking and sharing food is almost primal. It’s something that connects. It can connect two diverse cultures. Also sharing food is a way of showing someone you care for them — that you really love them. I started my blog because, for a long time, I couldn’t bake. When I started to develop some proficiency with baking, I started to hear people giving me the same excuses that I used to make: “Oh, baking is too hard.” “There’s too much science involved.” “Oh, I’m a cook and not a baker.” “I can’t do that. It’s not in my wheelhouse.” That’s what encouraged me to start my blog. I wanted to be a blogger who showed people recipes but also encouraged them.
Brown-Chamberlain: I’ve always baked. Whether [my recipes] came out good or not is up for debate. I’ve always enjoyed it. I can remember being in my kitchen and my mom yelling at me to stop using up all the food, because I was just putting stuff together and seeing how it came out. As far as transforming it into a blog, there was not one exact moment that I can pinpoint. I’ve always loved to travel. I’ve always loved to bake. I’ve always loved to eat. And one day I was sitting there bored and said, “Why not give it a go and see what happens?”
Giannini: In 2016, I was director of sales and marketing of the Ritz-Carlton Montreal and realized I had a unique perspective — being married to a French chef and living in Montreal together. I started sharing what we ate at home, where we went shopping and which restaurants we went to. It was really after the birth of my daughter and when we were living in Washington, D.C. that “Le Chef’s Wife” became a food blog. I realized that I had this wealth of recipes I was learning from my husband every single day. He would never sit me down in the kitchen and say, “This is how you make mayonnaise.” But I would watch him and the order in which he would make a sauce and how he would season his salad greens before he put on the toppings. I fell in love with learning to be a better cook.
You’ve talked a lot about what your cooking gives to others. What does it give back to you?
Whisonant: It’s this thing that steals time. I can be in the middle of something creative in the kitchen and look up and hours have gone by. It’s the experience of being lost in a creative space — that’s how it feeds me. It’s this incredible experience of being able to look at raw ingredients and figure out, “Okay, I’m gonna make something with this.”
Brown-Chamberlain: It’s a creative outlet. I’ve always been super creative. I’ve played piano since I was six. When we came to Maryland originally, we didn’t have a piano, so I felt stifled. [When] I started cooking, that [stifling] began to subside. It felt good. It’s a really good form of self-expression. It is therapeutic. When I’m sad, I cook. When I’m happy, I cook. When the world’s crazy — especially during Covid-19 — I cook.
Giannini: The secret to cooking for me is home. I have lived in five countries. And whenever I’m cooking, I feel connected to home. My mom logs on to every one of my cooking demonstrations and it feels like I’m cooking with her. The first thing that I do when I get into a new place is make a big pot of soup. Because for me, this feels comfortable, because you can’t cook when you’re not at home. It’s the one constant. No matter what country, no matter what language — there’s cooking.
What inspires your culinary creativity?
Brown-Chamberlain: Everything from a TV show, to going out to restaurants, to traveling, to different smells, to photographs — even colors inspire me. There’s so much inspiration everywhere.
Whisonant: That’s a great way of describing it. When your creativity is piqued, your senses are heightened.
Giannini: For me, the eight years we lived together on the French Riviera left such an indelible mark on my food memories and how I loved to eat and how I enjoyed living every day.
Whisonant: Everything outside of the kitchen inspires me. I was out on a walk and I saw these yellow flowers and they reminded me of lemons. It made me think I want to create something lemony. But spring also reminds me of something that’s light and airy. And that became this limoncello layer cake that I posted a few weeks ago. Those strange connections you make, that’s the thing that I love so much about being able to create food.
Do you have any kitchen horror stories?
Brown-Chamberlain: I was developing a recipe for a brand. It was just before Thanksgiving, and I had a bunch of sage leaves. My husband was at jujitsu and the baby’s crying and I’m trying to rush through this recipe. I’m chopping, chopping, chopping, and suddenly, I feel a tug on my finger. I look down and a piece of my finger’s gone. It was a bloody mess.
Giannini: I was doing one of my first live cooking shows on Instagram and was really nervous about it. I was supposed to make French onion soup and had everything ready. I went to put the onions on the burner and my induction oven wouldn’t work. I tried all the different burners, and nothing was working. I thought, “How is this possible?” One of the people watching said “You need to try flipping the breaker.” In the middle of the Instagram Live I called my husband, who went down and flipped the breaker and it worked. The kind of stress when you’re cooking live and your oven doesn’t turn on was scary.
Whisonant: I started baking in 2014 and was pretty terrible for about the first year, but I was determined because I wanted to be the mom whose kid would come home to fresh baked cookies. The first time I tried to make a lemon pound cake, I had this Nordic Ware pan and I didn’t grease it properly. And when I turned it over, the whole thing stopped. I did everything I could and finally ended up banging it on the counter and it eventually crumbled out. That made me so sad.
I have a butter chicken recipe on my blog that everyone has loved. I’ve made it for my family and my sister. And I love to make cupcakes. They’re so fun and cute.
That’s easy. Roast chicken, because it’s the easiest thing in the whole world. It takes less time to put together than a sandwich, and it’s the most amazing meal. Then you can make soup stock afterwards. Or pasta. I love pasta — anything with tomato sauce and cheese.
That is like asking which is your favorite child. I love making pasta. I like garlic, onions and all that stuff. But the reason I like making pasta is because my kids and my husband really love eating it. I like making it because I know every time I make it, it’s gonna be a big hit.
Favorite Childhood Meal
My mom makes a stew chicken and it’s so simple. It’s so good. She puts it over rice and it’s amazing. Warm it up, eat it throughout the week. It’s the perfect meal.
Lasagna. I requested it for every birthday. My mom’s lasagna is still my favorite.
My mother’s spaghetti and her greens.
Must-Watch Foodie Show
“4 Levels” by Epicurious and “The Great Soul Food Cook-Off” on Hulu
“The Julia Child Challenge” on Hulu and “BBQ Brawl” on The Food Network
“Nailed It!” on Netflix
Britney Brown-Chamberlain: britneybreaksbread.com // @britneybreaksbread
Anina Belle Giannini: lechefswife.com // @lechefswife
Shani Whisonant: beginwithbutter.com // @beginwithbutter