late mornings in the kitchen with Jenna Marek, photographed by Madeline Metcalf
I first met Jenna outside of my friends shop in Portland, and we grew to know each other better through mutual friends. I remember the first meal Jenna made for me and a few of our friends. It was the middle of summer, we sat in the backyard amongst ripe tomatoes and grape vines and ate burrata with homemade ricotta and a pasta coated in the most divine butter sauce. It was that evening when Jenna shared her journey into food and the art of cooking.
Jenna is one of those souls you always want to be around. she exudes passion and has an ease that is contagious and inspiring. Her energy in the kitchen is thoughtful yet relaxed. Jenna's food not only nurtures your body but it nurtures your heart. I have never left a meal at her home without feeling inspired and enlightened to a more genuine, passionate way of living.
I was honored to spend a morning with jenna at her home in conversation about her wardrobe, how she got into cooking, and her personal approach to the art form. enjoy!
How would you describe your personal style and the pieces in your wardrobe?
Beautiful comfort. I am drawn toward pieces that are beautiful but look comfortable to wear and move in. I don't buy a lot of clothing, so when I do versatility is something I really pay attention to. I wear clothing made from sustainable fabrics because I find they feel better on my body. Working in a kitchen is hot most of the time, so I wear pieces that let my body breathe, such as cotton. I also wear a lot of wool (not in the kitchen).
How did you get into your craft?
I was post college in a transition phase, floating around different jobs. I studied social work as my undergrad and after a few intense internships, I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to pursue. After taking a step back from social work, my life began to feel a bit directionless. During this time I was gifted a cookbook by Alice Waters called The Art of Simple Food. I started reading it and bringing it to the store with me and picking out recipes. I found that cooking was really therapeutic for me. Alice Waters is involved in a lot of the social aspects of food, and I immediately resonated with that. Cooking was always part of a bigger picture for me, and as an early disciple of Alice Waters, cooking seasonally and sourcing locally became the heart of my approach.
So you went to Sicily?
After cooking at home for a year, I discovered a ten week pilot program called Cook the Farm, where students could come and learn about cooking and farming on the Sicilian countryside. After receiving much inspiration and encouragement to pursue the opportunity, I applied and was accepted.
Each week we had a different focus from grains to fats. We made homemade sausage and ate fresh lard. During the week on cheese we spent time with the shepherd, watching him milk the sheep and make fresh ricotta. I really connected with the people and the land, and it solidified my interest in cooking as well as agriculture and the whole "back to the land" movement.
Why is it important to cook seasonally?
I grew up in a faith based community where an outward focus of service was a core value. This is initially what drew me to social work. I wanted to help people and make an impact in broken social environments. Cooking is both social and political- it involves choices and those choices can either make a positive or negative impact. I'm drawn to seasonal cooking because it will not only taste the best and look the best, but it supports small farmers and creates community and transparency.
In america we have so much available to us. The supermarket will have everything all the time, but the convenience and availability of that food comes at the expense of something or someone else, and we're really not taught this anywhere, so we become numb to those consequences.
What makes cooking so special for you personally?
Something I've realized in the last few years is that I am a very tactile, sensuous person. Cooking is very sensory- it's all about the smell, the touch and the taste. And that sensory involvement is what really connected me to the art form.
Could you name a few role models who inform your work?Alice Waters + David Tanis, for their influence in the slow food movement. Ghandi, for his insight and influence toward a local economy. and Jesus, for his amazing inner life that led to an outward life of service.