In Conversation with Micole Rondinone, Culinary Coach

True story… Micole Rondinone and I became friends on Instagram before we ever met in real life.

Our first IRL interaction was a road trip upstate… also known as, the make or break. You discover pretty quickly into a four-hour journey if you jive well with someone. And jive well, we sure did.

Having subsequently spent a weekend upstate with Micole and having watched her in the kitchen and enjoyed the fruits of your labor (…literally fruits. She showed up with a bag of plums and whipped up plum jam on Sunday morning. I knew then and there that we were meant to be friends), I am quite in awe of her talents both on the jam front and beyond. Not only did we connect over our shared passion for cooking, our entrepreneurial journeys, and our personal journeys, but as I heard more and more about the career that Micole is creating, I realized how much I (and we all) have to learn from her.

Micole is a culinary coach, recipe creator, and food photographer. Ever met someone with that job description before? …I’ll wait. Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s because she designed it herself, based on her unique passions, talents, and sense of purpose. I am so excited to share her story and words of wisdom with you, as I’m a firm believer in showing up as yourself, in your power, regardless of if that’s widely considered to be an existing career path or not.

We talked about our shared past life in fashion, the jump to entrepreneurship during a pandemic, how to recharge when cooking is what you love but also your life’s work, and some of her favorite recipes and culinary tricks for fall. 

Also, her newsletter is where it goes *down* with new recipes, cooking hacks, and resources… it’s a literally goldmine. Get a jump on it here. And happy reading 🙂

Let’s talk about your journey with entrepreneurship. You started in the fashion world (as I did!) working as an agent for hair and makeup artists. Now, you’re building an empire as a culinary authority. How did you get from point A to point B? What has that transition looked like for you?

As you know, the road to career changes can certainly feel like a long one! I like to say that my “story of starting” (which I named my Instagram show The Art of Starting after) began in 2013. I was only 2.5 years into what would become a 10 year stint in the fashion industry. A good friend invited me to the Food Book Fair in Williamsburg, and I’ll never forget walking into the lobby of The Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. There were just rows and rows of books, magazines, businesses… all dedicated to food, which I’ve had a deep affinity for since before I can remember. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom, and at the age of 12 was writing fake menus for fun. Until that day I’d never considered food or cooking as a possible professional path.

Another thing that stayed with me after that day, aside from my eyes being opened to this brand new world of food as business, was the expressions on the faces of the people who were there. Volunteers, authors, sellers, chefs, activists… they were foodies from all walks of life, and they all looked genuinely happy. After that day at the Food Book Fair, I started gobbling up food culture anywhere I could. I read all sorts of food-related books, attended food panels, went to networking events, talked to chefs, and eventually attended the International Culinary Center to get certifications in Food Writing and Culinary Techniques. Even at my most tired, going to 5 hour long culinary classes at night after working, my passion never waned. Still, year after year the questions and doubts would nag at me about changing my career: Start where? How? What would I do without a PAYCHECK? So, for a while I proudly proclaimed myself a “side-hustler”, a multi-hyphenate millennial doing it all. That all changed in February of this year when I was laid off, pre-COVID. It was then that I realized I had no choice but to finally START. 

I also want to make a point of saying that the 7.5 years it took for me to finally make the shift were not a waste. Sure, maybe there are times I wonder what things would be like if I’d made the change sooner, but on the other hand, that time allowed me to entertain and navigate different possible routes to find out what I really loved. Ultimately I realized that what I wanted didn’t fit into any preexisting niches. I didn’t quite know how I was going to do it, but I decided to find a way to meld my undergrad degree in photography with my experience in the editorial world and my passion for cooking. And I am proud to say that I am doing just that: building a multidimensional business that is equally as dynamic as I am.

I love that you’ve taken your passions – cooking, photography, writing – and crafted this hybrid business from them that really feels true to you and lights you up. You call yourself a “culinary coach” – can you tell us more about how you crafted this career path, what you do, and what it means to you?

I’ve come to realize that I really run two businesses: on one side, I work with special, mission-driven food brands and restaurants doing photography, recipe writing, and content creation. This creative, editorial work is so much a part of who I am.

On the other side is the work I do helping others realize their full potential in the kitchen, empowering them to cook with greater confidence, creativity, and intuition. I learned how to cook by standing next to my mom in the kitchen, watching as night after night, she seemed to imagine something out of nothing. My mom is definitely a cook with an adventurous spirit, and she became a master of her own kitchen by just trying. A little of this, a little of that. Adding flavor in steps, and tasting a lot. As a lucky frequent taster, I was also able to develop this understanding of how to imagine something out of nothing, except that I took it one step further, and decided to go to culinary school.

It’s this combination of being an intuitive home cook and my professional training that creates the unique framework upon which I teach others how to cook in their own homes. I focus on evergreen skills and simple techniques that a person can apply in a diverse set of (cookbook and recipe-free) situations. I’m currently developing a series of digital culinary lessons meant to empower cooks of all levels, and folks will then be able to level up with 1:1 Culinary Coaching with me. Both will focus on technical skills to bolster creativity, a deeper understanding of flavor profiles, how to properly identify when food is “done,” and more. Another thing I am really excited about is teaching people how to curate what I call a “flavor library.” Successful layering of dynamic flavors is the north star that I aim for always in my food.

Let’s talk about your love of cooking, which is a big thing that we have in common. How and why does this spark joy for you? 

Cooking for me is truly meditative. The most joyful cooking is the kind that happens lazily, like on a weekend afternoon, when I can have no agenda and the focus can be on nourishment or creativity or experimentation. Those kinds of days are usually when I come up with the best ideas for the recipes I eventually develop and publish on my site.

Something that’s so crucial for me about food and cooking is the idea of nourishment – physical and emotional. I believe food should be just as much about the way it makes you feel as the way it tastes. My approach to food, and all my creative outlets really, is that it speaks to your emotions. To soul nourishment. To something bigger. 

I must say, as someone who loves to cook and does so most days, I found that cooking all of my own meals during the first portion of the pandemic definitely put a strain on my love of getting in the kitchen. It took me a little while to bounce back to equilibrium and to view cooking once again as a pleasure rather than something I was forced to do. How has the pandemic impacted your business, your time in the kitchen, and your relationship with cooking overall?

Even as a chef and foodie, I am not unlike the rest of the population: COVID has made it difficult to keep the spark alive in the kitchen. I don’t think any of us, lovers of cooking or not, have been able to avoid that kitchen burnout at times.

I tend to find a lot of my inspiration from dining out and tasting other chefs’ food, so when that went away, it was hard to be stuck in a vacuum of eating my own dishes on repeat with no new ideas or feedback coming in. I don’t cook from recipes very often, but during quarantine those have been a great source of inspiration. I found myself digging deeper into my New York Times Cooking subscription, and found that it’s actually nice to occasionally pick up someone else’s recipe so I can take my own “idea hat” off for a bit.

When I’m cooking for myself, I sometimes have to remind myself to get out of the chef zone, and just cook for nourishment sake, meaning not every meal is going to be splendid or creative. I just have to show up and honor the act of feeding myself, taking time to make a meal. That’s what counts. No joke – one day during the quarantine I took a tortilla, put some mozzarella in it and heated it up in a pan. I had to laugh. My ultimately go-to easy meal is my goat cheese, avocado and honey toast. I make it a little differently each time depending what I have in my fridge. I recently did a variation with crispy kale and it did not disappoint.

In general, I believe it’s a misconception that chefs always cook really well for themselves. In fact, I feel it’s quite the opposite. So much of the joy I get from cooking comes from sharing my food with others, whether that’s IRL at the table or through my recipes. Getting a text or DM that says, “I just made your recipe and it’s amazing!” really stokes my fire.

I’d love to pick your brain about what you’re cooking right now. How are you ramping up for fall in your kitchen? What are you most excited to make?

When it gets cold outside, I get excited to finally turn my oven back on. In the past few weeks with the arrival of fall chill, I’ve already made my Crispy Garlic Chicken Thighs multiple times. There is something so simple yet incredibly comforting about great roasted chicken. I also love this Harissa Tamari Chicken. Both use the same technique of first searing the chicken for a crispy skin, then finishing in the oven for a super moist interior. Okay, now I’m hungry!

I also love roasted sweet potatoes. Again, so simple, but I strongly believe that the simplest ingredients make the most beautiful food. For me, cooking is about the use of simple technique combined with great ingredients and surprising flavor combinations. I encourage people to try combinations they may not have thought of or tried before: I like to just separate out a bite or two of the dish I am working on, and try a unique addition that way. Then I can taste it to see if it enhances the dish. If not, no harm done! If yes, creative success!

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