The Art of Cooking: JCU Alumna Brooke Parkhurst

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Brooke Parkhurst is a JCU study abroad alumna from Pensacola, Florida. She attended Davidson College in North Carolina and during her junior year (2000-2001), she studied for two semesters at John Cabot University. Brooke is a chef, food writer, and cooking instructor. 

Why did you decide to study abroad at JCU?
Coming from a relatively small town, I knew I wanted to study in a big, cosmopolitan city. At the same time, I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed. Rome and JCU just felt right.

When did you first become a “foodie”? Did your family background contribute to your interest in food and wine?
I grew up in Pensacola, Florida. While it’s in the Florida Panhandle, it’s culturally closer to Alabama. The accents, the love of Southern and Cajun foods, and the pace of life made it a great place to grow up. Good food was always incredibly important to both my mother and my grandfather. Any excuse to make a pot of gumbo or seek out the best soft-shell crabs made a meal a party or a holiday weekend a gourmet adventure. Food was fun, exciting, and the focus of just about everything!

Brooke Parkhurst

Brooke Parkhurst and her husband James

How did you and your husband James Briscione get the idea to write Just Married and Cooking (Scribner, 2011) and The Flavor Matrix (HMH 2018)?
The two cookbooks that we co-wrote could not be any more different- yet both speak to very specific, wonderful times in our lives. Just Married & Cooking chronicles our first year together as ‘marrieds’ living in downtown New York City. The food is fresh, simple, and with a touch of restaurant sophistication (James used to be the chef in the private dining room at Daniel Boulud’s, Restaurant Daniel). Basically, anything in the book can be whipped up on a Tuesday night.

The Flavor Matrix, in turn, is a ground-breaking ingredient-pairing guide that shows how science can be used to combine unlikely foods and create astonishingly inventive dishes. James collaborated with IBM supercomputer Watson to discover flavor combinations based on different foods’ chemical compatibility. The journey sent James plunging into academic journals and computer databases and, soon enough, I followed suit. The best thing about the book is that its core is based on some pretty high-tech research yet any home cook can benefit from it. We are both extremely excited about the March 2018 book release!

You are a chef, food writer, and cooking instructor. Which job do you find most challenging?
They are all truly enjoyable jobs. I suppose being a chef is hard on your body, being a food writer stretches your brain, and being a cooking instructor tests your patience. All require a very different skill set. And then being a mother of two children is a completely different challenge!

What is the biggest difficulty you have encountered in your professional career? How did you overcome it?
The biggest difficulty I’ve encountered in my professional life has been finding the best way to do what I love- cooking and writing- and being able to make money from it. Don’t let the sound bites fool you- it’s really tough to turn a passion into a money-making career. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to persevere. (And, in the beginning, you might need to take a few side jobs to be able to practice your passion.)

Did your study abroad experience at JCU contribute to your professional career in any way?
During my time at JCU, I remember studying art and architecture and then being able to see it, up close, that very afternoon. I remember studying the subjunctive in my Italian grammar classes and then testing it out on my Italian roommate that night back at our apartment on Via della Scala. I remember savoring new flavors and foods that I had only read about in Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and Saveur magazines. There was such an immediacy to everything about my life in Rome. I never wanted to live anywhere else. I just wanted to live in the moment and savor every bite.