Foodie Queen: One Baltimore Woman's Journey in the Culinary World
Had you told the native Baltimorean Antoinette Bruno when she attended Timonium's Dulaney High School that she would be one of the most influential people in the culinary world she might have looked at you like you were crazy.
Back then, Bruno had no idea that her endeavors would one day allow some of the most influential star chefs to share ideas and mentor other food and beverage professionals as CEO and editor of the highly respected StarChefs.com. These chefs include Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Elizabeth Falkner, Marcus Samuelsson, Masaharu Morimoto, Eric Ripert, José Andres, Pierre Hermé and many more. Hometown culinary stars like Woodberry Kitchen's Spike Gjerde and Wit & Wisdom Pastry Chef Chris Ford credit StarChefs.com
and annual conference for helping to propel their names to the top of the food industry.
But even in high school, she was writing the recipe for success.
Her high school yearbook picture said "Junior Achievement," which, was in culinary terms, the appetizer that gave Bruno a taste of business, adventure and confidence to succeed. She started multiple companies: personalized key chains, decorative door hangings and jewelry.
Bruno received the Junior Achievement President of the Year and Company of the Year awards and sold more stock than any other Junior Achievement company in Maryland.
It is her vision that took what was a hobbyist website to the top when she took over in 1999. "The challenge then was getting revenue through the door, figuring out the business model, the mission and if it was doable," Bruno says.
She has grown the company's site traffic from 750,000 to 30 million page hits per month and the content library from 4,000 to 35,000-plus pages. Thirteen years later StarChefs.com today is not only a forum for world recognized chefs but anoints rising culinary stars. Bruno will do 60 to 100 tastings in any one city (600 tastings per year) to choose up-and-coming Rising Star chefs. Antoinette also travels to seek out the best restaurants, chefs and mixologists to feature on StarChefs.com.
"The Baltimore restaurants care about local produce, cooking from scratch," Bruno says. "The palate of Baltimore has changed and is more demanding."
In 2010 on one of her annual trips back to Baltimore, aware of the changing face of Baltimore's culinary scene she visited multiple restaurants: Woodberry Kitchen, Salt, B & O American Brasserie, Blue Hill Tavern, Meli and BlueGrass Tavern. She remains friends with Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen and considers it one of her favorite restaurants.
Gjerde and his staff presented a workshop of a typical day in the Woodberry kitchen at last year's StarChef.com International Chefs Congress. Gjerde will be cooking dinner for all the presenters at this year's convention
, which runs Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
"Antoinette has something very special, her ability to identify talent, quality and fresh, creative thinking is one of the things that sets her apart," Gjerde says. "She has her own set of physical laws that apply to her. She is a force of nature."
Food and Wine's 2012 Best New Pastry Chef Chris Ford was one of Bruno's rising stars when he worked in Washington, D.C. Ford now hangs his whisk at Wit & Wisdom, Pabu and Lamill Coffee, all at the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
. He has participated two years running at StarChefs.com's convention in a three-day pastry competition. This year he will feature his choux pastry in one of 20 food carts at the show.
Ford says of Bruno, "She has an amazing spirit, always on fire and always working. She exudes a lot of respect for what she does for the community and the industry. She is the Queen of Food."
But at one point it seemed like she would be, instead, the Queen of Wall Street. Antoinette left Dulaney High School at 16, a year before graduation, and enrolled in American University. Back then she thought the Jolly Green Giant was the vegetable genie. College and her travels opened her eyes to the world of food. Like many Baltimore college age kids, she spent her summers working in Ocean City at multiple restaurants from front of house bartending to in the kitchen as a line cook.
After receiving her degree in economics from American University, she went to the London School of Economics where she graduated in 1985. She started working in sales and trading at the now-defunct Salomon Brothers Inc. that same year.
After four years on Wall Street, the allure wore off and the sound of a chef's knife chopping was like the sirens of the deep calling her. She was able to attain entrance into Ecole Ritz Escoffier Paris, which in 1990, was a difficult feat for an American woman. Her goal was to open her own restaurant after working for a French chef in a proper Michelin starred kitchen. Her reality was she was a good chef but in her own words, "I didn't have what it took to be great." Her path took another turn.
She returned to the states to attend Harvard Business School followed by a stint as the marketing director of the Body Shop. A few years later opportunity knocked with StarChef.com where she could blend her business acumen and her culinary expertise into the powerhouse that it is. Along the way, she married and is now a single mom living with her two kids in Manhattan.
Her StarChefs.com annual culinary trend list sets the tone for the coming culinary year and should be out late October. Her culinary travel wish list includes Morocco, Turkey and Peru.
But she still has a fondness for restaurants of her Baltimore youth, including Monkton's the Manor Tavern and Chiapparelli's in Little Italy. Considering all the premier restaurants around the world, all the great cuisine that has been placed before her, in the end her favorite meal, the one she wants as her last meal is her mother's crab cakes.
She was kind enough to share the recipe.
Crab Cakes to Die For
Antoinette Bruno's Mom's recipe
The most important element to making crab cakes or any crab dish is not to overpower the delicate taste of blue crab. Let the crab flavor be dominant. Always use the best crabmeat you can find and make sure it is fresh.
Yield: 5 large crab cakes
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat from Maryland
1 egg, beaten
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 bunch parsley, minced
7 saltine cracker halves, crushed
Light canola oil, for frying
Dash of salt and cayenne pepper
Mix all wet ingredients except the crabmeat. Then mix in the dry ingredients. Season with a dash of salt and cayenne pepper. Fold in crabmeat last, being careful not to break apart the lumps. Delicately mold 5 large crab cakes. Deep fry in light canola oil until golden brown.
Dara Bunjon has a passion for food – its origins, preparation and consumption. Her passion became her business Dara Does It. Her rants, raves, reviews, reminiscences, and recipes can be found regularly on her Dining Dish and Dara Does It blogs. Her last story for BmoreMedia took readers on a culinary tour of Baltimore on the Charm City Circulator.
Shannon Sturgis (top two)
Will Blunt (third)
STEVE RUARK (bottom)