Julia Bloomquist adores food, and cooking has been a major part her life for as long as she can remember—from helping her mother prepare meals as a young child to her later work in about ten different kitchens and cooking for groups of up to 80 people in tree planting camps. When the co-owner of The Sprout Restaurant on Duckworth Street talks about food, her passion is obvious. Ryan Davis met up with Julia in her kitchen to get a taste of her soup and her passion for food and cooking.
Why are you so into food and cooking?
My family has always been interested in good food and long meals. That’s probably where it started. I remember being a kid and sitting down at the table for three hours at a time. And certainly watching my mom cook as a child was influential. As the oldest child I was naturally the one to help out. There were four kids in my family and we were raised as vegetarians, so that forced my mom to be creative with our meals. Growing up in Spain for five years gave me a bit more perspective on the importance of visual cooking and of being able to cook with very fragrant spices… onions… garlic. Things that really sizzle. I lived there until I was six but my earliest memory of seeing serious food production was when I was around three or four. I was allowed to walk with my little sister, on our own, down to the bakery. It was a tiny bakery with a wood-fired oven where they handled the bread with a long paddle. Mom and Dad would give us some money and we would go down and buy a loaf for the evening meal, and that was a big outing for us, especially going on our own. That left a pretty big mark on me.
How did you learn to cook?
I definitely learned through Mom. But then I lived on my own with some family friends when I was 16 and then I really began experimenting with cooking. I also worked as a prep cook when I was that age, at a Mexican restaurant. So that was a big influence as well. It took one really awesome employer who was well trained as a chef and who put full faith in me. Even though I was young he just gave me full responsibility and taught me how to make a lot of the sauces.
What sense do you rely on most when you’re cooking?
I use my sense of smell more than anything, definitely. When I know onions or celery are soft enough, it’s partly vision, but mainly you can smell them becoming really fragrant. And it’s easier to know what fragrant means if you have a glass of wine in your hand. Even when I write down recipes, I’ll write, “sauté until fragrant.” As soon as it gets to the top part of your nose, you know. When you can taste it through your nose. That’s usually how I think when I’m cooking.
How do you like to cook?
When you’re cooking at home, it’s important to feel really comfortable and not rushed. Even having something to nibble on or a glass of wine really helps. Also, if you cook at a low temperature, you don’t have to worry about timing as much. Put your burner on low and five extra minutes isn’t going to make a huge difference. Relax and enjoy the process!