Alaina Browne, Hustler of Eats, 30, San Francisco, CA
If eating well is one of life’s luxuries, than Alaina lives a very full life. She co-hosts Nintendo Sundays at her Bay area apartment and likes to snuggle with Raptor, her cat and Chelsie, her dog. A rabid fan of food, her passion for edible goods is infectious. Find out what’s happening on the culinary cutting edge at Alaina's food blog, A Full Belly.
How many careers have you had? What is your current title?
I don't know that I've had a career yet, but I've certainly had a few jobs. I've been a barista, banker, call center sales person, project and product managers, and student. Currently working for Mule Design where I have several titles, including VP of t-shirts.
What project will you be working on next?
Researching, writing, and updating Afullbelly.com is the project de jour, and keeps me as busy as I allow it. There's also a documentary film about my mom(s) and food I'd like to make, and a new job.
Your house is burning down. What one possession (aside from human/animal life) would you grab on the way out?
My laptop, keeper and protector of my digital lifestyle, including photos and music.
When and how did we meet?
Justin gave an email introduction after realizing we all lived on 21st Street (and had a lot to talk about). We met for dinner at Sumile, a meal I will remember as my first sighting of fresh wasabi root.
What is Afullbelly.com? How did that come about?
The belly, as I like to call it, was born out of NYC Eats. NYC Eats came to exist shortly after I moved to New York City. Food culture in New York is unique, at least in the U.S. People eat out and order in regularly because apartments and kitchens are small, and buying groceries and lugging them home is not necessarily a cheaper or more convenient option. So I was eating out a lot and I started paying attention to the culture around dining out in New York City. It was the discovery of an aspect of food that I hadn't considered before.
NYC Eats became a sort of chronicle of my hobby-ization of dining out and food in New York. My tag line was (and still is, I suppose), "I used to be obsessed with indie rock, now I'm obsessed with food," because it's the same kind of thing in my mind. So when I moved to San Francisco, I knew I’d want to continue to follow the New York City dining scene, and begin to explore the San Francisco scene through a weblog. So afullbelly.com was born.
Are you a food critic, foodie or gourmand?
I’m definitely not a food critic, and it's not a job I’d want to have. Without a doubt, I’m a foodie and not a gourmand. I love cheap and messy food too much to ever be accepted into the ranks of gourmands.
You mentioned wanting to shoot a documentary film about your mom(s) and food you’d like to make. Tell me more.
Both my mom and my mother-in-law to be come from wealthy Asian families, meaning they never saw their moms in the kitchen, then both ended up in the states and married and had to learn to cook. Both are excellent, self-taught cooks who don't follow recipes or write down their own. I got the idea from a food blog I was reading who documented her grandmother's cooking with photos and recipes. And thought video might be a better medium to capture this kind of cooking in a way that I’d better be able to replicate myself. So the idea would be tell their stories through their cooking. Now I just need to get a DV cam.
Our moms are amazing self-taught cooks. Do you think women in our generation are taking the time to do the same?
Because I’m around a lot of like-minded people, I tend to think that there's a movement back into the kitchen. As examples of the broader movement, I’d cite the popularity of the Food Network and show's like Rachel Ray's 30-minute meals, and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine. Perhaps a modern version of what our moms were/are doing.
As a working woman myself, and not even a parent, I find it challenging to balance a full day of work with the work of making a home including preparing a "real" dinner for myself, as much as I enjoy cooking. That’s the one thing my mom didn't teach me -- how to plan a meal!
What are your favorite food combinations these days?
This will definitely give away my non-gourmand self. Rice Chex sprinkled with Trader Joe's ginger granola and vanilla soy milk. I miss Popeye’s. But Popeye’s does remind me...In-n-Out cheeseburger and fries. Does that count?
Excellent, those burgers are damn tasty especially with some grilled onions. I’m always down for a lemon rosemary roasted chicken and roasted fingerling potatoes. Cracked black pepper turkey and some brie. Prosciutto and pear.
As we say in our household, I can always eat (laughing).
Do you have cities you like for culinary travel? Have you had the chance to travel somewhere just for the experience of new foods?
I’ve not yet made a strictly for food vacation/trip. Now that we're living in San Francisco, my favorite city to visit for culinary treats is New York City, naturally. But there are new foods to be experienced anywhere you go -- you just have to look. When I went to Taipei a few years ago to visit family (any visit with family means lots and lots of food), some of the most vivid memories are food memories. I experienced stinky tofu and bubble tea for the first time in the same night on that trip and I will never forget either experience.
Is there a food you know you'd never try again?
There are very few foods that I dislike. I’m a lover, not a hater. And I believe if you don't like a food, you just haven't had it prepared correctly. But beets.
I love beets. What’s the matter with beets?
I do not like beets. I’ve tried all sorts of beets, and I’ve never enjoyed them.
Oh I love them in salads and in some soups. But with salads, the texture and weight is just right to make me feel I ate something hearty. Perhaps I should experiment with salads. I'm still open to liking them. It just hasn't happened yet. Sea cucumber is another one I can pass on. Everything else is fair game.
Please tell me about your new job!
I’ve joined the creative force known as mule design based here in San Francisco. They’ve got a pretty diverse portfolio, having worked for clients like Yahoo!, Snapfish.com, 826 Valencia, and the United Nations. I’m contributing my project and business management skills to the team. It’s exciting to be part of a creative, smart, and small enough to be nimble company.
Both your day job and passion (food blogging) are rooted in the technology industry. How did you get involved in this field?
It certainly wasn't planned. I've always been somewhat tech savvy (I was Computer Science Student of the Year in 7th grade). But it wasn't a central part of my identity. I graduated from college with a degree in women's studies and a minor in philosophy and had no idea what I wanted to do. So I took a job at a bank, which lasted about eight months and then I left to join some friends of mine who were working at a cool internet company, Mindspring. And then, it was more about working somewhere fun than about working with tech. But that, of course, changed over time. And technology is an important part of all facets of my life now. It’s how I keep in touch with family and friends, it's what I do for fun, and it’s my work. Mostly, it seems like a good thing.
What is the perfect gig?
My challenge in finding the perfect gig is balancing the perfect gig and the rest of my life. I have perfectionist tendencies when it comes to work, which can makes things more stressful than necessary. I like to think the perfect gig would involve being my own boss, but I fear I might be too tough a boss in practice. A perfect gig would also involve the excitement and reward of many product launches. I looove product launches almost as much as I love good food. So far, working for Mule is as close as I’ve been to the perfect gig.
Please list three favorite food haunts in New York City and San Francisco.
New York – New Green Bo [for the] soup dumplings and a few other hidden gems on their menu. I’ve come to love the borderline abusive service. And, it's right across the street from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which serves my favorite ginger ice cream. Grimaldi's; I’ll never tire of their pizza or the view of Manhattan from the Fulton ferry landing. Only three is tough...the Union Square Green Market. Shop there early and frequently.
San Francisco – Ferry Terminal Market. It can be a bit pricey and crowded with tourists, but it's in the neighborhood. Lulu introduced me to the Alemany Farmers Market, another favorite -- affordable organic produce, and a more "ethnic" selection. Third would have to be Trader Joe’s. I didn't get the appeal at first, but now I’m totally hooked.
What is the best moment of the day?
When I’m running regularly, it's my running time. It’s one of the few times of the day when I manage to empty my brain. That’s a good feeling.