The widespread rise of food culture in mainstream lifestyles has given way to celebrity chefs, culinary pop culture, and a multitude of cooking blogs. Few blogs have quite the charm, though, of Shipley alumna Molly Gilbert ’02’s site dunkandcrumble.com
A 2002 graduate of Shipley, Gilbert didn’t focus on cooking in high school or begin her career with the goal of becoming an author and blogger, but she attributes the skills she developed during her time in Bryn Mawr with giving her the basic tools she needed to succeed. Preparation for Success
“Shipley laid the foundation for me to be successful in college, and while it didn’t directly influence my interest in food and cooking, it laid the groundwork,” she says. “Shipley definitely gave me that firm foundation of knowing how to write and to express myself through writing.”
“Shipley is a safe, nurturing environment,” says Gilbert, who was able to focus her academics towards liberal arts studies, particularly the course in American Studies at Shipley, which ended up influencing Gilbert’s choice to major in American Studies in college at Amherst College.
“I learned how to read, analyze readings, and how to write really well, which definitely carried over through college and obviously the rest of my life,” she says.
“I was so prepared for college when I went,” says Gilbert, who thrived in the small environment of Amherst, which she likens to Shipley. Creativity in the Kitchen
After graduation, Gilbert followed the path of many of her classmates and went right to work at a consulting firm in Boston, The Bard Group, now Navigant Consulting. “Most people coming out of school were getting jobs at consulting firms or taking LSATs or trying to be doctors, so I thought that’s what people do,” she says.
But Gilbert didn’t find much happiness in life as a consultant and instead, night after night, she found herself gravitating towards the kitchen. “I was trying to flex my creative muscles, because I was stuck in a cubicle all day,” says Gilbert, “so I would come home and test recipes.” That’s when dunkandcrumble.com was founded.
At first, Gilbert didn’t take the blog too seriously—it started out just for her. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” says Gilbert, but each night after spending the day at the office, she would find herself in the kitchen experimenting with recipes, reading cookbooks, and watching all kinds of cooking shows. “It’s never been about getting sponsors and advertisers and getting people to read it,” she says, “which I think has helped.”
“Eventually I had a lightbulb moment,” says Gilbert, who realized she could pursue the culinary arts as a career and decided to go to culinary school. Soon, she moved to New York to enroll in the French Culinary Institute, now called International Culinary Center, where she pursued a six-month course in professional culinary arts followed by a six-month pastry program. Forging Her Own Path
From the start, though, Gilbert knew she didn’t want to pursue the same path as most of her cooking school classmates. “I always knew that I didn’t want to work in a restaurant and that I wanted to explore the literary side of food and the creative writing part of food,” she says.
Despite having a different perspective, Gilbert loved learning all about cooking and the culinary world. “I loved culinary school, and I learned so much,” she says. “Having that foundation has really helped my career moving forward. I think people trust your judgment about food and recipes when you have that background.”
Thanks to a relationship she built while establishing her culinary credibility, Gilbert recently published her first cookbook. “The cookbook has been an amazing, amazing thing,” she says, and it came about as a result of Gilbert’s experience while in culinary school in New York.
While in school, Gilbert worked an assortment of culinary odd jobs—as a private chef, a kids cooking instructor, a Saveur magazine test kitchen cook, and she worked in the kitchen at Liddabit Sweets, an artisan candy company based in Brooklyn. “We became friends,” says Gilbert of her connection with the company’s owners. Sheet Pan Suppers
Years later, Liddabit Sweets owners, Liz Gutman and Jen King, introduced Gilbert to their editor at Workman Publishing, who had the idea to develop a cookbook about cooking full meals on a sheet pan. “I loved the idea and thought it was super clever,” says Gilbert, “so I got in the kitchen, started testing recipes and put a book proposal together.”
Fast forward to two years later, and Gilbert’s first cookbook, Sheet Pan Suppers, (Workman Publishing Company, Inc.) is now in print and available for purchase. The book is designed precisely for those who cook at home, largely since Gilbert produced all of the recipes from her home kitchen, without the luxuries of a commercial restaurant kitchen.
The process presented its share of pitfalls, and one of Gilbert’s biggest challenges was dealing with the large amount of food produced via a sheet-pan meal. “We ended up having a lot of people over for dinner and giving food to neighbors to get these sheet pan meals off our hands,” says Gilbert.
Ultimately, though, all of the testing, sampling, and hard work paid off. Gilbert loved the process—and the recipes she produced. A few of her favorite recipes are the quick chicken and broccoli with peanut sauce (“It’s super quick to come together and cooks in 20 minutes, so it’s great for a weeknight,” she says), the French bread pizza, and the grilled cheese with apple and smoked cheddar.
Assessing the trajectory of her food writing career, Gilbert marvels a bit at the success she’s built. By beginning with a blog, gaining expertise in her field, and chasing down her dreams, Gilbert has been able to attain her goal of having a career in the culinary space. “It started out just for me and it’s grown,” she says. “I’d love to just keep putting out good and delicious content.”