Hi friends! I'm so excited to share with you an old friend of mine who is now a food writer, blogger, chef, and social media brand strategist. Renee Frojo is the creator and chef-in-charge of the website Laurel Street Kitchen: California Cooking with a Touch of Spice, which she runs out of her kitchen (which is on, you guessed it, Laurel Street) in San Francisco. Renee and I grew up together in Auburn, Alabama, and even though our lives took us in very different directions, it has been so great to reconnect through our passions for food and our businesses!
As a part of her work with Laurel Street Kitchen (LSK), she maintains an Instagram account of her latest culinary creations that she is constantly cooking up for friends, her family and clients, and it is by far one of the best foodie accounts out there. Her website is always my first stop whenever I'm in a food rut and I have absolutely no idea what I'm cooking for dinner - and it never disappoints! Plus she regularly hosts other established food personalities in Facebook Live events for cooking demos and live chats.
Recently Renee was kind enough to chat with me about her journey to starting her website, life as a mom of one (and soon-to-be two!), her favorite meals to cook for her family, and a look behind the scenes of running one of the hottest food blogs. I'm sure you'll love her and find her as inspiring as I do!
Tell us a bit about you, where you’re from and your early years.
Right now, I’m lots of things. I’m a mother, a wife, a writer, a cook, a blogger, an amateur photographer and a social media consultant. (Not necessarily in that order). While I was born in Auburn, Alabama, I lived in Cancun, Mexico for the first 8 years of my life. My mother and I returned to the South after my father passed away. She remarried and I got a very lovable little brother (who’s now a towering 6”2 doctor!).
How do you think your upbringing has shaped you?
In countless ways. I have conflicting desires to put down roots and constantly travel from being brought up in a pretty international place that was so different from the place I ended up spending my remaining formative years. I also don’t take life for granted or too seriously, knowing that’s it short and goodbyes are inevitable.
What was it about the food and beverage industry that called you to make it your career?
Before attending culinary school, I was a reporter working for a local newspaper. I loved my job. I got to report on restaurants, retail, nonprofits and entrepreneurs of all sorts doing interesting things and following their passion. It inspired me to try pursue my own passions, which, at the time, was a mixed bag of creative endeavors that included cooking, photography and big idea generation. While I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office in front of a computer all day. I wanted to be on my feet, doing something creative with my hands. So, culinary school called me!
What let you to start your food blog, Laurel Street Kitchen?
I wanted a space where I could showcase all the things that I was experimenting with in my kitchen and with my time. It’s a place where I could talk about life, family and discovery around the theme of food. I also wanted to see firsthand what it takes to build and grow a brand in this new social media digital age, and how I could apply those learnings to help other emerging brands reach new audiences.
What does a typical day in your life look like? And what have become your best tools in balancing work, life and motherhood?
Oh girl, there is no typical day. As hard as I try to keep a schedule, it just doesn’t work out for me. While it can drive me crazy, I think part of me thrives on that unpredictability. On any given day, I could be cooking and shooting three recipes in my kitchen. Then, I’ll switch gears and sit down to do an interview for a story I’m working on. Then I’ll take my daugher to music class. Then I’ll drop her off with my husband and rush to finish up some editing work and cook dinner. Then we put her to bed and I get back on my computer to answer emails, engage with folks on instagram, chat with my husband a bit, drink some sleepytime tea and try to get a good night’s sleep. Best tools: My iPhone calendar and Instacart for grocery shopping.
How has your husband’s Indian heritage influenced your work?
Well, it has significantly shaped the theme of my blog, which is “California cooking with a touch of spice.” I wanted to work with Indian spices partially because I want to be able to cook more of that kind of food for him, but also because they’re super interesting flavors that could be used in so many creative ways. The challenge is not making the recipes too complicated or unattainable. Also, the food I feel most comfortable cooking is super simple Mexican, Italian and Californian-type stuff that’s light, healthy and full of veggies. The hard part is really in trying to be creative and challenging myself, while staying true to what I really love to make.
What is the best marriage advice you’ve ever received?
Be sympathetic. Even when you’re convinced the other person is crazy, always try understand where they might be coming from.
How has becoming a mom changed you?
Oh man. I don’t even know. I’m still a little lost here!
What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?
Practice the pause. If your baby or kid is whining or crying or vying for your attention, just wait a minute before you respond. For me, teaching patience is everything! Also, don’t forget to take care of yourself (seriously, it’s good for everyone!).
And you and your husband are preparing to welcome Baby #2! That is so exciting! Any advice for families who are preparing to welcome another child?
Um, none whatsoever. I have no idea what we’re in for!
What is your favorite meal to prepare for your family?
Fish tacos. They’re fast, healthy and always a hit.
What are your go-to weeknight meals?
Lentils and rice. Veggie and meat-packed chilis. A root vegetable soup of sorts and salad. Roast chicken with some sort of delicious sauce and roasted vegetables. You know, the basics :)
Is there a special meal that you like to share with your daughter?
Does ice cream count?
What do you love to cook for a date night in with your spouse?
We like to go out for date nights! But if I were to cook something just for him, it would be some sort of Asian noodle soup thing. He loves noodle soups.
Who are your favorite chefs and why?
Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions here in San Francisco is the first one that comes to mind. He’s just so brilliant and so passionate and so incredibly good at what he does.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Plenty, Plenty More and the Food Lover’s Cleanse. Also, not a cookbook, but my favorite resource: The Flavor Bible.
This is not meant to be a morbid question – but say you only had one more meal left on this earth. What would you eat and drink, where would you dine and who would you share it with?
I’d have pizza and some good beers on the beach in Mexico with all of my best girlfriends, my family, my daughters and husband.