Food memories: Q&A with Jarrett Melendez
At Primary Beans, we see food as a powerful source of connection, memory, and love. So we’ve invited some of our favorite creators to share their own food memories, and the recipes and people who inspired them. Introducing Food memories– a rotating collection of stories from our favorite home cooks, chefs, and bean enthusiasts, featuring all your favorite beans and showcasing recipes, tips, and bean magic from around the world.
Meet our friend, Jarrett Melendez, an incredibly talented recipe developer and author, whose work can be seen on sites like Food52, Bon Appétit, and Saveur. He created an exclusive bean recipe for us, No-ketchup sticky baked beans, perfectly emblematic of the transition from summer to fall. We chatted with Jarrett about his early food memories, cooking style, and how he's merging his loves for comics and food.
Tell us about your early memories in the kitchen.
I got started cooking at a fairly young age, helping my mom out with little tasks until I was old enough to use the stove on my own. My first “recipe” was for scrambled eggs when I was 9 or 10. I worked in diners and drive-ins around my hometown before and after college, and spent some time living in Tokyo, where I learned to cook homestyle dishes from my friends’ host parents. After college, I lived in Mexico and helped a family friend open a Japanese restaurant. From there, I moved on to writing about food and travel, developing my own recipes at home, and have contributed recipes, tips, and equipment and appliance reviews to Bon Appétit, Food52, Epicurious, and Saveur.
What all goes into being a recipe developer?
Recipe development is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work! You have to be patient and scientific in your approach. You also need a solid foundation of cooking basics so you can experiment with different ingredients and methods. When developing a new recipe, I’ll typically start with a single ingredient, whatever I want to be the star of the show. From there, I’ll decide on flavor profiles, techniques, cuisine, etc. Then I’ll begin testing, starting with ingredients I think will work. Once the dish is complete, I’ll taste it, and have other people taste and give feedback. It can be really tempting to make a lot of changes all at once, but it’s best to make one change at a time, make the recipe again, taste again, get more feedback, and adjust. Really simple things, like “this needs more salt,” I’ll just adjust on the fly and make a note in the recipe, but major changes should always be made one at a time.
What led you to shift into writing graphic novels? Tell us about them and how they connect back to your love of food.
I’ve been interested in comics since I was a little kid– they’re part of how I learned to read in the first place! After moving back to the states from Mexico, when I was in my mid-20s, I got involved with the comic book industry, helping run a small comic convention, and working at a comic shop. From there, I met my business partner, and we've been running an agency, Comic Art House, for almost 9 years that represents comic creators for their convention appearances and art sales. Over time, I decided to combine my two loves, food and comics, and started writing my debut graphic novel, Chef’s Kiss with my co-creator, Danica Brine. It hits stores March 2022, published by Oni Press. I’m also currently working on a graphic memoir (i.e., a memoir in graphic novel form!), a sci-fi comic, and a middle-grade fantasy graphic novel, along with a few other projects still in development.
What's your cooking philosophy and style? Favorite way to prepare beans?
I try not to be too precious about cooking (baking is an entirely different story, though) and really like using ingredients that taste good. Do I love a dry-aged porterhouse steak from an organic farm? Yes, of course. Will I also eat SPAM? Absolutely! 80% of the time, when I’m making beans, it’s a big pot of pintos so I can have refried beans for days.