Maggie Humphreys is a chef, gardener, wife and mother. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Blair and sons, Bonn (3) and Naaman (1). She grew up in and around the kitchen at home with mom Nancy and at the restaurants of her dad, Robert Ross of Packard’s New American Kitchen and Interurban. Maggie studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Boston and trained at the French Laundry. We spent a morning in the kitchen with Maggie talking about food, family and Thomas Keller.
Where did you learn to cook?
I learned from my family—my mom and dad.
What/who are your biggest influences?
My biggest influence is, not a person, but travel: just visiting new cities and seeing how people eat and live, and how eating is a part of life and a part of culture. You get to step into their life just for a week while you’re there. You taste all these new kinds of foods that are normal to them—so while strawberries and bananas are normal to us, kumquats and passion fruit are normal to Australians. You get to integrate yourself into that culture for a week and start to feel like a local. Then when you come home you get to make that a part of your own way of eating and cooking style.
You lived in Boston and Napa before moving back to Oklahoma. How did those places influence your cooking?
Boston was a growing process. Being in school there for a year, I spent a lot of time studying history and the traditional French style of cooking. That was a big part of culinary school: history and learning. I grew up feeling like I knew a lot about cooking, but I got there and realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. That was an eye opening experience.
In Napa, I really started to love gardening. At that time, there was a big shift from gastronomy with all of the foams and fancy things to foraging and eating local. Basically, the change from elBulli [Ferran Adrià’s Michelin three star restaurant, which closed in 2011] to Noma, which is all about foraging. That change happened while I was in Napa. I worked in the garden [at the French Laundry] every week. I got to forage mushrooms and pick figs all the time. That made me want to have my own garden. I learned so much. I feel like the best way to learn is hands on experience. In Boston we lived in such a small place that I didn’t have room to plant anything. When we came back to Oklahoma and found this house with four garden plots I just loved it. My mom has gardened forever, so I grew up going out to pick zucchini and lettuce for dinner, but I didn’t appreciate it until I did. It was always normal to me, but it didn’t become a passion until I just started.
What do you like best about your kitchen?
I always wanted a really light, open, airy kitchen, so what I love most is all of the natural light. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, until it’s dark there’s always light coming through some window. I love that and that I have a view of the whole backyard because that’s where Bonn and Naaman are all the time. I love that I can just peek through the windows and see that they’re doing okay because they are outside most of the time.
What ingredient can you not get enough of?
Probably thyme and mint. Thyme is my favorite herb so I throw it in everything.
Hence the name of your blog, Sharing Thyme?
What kitchen gadget can you not live without?
My big knife. Or a blender. I use a blender a lot these days.
When did you decide to go to culinary school?
When we knew we were moving to Boston. There was a culinary school right next to where Blair was in school. They were both in Cambridge and it was actually right next door. I always wanted to, but I didn’t know of a place here in Oklahoma City at the time. It just seemed like perfect timing. I had been teaching cooking classes at Williams Sonoma before we went so I just thought it would be good to put an education behind my passion.
Describe a favorite meal.
Oh, there’s so many! Just one? [laughs]
I love homemade pasta and a fresh red sauce or meat sauce. I love that. That is a comfort food for me. I also love anything on the grill. Grilling outside with fresh vegetables and meats is probably one of my favorite things to cook. And then another one I love to do is just an antipasto platter. I love to do cheeses, salamis, saucissons, and all kinds of fruits. You can just pick and take what you want with a fresh crusty bread along with it. Those are probably my top three comfort foods.
Favorite local eatery?
What is unique about the food scene in Oklahoma?
I would say the excitement that is building in Downtown and Midtown. Everyone is so excited to try and support new places. New local restaurants keep popping up and people want to walk and bike there. I think that’s the most exciting thing to me right now because, instead of everything pushing out and getting bigger and becoming just another big city, we are making our own culture and keeping it closer and more tight-knit. It’s making a really cool walkable, bikeable culture. You can either go one direction or the other, and I feel like we are slowly taking the latter with the walkability and the biking.
What do you love about living in Oklahoma?
The people. Family. Not the wind. [laughs]
What do you enjoy most about your making process?
Just feeding people and creating a life experience out of food. Building community and memories. You have the memories of a cake or the bread and butter or a cocktail, but it’s really about the time together.
Tell me about Packards and your involvement.
My dad was going to open a new restaurant in Midtown and he came to us, the kids, and said he wanted our ideas. I would say it’s a younger version along the same restaurant path that my dad and his partner Rusty have been on. They came to all the kids and asked for our input. So we, the Ross’s and the Loeffler’s, said this is what we like and this what we don’t like. I worked on it for a year, helping with the first menu, and my little brother [Packards’ manager John Ross] and I designed the restaurant during that time. Since then there have been several chefs who have come in and developed their own menu, so now I am more of a consultant. I get to go in and sample and give suggestions or ideas. It was about a year ago that it opened, right before Naaman was born. It’s been doing good for a year and is just getting better and better. I really liked doing the design and décor elements with my little brother, who is amazing at so many different things. It was really fun to work together.
Tell me about French Laundry?
It was a lot of work. Definitely long hours. I think the days were 12-14 hours.
My favorite thing about it was seeing the best of the best come in. All the farmers would save their very best produce for French Laundry: the biggest mushroom or fanciest wine. All these different producers, they would provide elements to several restaurants, but they would save that one perfect batch for French Laundry. Just seeing the pristine produce was really amazing. We always had really cool cuts of meats and cheeses that were top notch that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. I got to see and sample things that I wouldn’t have been able to at any other restaurants.
What is Thomas Keller like?
Thomas Keller is very serious, but also very nice. He would walk in the kitchen and everything had to be pristine: nothing on the floor, nothing out of place at your station. Your towel had to be perfectly on your apron. He ran a very tight ship. He was great. I got to know him while I was there and it was really fun to talk to him.
Connect with Maggie at the Maker’s Table…
- Photography: Courtney Waugh | email@example.com
- Food: www.sharingthyme.com