Coming back home on March 12 was a very surreal, and ultimately very boring, experience. The final three days of school that were supposed to launch us into spring break were instead filled with long hours where I spent more time on YouTube and Hulu than should be legal. As my eyes glazed over during my 200th consecutive episode of Chopped, I knew there had to be something more to this life of captivity than met the eye. Then I began the chefsta (shorthand for chef Instagram, of course).
In my past life, there’s no doubt in my mind that I was a chef. When I was growing up, my basement was filled with plastic foods for my little wooden kitchen. I ran a very tight ship at my fake restaurant with my sisters, often to the point of irritation for them. Even my favorite Barbie had her own cooking show. I graduated from there to the Easy Bake Oven, then to adult-size appliances, but the love of cooking persisted with unending strength. My mom was constantly supportive of these endeavors, supplying me with any ingredients I requested and often giving me tips on how to make recipes even better. I love everything that making food entails, so when I was met by a massive abyss of free time, I decided to devote some more time to honing this craft.
On March 14, better understood as Pi Day (3/14, get it?), I created @gretaschefsta on Instagram. I posted four pictures of pies that I had made for my friends that day (back when no one really knew if it was still socially acceptable to see people and give them food). The chocolate pudding pie, blueberry pie, pecan pie and sugar cream pie went over very well with my audience, or a group better known as my close family and friends who would support me even if I posted pictures of the contents of a garbage disposal.
Since starting my “chefsta,” I’ve ventured into culinary spheres that I never had the time for before. I took my first shot at bread making with a recipe from The Bread Bible, which I received as a Christmas present a year ago (shoutout to my mom). It takes a lot more time and patience than the average pre-pandemic individual has, so I was thrilled to officially adorn myself as someone who had finally checked that box.
After posting my first few creations, I got more excited to deliver for the small audience I had acquired. I was proud to take on some of my favorite staples for the first time: patatas bravas, spinach cheese dip, jalapeno poppers, buffalo chicken poppers and so much more. I ventured into completely new territory by making crackers from scratch with a special flour that my uncle sent me. It turned into a responsibility of sorts, like I owed it to my friends and to myself to try new foods and tell them how it went. Their support brightened my day, even if it was just out of kindness and not genuine amazement (you’d have to ask them what the truth is).
I’d like to take a moment to disclaim that by no means is my chefsta especially impressive to the eye. I quickly learned that taking well-lit pictures of your dishes is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I’ve enjoyed paling in comparison to fellow foodies on Instagram and learning from their ways. Special shoutout to Brody Silva and Nikki Gander, who have more beautiful food instas than I could ever dream of.
The chefsta has definitely evolved in purpose since its genesis. My former bio on Instagram used to read: “My goal by the end of the coronavirus mayhem is to get really good at cooking and baking.” Now it reads: “The coronavirus mayhem has no end in sight, so this is now a lifetime journey of culinary betterment.”
Soon after returning back to Baltimore, the chefsta was able to reach new heights. Despite the loss of the more diverse set of kitchen equipment at my house in Illinois (I miss my dear cast iron skillet so much), my chef skills were actually being forced to flex their muscles because I now had to cook for myself. Luckily, my sous chef and boyfriend Chris (also a chefsta owner, @chrispfood) was able to make his triumphant return from South Korea and assist me in these ventures.
My world turned upside down after Chris made me pork belly for the first time. I similarly lost my mind after tasting a steak he made the next day. There truly is no better complement to my cooking than Chris’ ability to cook meats to perfection. The chefsta soon became populated with full and delicious dinner plates, sometimes with a dessert sprinkled in between. We tackled fried mac and cheese balls, buttermilk pancakes from scratch, buttermilk fried chicken, pasta aglio e olio and each came out more delicious than the last. We’ve also done enough tweaking to solidify the most impeccable mac and cheese recipe known to man. (Hint: The key ingredient is an obscene amount of cayenne pepper.)
Not only the chefsta, but cooking as a whole, has been a much-needed distraction from this year and a genuinely fun activity. I wasn’t expecting sophomore year to be the year when I would have to figure out how to sustain a healthy diet and cook for myself on a regular basis. I was fully ready to stuff my face with Levering Kitchens’ chicken tenders without guilt for two more semesters. But despite being thrown into this situation a little earlier than we could have predicted, the chefsta has served as a motivating creative outlet to make the best of it.
TL;DR: Follow me and other foodies on Instagram. Looking at pictures of food is fun.