Chef Profile: Amanda McLemore, Founder of Baguette & Butter - Chicago
Hi Amanda! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Amanda McLemore. I was born and raised in Detroit, MI and now live in Chicago, IL.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I always had a dream to become a chef, I went to two culinary schools, one being Kendall College in Chicago, IL and worked in fine grocery stores and at Nordstrom in their restaurant division. I learned more about gardening when I was teaching kids to cook at Chicago Lights Urban Farm.
What led you to start Baguette & Butter? What was the concept when it started? How has it evolved?
Baguette & Butter started as a food blog to help an introverted girl express her journey as she learned about food. It was mostly penpal style notes about my days in culinary school or me attempting to recreate recipes from fiction novels I was reading. Baguette & Butter really evolved once I graduated from culinary school and I wanted to learn more about where my food comes from and how it is grown, so I gave up the grocery store for a year to see if it was possible to grow my own food, connect with local farmers, and detox from the big box grocery stores.
What did you learn about the food industry from working in various restaurants and kitchens? What made you want to transition out on your own?
There is so much waste, lack of transparency, and being a chef or cook in a restaurant is taxing on your health, mentally and physically. I always knew I would create my own business even though I was not sure when, what or honesty how. Later I realized that I could grow my community with Baguette & Butter and become a support system to others by teaching them what I’ve learned and continue to learn.
Now working on Baguette & Butter nearly full-time, what are the values and pillars of your business?
Transparency to our food system, inclusivity because our sustainable food movement is not as easy as shopping in bulk when many communities don’t have access or funding to afford or even drive to stores or resources that help us eat more sustainably. This is why I continue to work as an online platform so any community can gain access to my education, and lastly community, it takes a village to come together and mend our health, our cities, and the earth.
Could you tell people a little bit about how you gave up grocery stores for a year? Do you have a few tips on how to shop more sustainably, focusing on local consumption?
I allowed myself to eat at local restaurants as to not become a complete homesteading hermit but it really begins with understanding how you eat and building a core of staple items. I still keep the same staple items since 2016. From there begin to shop at the farmers markets or pay more attention at grocery stores to see where you are sourcing your food from. In the summer I don’t eat winter garlic and squash, in the winter I don’t eat asparagus and strawberries, eventually you will learn the seasons and what is local to you and how to preserve the items you love for the months they are not in season. Preserving is what truly eliminates a fair amount of packaging.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
My community! I have not met many of the people in our city dweller gang in person, but I truly love how we bond online. We share advice, successes, and learning curves and I love that many inbox me with photos of their preserves or with questions. Creating a community space for transparency and the ability to start where you are without being judged is very important to me.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face?
Making sure I not only show up online but also in person and easing people into online food education.
What are some of your short/long term goals?
I am working on an online program called Nourish Thanksgiving which is an interactive kitchen coaching dedicated to being a support and education system to those desiring to cook a more nourishing meal that is both beautiful and sustainable. Long term, I want to be able to travel and host more events to my city dwellers in cities other than Chicago.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
My mom has seven sisters and I have an older sister. The support, care, and community that comes from women that are there for one another is priceless. I have learned over the years because of these women in my life how to be there for people when they need me and most of all how the role of the nourishing food they prepared brought us together and healed us when we were sick, happy or even heartbroken.
We have a series called Purchase from Women - what women-owned businesses are you encouraging with your dollars?
Terra-Tory Skincare, Bike-a-Bee Honey, Faith’s Farm.
What are 5 of your pantry staples?
Oats, Apple Cider Vinegar (which I make from bruised apples from the farmers market), Maple Syrup, Beans, and Spelt Flour.
Favorite recipe at the moment?
Borcht, a russian beet soup.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I have been teaching myself how to garden for larger yields. Thus far I should have enough garlic and onions grown from my backyard to get us through the winter.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
Restaurant wise, Bad Hunter and Cellar Door Provisions. Garden wise, I love Gethsemane Garden Center and City Grange. As for places to roam in the city, Garfield Park Conservatory, any used book store and Maria’s (for a good cocktail to read with said used book).