Bronwyn Jones Dunne
A dinner guest at the home of Bronwyn Dunne easily sees care and artistry displayed before even tasting the evening fare. Every detail is exquisite—one feels welcomed and immediately at ease, knowing that the best is yet to come. A table set with flair, a sprig of lemon thyme and nasturtium gracing a small bowl of hummus and wafting smells from the kitchen begin the evening. Growing up with a legacy of culinary role models and her own passion for art, Dunne has enjoyed cooking for friends, family and strangers her entire life. And so begins a double love affair that combines art and food that she has mastered beautifully.
Surrounded by a family of cookbook authors and editors, she was always testing recipes for her father, Evan Jones, a well-known cookbook author, and stepmom, Judith Jones, famed Julia Child editor. It was like osmosis for Dunne, and since the age of nine, she was a frequent kitchen helper. It was not unusual for galleys of the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking to be spread across the kitchen table amidst the flour and oil—a book that would influence her cooking for decades. Dunne learned technique from Mastering, which introduced French cooking to American home cooks. It’s a “how to” book—a seminal book—in which Julia Child gives the reader the skinny. Dunne shares, “It was my fun. I would find a recipe on a rainy afternoon and just make it.”
She learned the skills by trying recipes and by observing really good cooks. “I still watch my step-mom, Judith, in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s the little finesses that make it special. Watching her make a pie crust is a bit like art for her—she turns the dough around when she rolls it and puts thumbprints around the edge so gracefully.” Dunne focuses on the details and admires cooks who do. Chef and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich roasts a few tablespoons of tomato paste in the bottom of the pan before adding the rest of the ingredients for sauce. This little step creates a deeper flavor and makes a difference in the taste.
As a young girl, Dunne loved taking classes at the Museum of Modern Art, modeling clay and transforming it into various objects—she brought these art skills to the kitchen—an organic process of sorts that has served her well.
Part of the joy of being in the kitchen with Dunne is the stories that come alive that she shares while still focused on the task at hand. Many take place in the interesting places she has lived including Armenia, France, and Oxford, England. She always took pride in cooking from the local terroir. She inspires people to enjoy cooking and try recipes they have never used before, again with a focus on what is in season when possible. This is what makes Dunne so enchanting to be around. Cooking is pure entertainment for her. She gets in the zone and doesn’t get too tied to exactly what the recipe says but rather uses it as a jumping-off point.
Zucchini bread at first seemed like an ordinary, almost boring choice for a woman with a vast collection of recipes. But then, I remembered who I was dealing with. Once I set forth to prepare the bread in her kitchen, complete with classical music streaming and the backdrop of the Green Mountains, I realized that this would not be just any zucchini bread. In keeping with her character, the little extras of orange zest and ginger transformed it. When cut, the loaf looked so attractive with flecks of green showing along with a touch of orange, and marbled with walnuts.
The zucchini came from her garden plot located at the nearby South Burlington Community Gardens, the first of the season, and somewhat hard to relegate to bread. And of course there was a story to share. James Beard once invited her parents to a book party in New York City to celebrate his new book Beard on Bread. Everyone in the food world was invited—food critics, writers, cooks—and all were requested to bring a loaf of homemade bread. Dunne’s parents asked her to come along at the last minute, and she whipped up her zucchini bread worried that it would join a table graced with the bread-making skills of New York’s illustrious cookbook writers. It was a huge hit, completely devoured, and one she now makes often, given an abundance of zucchini in Vermont. Her father put her recipe in his cookbook The Book of Bread, proud of his daughter’s creativity.
As we cooked together in her kitchen the stories flowed. While living in England, Dunne visited the local green grocer to purchase some Mott’s applesauce, the condiment her mother had always served with roast pork. Putting her hands on her hips, the shop owner said rather sternly, “I know where you live, there’s an apple orchard behind your house.” She sent Dunne home with a recipe and instructions on how many apples she would need to pick. Dunne has made her own homemade applesauce ever since.
It was in that rented house located on the same street as author J.R.R. Tolkien that she discovered a typewritten, bound manuscript of The Hobbit in the living room bookcase. Tolkien had given the families in the neighborhood each copies to read together. While waiting for her roast to cook, she began reading and couldn’t put it down. Two years later the book was published in America.
Holidays were always an opportunity for trying new recipes, and Christmas Eve was for celebrating simple, comfort food and dishes her children enjoyed. One of those many food dishes was her tomato bisque—a favorite of her children’s especially when paired with the “go to” zucchini bread. The kids were always in the kitchen. Now it’s her grandchildren who walk through the door asking, “What are we going to cook, Nana?” The simplicity of the Christmas Eve menu was the prelude to more extravagant festivities ahead.
A combination of factors in Dunne’s life have contributed to her growing success in the food world. She learned discipline from dance, a passion from age seven through her early 20s. Her sense of style emerged from a love of fashion and dressing up the classics with a scarf, something she learned from her stepmother and French influence. She has gathered friends and family for countless parties that have been meticulously planned and beautifully orchestrated.
These days, Dunne is immersed in her monthly blog, In the Kitchen with Bronwyn, where she shares stories and recipes of the emerging local food landscape in Vermont, and hard at work on a book project called Farm: The New Food Landscape.
She inspires us all to push our comfort zones, dare to be creative and try new things in the kitchen. Simple food with a twist. Isn’t that what home cooking should be all about?
Laurie loves any opportunity to cook in the kitchen with Bronwyn, which always includes music, interesting stories of her past food adventures, a stunning vista of the Green Mountains and the delight of watching bird visitors to her outside feeder enjoying good food.