Sometime in January of 2016, I began seeing that many of my Instagram friends were liking photos from an account called @thebreakfastchick. To be frank, I had seen as many photos of avocado toast as one can handle, so I did not think much of these new photos that popped up on my feed.
But eventually I grew curious and soon found out that these photos were, in truth, not so generic, and that the face behind this account was actually a friend of mine at Brown — Catherine Walker-Jacks.
Catherine is now a senior at Brown concentrating in Political Science and graduating this spring, 2017. She bravely started cooking her food in the Grad Center kitchens and continued to cook in her apartment when she took this past semester off (to work on Google’s elections team as a political advertising fellow that helped democratic candidates advertise online).
Despite her busy schedule, we managed to have a Skype interview, and she shed light on some of the questions that many have been pondering for the past year.
Julia: What made you decide to become an Instagram chef? What was your inspiration?
Catherine: I’ve liked cooking for a long time. For a while, I was really into baking. In middle school, I stayed home and was antisocial and watched baking competitions – I learned crazy cake making! Ever since then, I’ve really loved cooking and baking and also photography. I wanted to start a food Instagram for a long time. It was December 2015 when I finished exams and thought, Wow, it’s December 20, and I don’t go back to school for five weeks. I had wanted to do it for a long time, and thanks to Brown’s long Christmas break, it gave me a cool opportunity. It has been eleven months now since it started. When I started it, the account name was @Cateats, and I realize now it’s a stupid name. So I thought, Well, this is my brand, it’s time to do some re-branding. I realized I wanted to focus on breakfast foods — thus was born @thebreakfastchick. A few months ago, one of my best friends from high school wanted to run the account with me as she’s also very into food, so now the account is co-run. Her name is Bridget Bousa.
Julia: Did you have any culinary practice in your earlier years before the baking phase?
Catherine: Nothing formal really. A lot of times, I watched the Food Network. My mother also had too many cookbooks, so I tried all sorts of recipes.
Julia: Do you ever incorporate your food passion into your educational studies?
Catherine: Not really — they have been separate spheres. I took a class my sophomore year called “The Politics of Food”. We learned about food regulation and how the government interplays with all of that, but I haven’t studied anything culinary since then. In the spring, I want to take a nonfiction writing class called “Writing with Food”. Food writing is so awesome, and I really think there is an art to restaurant reviews and generally writing about food. I don’t do much writing right now aside from my silly captions.
Julia: How would you describe your palate?
Catherine: I would say I…well what happens to me is that I find something that I like, and I just want to eat that thing over and over again. That’s why I post photos of avocado toast so much. I am a creature of habit. I do try to incorporate new things because breakfast can get repetitive so I try to keep things interesting. But I could definitely survive off of avocado toast, eggs Benedict, and chocolate chip pancakes.
Julia: So you have your favorite foods to eat. Do you have any favorite foods to cook?
Catherine: I like poaching eggs because it’s kind of tricky…it took practice to nail it. They’re also kind of fancy — well, they’re a step up from a fried egg. The key to poaching an egg is to put vinegar in the water. You put the vinegar first, then bring the water to a boil. You then create a sort of whirlpool effect by moving your spoon in a circle really fast. Then you crack the egg in the middle of that. The combination of the vinegar plus the whirlpool water helps the egg keep its shape. You then turn off the heat, cover the top, and keep it in for four minutes. Now I’m trying to nail hollandaise sauce, so that’s next on the list!
Julia: Wow, sounds challenging! As a food Instagram-er, are you aware of any new food trends?
Catherine: I follow a lot of food accounts, and that inspires many things that I choose to make. For example, a lot of people I follow are making sweet potato toast. You slice a sweet potato and put the slices in a toaster, so it’s kind of like toast. I make a lot of unhealthy food, like chocolate chip pancakes with cookie dough, etc. But I try to balance and try healthy, innovative things. I like twists on classically unhealthy things. It’s all about the balance — we can’t eat chocolate chip pancakes every day. People always ask if I eat all of this on my own, and I’m like, “No, I have friends!” I used to live in Grad Center and cook out of my dorm every day, but I made it work and invited people over every day. I definitely plan on doing that when I get back to Brown because it makes people happy, and I can make fifteen chocolate chip pancakes a day and not feel obliged to eat it all!
Julia: The more the merrier! And where do you see yourself taking this Instagram account?
Catherine: At the moment, my friend and I are just trying to continually post and switch things up. We want a steady stream of photos, and we also want to start making apparel. We’re working on designing a logo to make all sorts of gear. I don’t know…as I said, I always have loved food but I don’t think at this stage in my life I would make food my profession. I would love to come back to it later in life. My friend and I have gotten to work with some brands who have sent us products, and we post photos featuring their brands, so that’s something cool! We also want to start taking videos like Tasty.
Julia: So you would never think about culinary school?
Catherine: I don’t know about culinary school, but I would love to go to Paris and go to a culinary academy for a few months — not a full culinary school thing, but I would definitely take some classes at least. I would love to take more lessons actually…who needs an internship!
Julia: Have you thought about what you want to do after Brown?
Catherine: I’m definitely at a stage where I want to go to law school. I want to be a lawyer. I want to go back to Google and then go to law school in a few years. In an ideal world, I would do law school and then get to do something culinary again. One of my biggest inspirations is Candice Nelson, who went to my boarding school, Groton. She started Sprinkles Cupcakes. She’s made this whole cupcake empire, and she quit her corporate life and did this cool thing so she’s my inspiration. But for now, the more traditional route, and maybe I can come back to cooking down the line.
Julia: Fair enough! Do you experience difficulties with the upkeep of an Instagram account?
Catherine: I would say it can be challenging to post every day, particularly because I’ll make things that taste good but don’t look very nice. There are those times where I didn’t flip my pancake properly or didn’t poach my egg well, and I just want to eat breakfast! It takes time to strike that right balance, so, yes, it can be hard in that regard. I gained followers easily just by posting consistently, and focusing on one type of food helps as well. As long as I post consistently, it hasn’t been too hard to keep followers. I just keep mixing it up and keep growing!