Brooke Bilyj is a national award-winning journalist, published author, and marketing consultant. She owns and operates Bantamedia, a Cleveland content marketing firm that provides content, PR, and SEO services to support marketing agencies, trade publications, and brands of all sizes.
Tell us a little about your writing background.
After graduating with degrees in Magazine Journalism and English, I worked a brief stint in newspapers before moving to Cleveland 12 years ago to begin my career in business journalism.
I worked for a national chain of business magazines, where I wrote in-depth feature articles, managed blogs and social media, and produced videos and email newsletters.
I interviewed hundreds of high-profile celebrities like Shark Tank’s Daymond John and executives from companies like Microsoft, Dunkin Donuts and Jim Beam.
After I left the publication to help a local credit union grow its digital marketing presence, the companies and editors I had worked with kept reaching out to me with writing requests.
That’s when I started Bantamedia, in 2013, by offering content creation, public relations, and search engine optimization services to help companies tell their brand stories through blogs, web copy, magazine articles, whitepapers, and books.
Bantamedia specializes in technical niches like financial services, medical technology, insurance, engineering, and manufacturing – or as I like to say, everything from healthcare to horticulture.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
I think there’s a shared aspect of creativity between writing and cooking. You have to be able to take the ingredients (or information) you have and turn it into an exciting meal (or story) by highlighting the right details in the right combination. And there’s usually wine involved in both of them, right?
As a writer, being able to describe the notes of a nice vintage or the flavors of a good meal just enhances your enjoyment of them, in my opinion.
Writing and cooking also create a nice balance, in my experience, because cooking dinner together with my husband at the end of a stressful deadline day is a great way to unwind.
Or, I’ll sneak out to the garden on my lunchbreak for a quick escape, and snack on a few fresh peas for some rejuvenation before I head back to my desk.
How often do you write about food?
I write about food production and crop management for several industry trade publications.
I’ve had the opportunity to tour several greenhouses from here to California, interviewing growers to understand how they diversify their crop mix and innovate their processes to stay competitive.
Last year, I spent an afternoon at a hydroponic greenhouse a few miles away from the high school that I graduated from in Indiana, to see their patented system for growing produce indoors year-round. They grow the crunchiest cucumbers and sweetest red bell peppers I’ve ever tasted!
Have you ever grown your own food?
I grew up on a small farm in Indiana where we grew, raised, and made most of our own food (which is why my company is named after the bantam breed of chickens we raised).
Ever since my husband and I bought a house, we’ve been expanding our garden a little bit each year. Along with his father, who lives downstairs in our duplex, we grow several varieties of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, pickles, beans, beets, greens, potatoes, and berries.
This year I started canning our tomatoes, grape juice from our grape vine, and berry jams. My father-in-law makes pickles and pickled peppers, and my husband makes homemade wine and kombucha with our juice.
I love being outside and getting my hands dirty in the garden; there’s just something so satisfying about eating food you grew yourself!
Do you have any favorite cookbooks or kitchen products?
About 10 years ago, I helped my sister make a cookbook of family recipes to commemorate our 60th annual family reunion on my maternal grandma’s side. We included old family photos and stories with the meals that our relatives submitted.
My husband and I are working on one for his side of the family now, so every week his dad teaches us how to make a Ukrainian recipe, and we take photos and notes for the Bilyj family cookbook (our last name is Ukrainian and rhymes with ‘village.’)
So far, we’ve learned how to make pierogis, chicken paprikash, and stuffed cabbage, to name a few.
My husband is a big fan of the Carrabba’s Cookbook I got him for his birthday one year, since he used to be a chef there. It’s like the gift that keep on giving – I love when he makes recipes from it!
My father-in-law bought us a Kitchen Aid stand mixer when we got married, and I love it because it makes me feel like a professional baker. I spend several days every December making hundreds of cookies to deliver to clients, friends, and family, so having a heavy-duty mixer makes a big difference.
The only gadget we’ve ever ordered from an infomercial is the Ninja Bullet. Besides smoothies and milkshakes, we use it all the time to make sauces, soups, hummus, guacamole, and even my popular black bean brownies.
Do you have any favorite food writers, chefs, food TV shows, restaurants, or food travel destinations?
My husband got me hooked on this British YouTube cooking show called “Sorted,” and we’ve really enjoyed trying several of their recipes.
We were big fans of Alton Brown and “Cutthroat Kitchen” back in the day, and we still like to watch “Chopped.” We joke around about it when we’re trying to use up leftovers: “Imagine this is what you got in your Chopped basket; how can we transform it?”
We got married in Ocean Beach, San Diego, where my husband used to live, so some of my fondest food travel destinations are there (or used to be, in some cases): Hodad’s burgers, mango pancakes at the Pier Café, late night tacos at Roberto’s, and Sapporo sushi.
Ocean Beach also has a farmer’s market on the street every week, and that’s where we tried live sea urchin for the first (and only) time. It tasted like salty ocean yogurt, so if you like food that still wiggles while you eat it, add that to your list.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
The pantry! My husband and I love to improvise in the kitchen by exploring new ways to use up old leftovers and get creative with what we have on hand.
During the summer, our garden becomes the biggest source of inspiration because we have to come up with ways to eat all the produce we’re picking. That usually means lots of caprese salads, zucchini noodles with homemade pomodoro sauce (from Carrabba’s Cookbook), and borscht from our beets.
What do you eat when you're on deadline?
My husband does an awesome job of cooking for me when I’m facing tough deadlines – whether it’s just a quick lunch of PB&Js made with our homemade grape jam, or a fancy restaurant-quality meal to spoil me for dinner, since he has previous experience as a chef at several restaurants. If it wasn’t for him, I’d just eat cereal, fried eggs, or quesadillas for every meal during deadlines.
I have a sweet tooth, for sure, so anytime he delivers milk and cookies up to my office, it’s an instant pick-me-up to recharge for the afternoon.