Marcelle Crooks
of Little Bird Bistro

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Newly named Little Bird chef de cuisine, Marcelle Crooks has been killing it in the kitchen since the age of 15. After gathering formidable experience over the years here and there (including Sunshine Tavern), she’s helping to shape the Little Bird menu with her unique cooking style.

What is your idea of a perfect meal?
A meal with friends and family who you love, enjoying simple, delicious food and a glass of wine.

Marcelle Crooks of Little Bird Bistro

What recipe still gives you goosebumps?
Any kind of cured meat honestly. I love charcuterie—it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I love that there are so many ways to go about it. Hanging, straight salt, curing, to smoking—I don’t think people realize how much goes into making it.

What cooking personality, living or dead do you most admire?
I love how wild Julia Child is. I know that seems like a cliché answer, but she was a wild woman who loved to cook food and make people happy. That’s really all you can ask for in a personality. She made people smile and taught them at the same time. She inspired people to be passionate about food and cooking. That’s all you can hope for.

What’s a style of cooking foreign to you that you wish you had down?
German food. I have a German background and it’s something that’s always fascinated me. I’d also like to know more about African and Ethiopian food. Their flavors are diverse; the preparations of how they cook their food and maintain that—that has always been interesting to me.

Which ingredients do you find yourself using the most?
Vegetables! I love vegetables. I love meat, but being able to present vegetables to people in an appetizing way, especially for people who aren’t used to eating so many—if you can spark their interest, I think that’s what counts. I think we’ve gone from the sides being important to just the meat itself. Back in the day you would just have a few ounces of meat and the rest was either sides or salads or starches and things like that. I feel like sometimes we get out of balance with that.

What was your biggest culinary disaster?
I was making a staff meal and I was really busy that day. I ended up putting some grilled fennel tops into my braised pork and it made it taste so strange. I had to serve it anyway to my staff because I just had to get ready for service. I walked up stairs to my staff and warned them “This doesn’t taste great, trust me.” They said, “Oh it won’t be that bad.” And I was like, “No, no, it’s not good.” They ended up agreeing.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi. What food do you dream of?
You know, I think I dream of things that I don’t make on a regular basis. Like, pastries and desserts have always interested me. Being a more advanced bread maker would be really great. I love making dough. I used to do ceramics all the time and it really reminds me of that. It’s very therapeutic.

What’s your most treasured kitchen tool?
Three things: my hands, my knife, and my fish spatula.

If you weren’t a chef, in what other occupation could you see yourself excelling?
An interior designer. I’m great with spatial awareness and could feng shui a room.

Mario Batali has clogs. What’s your most marked characteristic?
My socks! I try to get stripes or some kind of funky pattern. It adds a little character.

What food do you hold in the lowest of regard?
I feel like all ingredients are important. I don’t really dislike anything. I love all food. You can learn from all different cultures, so I don’t think you should say no to anything as a chef.

What is the quality you most like in a chef?
The passion to teach.

What is the quality you most like in a diner?
Openness, or the ability to ask questions. Sometimes I feel like people are afraid to ask questions. Someone might absolutely love an aspect of a dish they just ate, but they might be nervous to acknowledge that they might not know about it. That’s what servers are there for, is to answer your questions so you have the best experience.

Chef Boyardee or Colonel Sanders?
I would have to say Chef Boyardee. I mean, SpagettiOs are delicious.

Who or what inspires you?
People who have a passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s food or something different entirely. If they get inspired by it, I see that and I get excited. It’s nice to see my staff when they’re intrigued about something. We work on projects together, and seeing how excited they get is very inspiring.

How do you take your coffee?
It depends on the day. I like straight black coffee or with a sugar cube and a dash of cream just when I’m going out to dinner. To start the day, just black.

What food trend drives you batty?
Small plates. I have nothing against it, it’s just not my style.

In-N-Out or Five Guys?
In-N-Out. Hands-down. There’s no question.

Could you “beat” Bobby Flay?
Hmm, I have no idea . . .

Do you prescribe to any kitchen superstitions?
None here.

What’s a childhood dish you loved that still sticks with you?
Beef Stroganoff. Grandma’s version. Not the one you get in a box.

Biggest cooking fear?
A messy kitchen. It’s like chaos.

What do you cook on your off days?
I actually do a lot of ramen. I got really into making different types of broth. That’s just something I wanted to learn myself and just went for it. I make a lot of enchiladas. I make a lot of bulk meals, stews, soups.

Go-to guilty pleasure food?
There are two things. I love hamburgers. I don’t eat the fries but the hamburger itself needs to be delicious. And then I love chocolate mousse.

If you ate some poorly prepared blowfish sashimi and passed, what person or thing would you like to come back as?
A tree.

What is your catchphrase?
I have two, “slow your roll” and “that’s aggressive.” I’ve said them so many times that people sometimes say them back to me and then we just laugh about it.

Marcel Roost is a hyper-intelligent rooster who could out-write and out-cook the best of them. His love for haute cuisine is only matched by his hatred of Kentucky Colonels. When he's not heckling fusion chefs, he can usually be found at some high-end bar "singing the body Martini." He's anything but corn fed, despite being—well—corn fed.

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