We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessie-Sierra Ross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessie-Sierra, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
This is a really interesting question, because I have had two completely different careers, both of which fall into the artistic & creative categories! Believe it or not, I started out in ballet – my mom enrolled me in it as a child because she felt that I was quiet, but flexible! I loved the musicality of ballet, and evolved into a driven young dancer by age 14. I had the incredibly good fortune to perform with dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and New York City Ballet, over the next few years. I love the focus, passion, and sheer physicality that professional ballet brought to my life. Performing on stage, where you can feel and hear the adulation of the crowd, gave me so much satisfaction – I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything! Unfortunately, that career was sidelined by a thyroid condition (and after that, a handful of children!), so I started searching for a new outlet to release my pent-up creativity, and quench the thirst for performance. I have always been passionate about food. After my career in dance, learning the magic of cooking & baking and what you could do with it, became an amazing and transformative experience. A lot of brainstorming about what I wanted to do ‘next’, led me to a new career as a food & home entertaining blogger. I ported all of that curiosity and artistry – everything that I learned from my years in the ballet studio, into the kitchen. The attention to detail, beautiful clean lines, and an emphasis on learning proper techniques. I look at each of the recipes I create as a chance to perform. I want my readers to find the harmony in my flavors, as well as realize they can learn the same “dance”, by following along with my step by step recipes. I’ve had a chance to become a recurring television guest with this new path, which I’m also loving. The message I want to get across is that everyone can be the artist behind an extraordinary home entertaining experience for your friends & loved ones! Whether it’s a delicious & well thought out menu for two, or setting the scene for a perfect party, there is so much room to be creative in the details.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Straight to the Hips, Baby was created in part because I felt that there was a real space in the food blogging world for recipes that were broken down to a very user-friendly level. The impetus was really my deep dive into the online world of recipes, were I would run into some pretty common flaws – recipes that weren’t well tested or explained, or assumed a base level knowledge that might not always be there. I would try recipes and the cooking times would be wildly off, or a technique, like the hows and whys of making a roux, wouldn’t be explained at all. My personal cooking frustrations became a launching point to create my food POV. I want to make sure that an inexperienced home cook can follow one of my recipes, and reproduce the dish as pictured, without boring more experienced cooks. Really, my goal is to embolden home cooks to expand their personal breadth of cooking. My first time readers often start off with an easy 5-minute recipe, be bowled over by it, then come back to try more complicated ones. I really love hearing from people who are ‘cooking their way through’ my best recipes. (If you want to do this, start with something like my Thai Basil Chicken dish!) I am also a big believer in from-scratch cooking, meaning no shortcuts or mixes whenever possible. ‘Real food made from real ingredients’ is a philosophy that I follow in my own cooking, and I really wanted to show that baking a cake from scratch was no harder than from a box… and it tastes so much better! I think there has been a bit of a generational black hole in regards to cooking (and entertaining, but we’ll get to that!). We have relied on convenience foods, for better or for worse, since the 1950s. That only changes if we have enough confidence in our own cooking skills to take that leap! When we started Straight to the Hips, Baby, the blog was really quite different than a lot of those out there. Most blogger advice was to not have too many photos, as it can be distracting to read the recipe, but from the start we went in another direction. We wanted more than just ‘beauty shots’ and a lot of instructional text, we wanted a real visual guide with step-by-step food photography. A lot of the time, the look and texture of an intermediate stage is vital to reproducing it consistently. It’s so much easier to see, rather than guess, what someone means by ‘incorporate’! We also test our recipes a lot before putting them up, to make sure they stay consistent, and that the directions are clear enough. We try to take a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, and we have had tremendously positive feedback from our fans. I am truly most proud of having inspired people, and helped them realize that cooking can not only fill the need to put dinner on the table, but it can be fun! Many of my readers have never felt comfortable working in the kitchen before, but we are showing them that with a little confidence and our recipes as reference, they can truly cook on their own. I briefly mentioned earlier, that my blog has always served in part as a creative outlet for me. It became a way to connect to the outside world, as I rolled through years multitasking content creation and parenting. I don’t hide my real life balancing Straight to the Hips, Baby with having three young kids at home. It’s something I’ve always wanted to share and my readers really connect to it! Through all of it, there has been a thematic thread of ‘if I can do it, so can you!’, and just encouraging people to try something that they haven’t done before. I also want to share practical knowledge and tips. Small bits of my own life that are purely mine, and that bring me a lot joy. Whether it’s a new cocktail recipe, or growing fresh herbs in a container garden, or maybe how to think about your table setup for easy entertaining… the key words that I always keep in mind are, is it approachable. My ‘brand’ is one of bringing people together in the kitchen or at my table, with easy elegance & accessibility.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is a fun question! I love to travel, but I also enjoy being a “tourist” in my own region! The Pioneer Valley is going through a bit of a renaissance right now. Because of our central location, we are also a very convenient distance from Boston too! This area of New England is an excellent spot for both food & leisure! I’d start in Boston, my hometown, and check out the excellent museums in that city. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum & The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are two of my favorites! I could wander around the exhibits for hours. I would pop over to the Public Garden and take a Swan Boat ride, and then head over to Chef Karen Akunowicz’s Fox and Knife for dinner with a cocktail or two! Also on my check list would be some window shopping on Newbury Street, a trip to Faneuil Hall Market Place, pastries at Flour in the South End, and maybe a massage at the spa in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Boylston Street. I would then wrap up my Boston trip with dinner at the famous No. 9 Park. If there was time, I would also highly recommend grabbing a ticket to watch a Boston Ballet performance or a production by the Boston Lyric Opera House. If you’re in Western Massachusetts (where I live), I would make sure to visit the Springfield Museums in downtown Springfield. You can find the colorful Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, and the Springfield Science Museum, to name just a few. I would then head off to the funky ‘Gasoline Alley’ area of Springfield, and grab a cup of organic and ethically sourced coffee at my favorite coffee joint, Monsoon Roastery, run by Tim & Andrea Monson. I’d take in the hip ambiance, then drive over to one of many State Parks for a little hiking or waterfall wading, as well as a visit to Tanglewood, to hear the Boston Pops Orchestra during the summer. Jacob’s Pillow is another beautiful cultural venue for dance performances, on their historic mountain top campus. An absolute must stop is dinner and drinks in Easthampton, at the James Beard nominated Coco & the Cellar Bar. I can’t sing enough praises for Unmi Abkin & Roger Taylor’s restaurant! They run a gorgeous seasonally driven restaurant menu, with simply amazing clean flavors. I would INSIST you get their famous buttermilk fried chicken dinner! This is my ‘ride or die’ meal!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My husband Jonathan, deserves the world’s loudest yodel from the mountain tops, for his amazing support and dedication in this blog business! He is my co-creator, as well as acting as photographer & proof reader, both pretty thankless jobs! His patience and enthusiasm really fuels me forward. My cooking & entertaining idols, Julia Child & Martha Stewart, set a level of perfection so high, that I will always have something to strive for. Both of these incredibly talented women always convey knowledge with skill, humor, and a sense of playfulness that absolutely attracted me into this genre. My Mum was another one of those inspirations. She was an adventurous cook, and let me start playing with butter & sugar from a very young age! My friends & family in real life, as well as in the blog world; their advice, support, and encouragement have been priceless.
Jonathan Ross / Straight to the Hips, Baby