Cooking is one of those life skills that never stops giving. There’s always a new dish to master, a new ingredient to try, or a new chef to learn some handy tips from. Speaking of chefs, there’s one in particular who has all of our attention, and her name is Marjorie Meek-Bradley. If she sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen her before on Bravo’s Top Chef! Marjorie competed in Season 13, and went all the way to the final four contestants. That’s just one of her many accomplishments, as Marjorie has been cooking in professional kitchens since the age of 18.
Marjorie was introduced to food at an unusually early age. “My parents started a soup kitchen [in Ukiah, California] the year that I was born, so I kind of really grew up in that environment.” She displayed genuine interest in cooking very quickly, and by the time high school came around Marjorie was experimenting with ingredients and making fresh pasta. “I didn’t want to go the traditional route with college and I didn’t have all the prerequisites, so I decided to go straight to culinary school.” And after spending a year abroad working in Sweden, she attended the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Her goal to become a chef was set in motion, and Marjorie worked hard with her head down, both in college and in various kitchens after graduation.
When I asked Marjorie about her cooking style, she explained that its “along the lines of comfort food, but very seasonal, very fresh, with something to make you think about it. I really try to let the ingredients speak for themselves.” That philosophy has proved successful, as Marjorie is currently the Executive Chef at two restaurants in Washington D.C. “Ripple is very seasonal, with a small menu that changes daily. We work closely with a lot of local farmers and make everything in house with the freshest ingredients we can get our hands on. Roofer’s Union is a little bit more casual; we have burgers, there’s a fried chicken sandwich. We use seasonal ingredients, too, and we also make pressed sausage in house on house-made pretzel rolls.” As if that’s not enough to keep her busy, Marjore is opening a third restaurant in just a few weeks. “It’s a pastrami shop with a fast-casual concept, so house-made pastrami, smoked chicken, and pastrami-flavored portobello mushrooms.” Marjorie’s long-term vision for the shop is for it to multiply, and judging by that description it’s going to be in high demand.
Thinking back to her journey on Top Chef, Marjorie admits that she was placed in a “pressure cooker environment with little stress relief.” However, talking through her experience more, it became clear that the positives outweighed the negatives. “The people I got to meet and the constant genuine feedback from the judges [who are some of the best chefs in the country] was incredible.” Marjorie was a tough competitor throughout the competition, proving herself time and time again as not only a highly skilled chef, but a gracious, generous, humble human being. When asked if she would recommend the competition to other chefs, Marjorie is enthusiastic, though suggests airing on the side of caution. “Don’t go on it thinking it’s going to magically make you into a celebrity chef or something. If you go on it for the challenge and the excitement, and you have solid experience, the better you will do on the show.”
Due to Marjorie’s national exposure, she’s become a role model to young chefs. “I’ve had a lot of people send me messages and emails, and it’s great to realize there are plenty of young women out there who are just starting out.” Her advice to them is to always pay attention to what you’re learning. “I think if you put learning first [above money and other variables], you’ll get ahead in the long run.” As far as her own mentors and role models go, two chefs in particular spring to mind. “I look up to chef Jonathan Benno, as he taught me a lot about discipline and the craft of cooking: not just following a recipe, but really looking at ingredients and what makes sense for a dish.” The second chef is Mike Isabella, who competed on Top Chef in Season 6. “Working under Mike [at Stephen Starr’s Washington Square restaurant in Philadelphia] taught me about the business, and what it takes to actually run a restaurant.” Marjorie has clearly taken those skills and applied them numerous times in her career, reinforcing how helpful it can be to train under professionals whom you admire and trust.
Lastly, I was curious as to why Marjorie became a chef, beyond the obvious interest in food. “Food is a way to communicate, it’s something that brings people together no matter your differences, no matter your language, no matter your anything. I’ve always looked at it that way, and I love bringing people together for a meal at my house or at my restaurant. To be able to do this as a job, as a career… I’m very lucky.”