Q & A with Maili Halme Brocke

Val: Who are your favorite farmers in the Santa Barbara area?

Maili: David Pommer is one. He grows heirlooms and other specialty items I request. Also, Colleen Darling of Hidden Springs Ranch and Molly Robertson of Ballard Canyon Farm. I buy lemons and citrus from Monica Roberts and her citrus ranch. Can I name Mike Gerawan as one of my all time favorite farmers even though he lives in Reedley, California? Mike is a genius with stone fruit and grapes!

Val: How many cookbooks do you own?

Maili: I used to have close to 4,000. But now I have just under 2,000, plus another 1,500+ cooking magazines. I also have a lot of books on food writing and food memoirs. Now and then I weed out a bunch of cookbooks and donate between 50 and 100 a year to the library. My mother has a complete set of cookbooks as well, close to 1,000, mainly about baking. Of course, I’m constantly buying and reading new cookbooks or finding treasures in old classics.

Val: Breakfast, lunch or dinner — what’s your favorite meal to cook and your favorite meal to eat?

Maili: Dinner is my favorite because of the endless possibilities, but I love making breakfast!

Val: Who has been the most influential mentor in your cooking career?

Maili: Without question, my grandmothers and my mother. This answer could go on for pages about all I have learned from them professionally and about making delicious food for those you love, and how important food is to bring people together for the celebrations of life.

Val: Where do you get your inspiration for cooking?

Maili: Everywhere: from something I eat in a restaurant, from the farmers market, from a garden, from a book, a cookbook, a cooking magazine. But the greatest inspiration has been my clients. They will tell me about a food they love or that they want something different and I’ll have to invent a new hors d’oeuvre or main course based on that. My best food has come from trying to create something new around a specific client’s personal taste or learning something about their family heritage and re-creating those recipes.

Val: You are so busy, homeschooling the kids, running your catering and event company, creating recipes, your non-profit involvement and blogging. How do you manage it? Do you have a tip for us that helps you keep organized?

Maili: My car is a mess, I rarely wear makeup and sometimes fitting in a shower is a challenge. My husband is super organized and he is a huge support. I couldn’t do it without him. I also get a lot of support from the other homeschooling moms. We are all there for each other. But life is VERY busy. If I had one wish it would be for 12 more hours in everyday. I have so much I want to accomplish each day and sometimes feel that I’m only scratching the surface compared with all that is swirling in my head.

Ironically, I thought homeschooling would be a dead-end for my career, but it has been the reverse. All the field trips to museums and other countries and states have only expanded my cooking knowledge. It also let me be more selective about the events I accepted and gave me some extra time to write that I never had when I was catering full-time. And most of our socialization tends to be with friends who have children that my kids love to be with. So I almost never get to go out to lunch with just adults. That’s extremely rare.

But I do a lot with the homeschool moms and most of them are my soulmates because we all love to read, cook, garden and sew. I do get sidetracked with certain causes, like exposing the corruption behind the closing of the local library. But it’s hard for me to be silent when there is an injustice I feel so strongly about. I will say that my one secret is a 20-minute nap when I’m really exhausted. It’s amazing how I can be on the go so much but just that 20 minutes is so restorative that it gives me the mental and physical energy to accomplish even more.

Val: Do you have a favorite cocktail? If so can you share the recipe with us?

Maili: Recently, I made a refreshing and delicious Champagne cocktail for a dear friend’s baby shower. We called it “The Harper” after their precious new baby girl. It’s made with Champagne, guava juice, lime juice and fresh mint. For those who prefer a non-alcoholic version, you can make it with sparkling water. It’s perfect for summer.

For more information and recipes from Maili go to