It seems Tennessee native, Beth Kirby, is tantalizing the world with her scrumptious southern inspired recipes and perfectly styled photographs. Beth who is a "perpetual student turned freelance writer, recipe developer, and photographer" claims "the written word, photography, and the culinary arts are her raisons d'être." Quite frankly, she had us hooked at toasted oak ice cream. Yeah... she did that. With wisdom, it seems, far beyond her years,  Beth shares a little bit more beyond the kitchen with us on this "Get to Know the Artist" feature.

Sit back and savor.

Beth Kirby Local Milk

Tell me about your artistic adventures. What led you to the kitchen?

My teens and twenties were a tumultuous time spent, as I was given to saying, "living the book I couldn't write". I like to think that I spent that time gathering raw materials in the wild, and now I'm giving form to those materials through my work. I studied creative writing and philosophy, but through it all I always found my peace & solace in the kitchen. To cook is something that is encoded in my DNA. I can't not do it. Also, I'm an abstract thinker that can get lost in metaphysical black holes, and cooking is grounding. It keeps my feet on the earth, connects me with people. Besides that, it's an endless series of discoveries. I never get bored, there's always something new to learn, to try, whether it's an ingredient, technique, or dish . Oh, and I love to eat. Food is rad.

Your photos look as equally delicious as your food!  What tricks & tips do you have to give us?

I'm a fledgling (albeit passionate) photographer, having only seriously picked up a camera this past April, so I'm still very much learning, but this is how I've been teaching myself. Seek out the work of photographers that inspire you, study them (their light, composition, focus, angle, content, color, texture), research the techniques & tools needed to achieve what you like about those photographs (cameras, film vs. digital, lenses, aperture, depth of field, exposure, white balance, ISO/film speed, shutter speed, etc...learn how they all work together), play with post-processing (being careful to not over do it), and experiment endlessly. In short, look at good photos, read about photography, and experiment and lots of it. Try different styles on like hats, don't limit yourself, and eventually it will evolve into your own unique style. What I've found is that as I have grown as a photographer what inspires me has changed, ripened. It, like cooking, is an endless series of discoveries, something you never stop learning. For every "rule" there are countless exceptions but my concrete tips would be use natural light (for food, most especially), use manual mode (you will learn much more & have control), experiment with film, invest in a fast prime lens if you can, pay attention to composition...and again light, light, light. Learn light. And remember the camera doesn't see the world like our eye/mind circuitry does. Try to learn to see with your eyes like you would through a lens. Use you imagination to see in rectangles and squares. This helps with composition, I find. Really observe the world around you. Great photographs are everywhere. The goal of all of this is to ultimately find your own voice and style, not to mimic, but mimicry is a great way to learn. Think of it like learning classical painting. Learn the rules then break them. Study the masters then strike out on your own.
Beth Kirby Local Milk
What is your favorite ingredient to work with? Is there any ingredient you really dislike? (a particular spice, vegetable, etc)
My favorite ingredients to work with are anything that's fresh and in season and iconic southern ingredients. I'm also, conversely  drawn to the unfamiliar, anything rare, novel, or exotic (to me). Currently I'm loving sorghum, coconut oil, bacon grease, smoked salt, rosewater, figs, and buttermilk. And I wish every season was tomato season. As to dislikes, I hate fresh cilantro. It tastes like soap. Apparently, this is a genetic thing that afflicts some people of western European decent. I hear people who like it describe it as "lemony basil". No, soap weed. It's basically the only thing I can't abide at all ever. Nasty.

What designers, artists, or creative people inspire you? Where do you hunt for inspiration?

There are too many to list. But here's what comes off the top of my head in the categories of photographers, chefs, and writers.  
Photographers: William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Brian Ferry, Charlotte Bland, Uta Barth, Luisa Brimble, Michael Muller, Isobelle Bertolini, Nicole Franzen, Andrea Gentl, MIchael Graydon, Johnathan Levitt, Jennilee Marigomen, Anna Williams, Jen Causey... just to name a "few". There are so many amazing photographers out there (food and otherwise alike)

Chefs: Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, David Chang, Frank Stitt, Hugh Acheson, Michael Ruhlman, Julia Child, Alice Waters, Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Eric Rippert, Joel Robuchon...and many more! I also get a ton of culinary inspiration from other food bloggers I follow. (too many to list, but there's a link to my "inspiration" on my blog)

Writers: Henry Miller, Dostoyevsky, Italo Calvino, H.P. Lovecraft, MFK Fisher, Jean Brillat-Savarin, Virginia Woolf, Baudelaire, Nabokov, Wallace Stevens, Bukowski, Hart Crane, John Barryman, Malcolm Lowry... and, again, many more. 
My sources of inspiration are eclectic, to say the least. I hunt for it everywhere. Fashion, music, art, philosophy, religion, science. Everything inspires me. I think all human enterprises and modes of thinking are interconnected, are different ways of looking at the same object (being), as such I think any discipline or medium can be a source of inspiration for others. I'm a big fan of documentaries, magazines/journals, blogs, and Pinterest for introducing me to new things that I can then check out further.
Beth Kirby Local Milk Tomato
What is your biggest vice?
My biggest vice is procrastination born out of perfectionism. And Diet Dr. Pepper. And Pinterest. 

What would your dream creative project be? 

My dream creative project is to shoot and write a cookbook/article(s) for an awesome magazine/have a TV show (haha!) based on traveling to farmer's markets around the world and creating dishes inspired by what is fresh and lovely at the market and cooking them in the homes of local people.

If we were to check your iPod, what would we find?

I'm an avid record collector, so you would find, as with most things in my life a vast, eclectic and maybe seemingly schizophrenic menagerie. I'm tempted to just rattle off an intense list so as to leave nothing out, but suffice to say right now, like this week, I've been listening to a lof of The Jesus and Mary Chain (always), Nick Cave, Joe Meek: The Alchemist of Pop (compilation), Phil Spector: Back to Mono (compilation), Clara Rockmore (a haunting theremin player), Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 (amazing garage rock compilation), Roland S. Howard, Big Kitty (local band...psychedelic appalachian radicalness), Francoise Hardy, Suede, Pulp, The Wipers...ok, I'll stop.  Also I discovered (via photographer Brian Ferry's blog "the blue hour") Studio Music ( which has led me to some excellent new stuff. Oh, and when I'm in a teenage mood I go for No Bunny, The Mean Jeans, Personal & The Pizzas, and G.G. Allin & The Jabbers. Yeah.
beth kirby local milk
What is your current obsession? 

Sorghum, prosaic light driven analog photos, leather satchels, Appalachia, white lace, pork, murder ballads, quantum panpsychism, brewing kombucha, the Hoia Baciu forest in Romania, and pie! 

What is your favorite place to go on an outing? 

My favorite places to go lately are the Appalachian mountains, either up around Sewanee, TN or down around Ellijay, GA. I love to drive around and take photographs, find farm stands, antique/junk stores, flea markets, and little diners & barbecue joints. It's amazingly beautiful, a place that time forgot...and it's right in my backyard!

What can we expect to see next from {local milk}?

Coming up from {local milk} in the near future will be a twist on a meat & three with sweet tea, a kombucha how to, sorghum cake, and plenty of photos and recipes inspired by autumn in Tennessee.

Typically we ask all of our featured artists/makers to MAKE something just for us. Will you share with us your 3 favorite recipes from {local milk}?  

Local Milk Beth Kirby   Southern cornbread, two ways: buttermilk bacon grease & cultured coconut milk


Southern cornbread, two ways: buttermilk bacon grease & cultured coconut milk


Local Milk fig, balsamic, and rosemary hand pies


Fig, balsamic, and rosemary hand pies

Local milk sweet potato & ricotta gnocchi with buttermilk mornay, fresh figs, and pancetta

Sweet potato & ricotta gnocchi with buttermilk mornay, fresh figs, and pancetta



You can also find {local milk} on Pinterest and Facebook




October 31, 2012 by Lindsey Smith

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