Edible Berkshires

Quest For Taste: How shake ’n Bake chops inspired a foodie career

By Matthew LaBombard

Food was never on my mind as a child. As an energetic youngster, I barely ate the dinners that my parents prepared and when I did, I couldn’t eat fast enough to get back outside to play with friends.

I never wanted to be seated on the counter, curiously watching my parents chop, sauté, bake and broil our family recipes. There was never a sparkle in my eye as raw ingredients turned into flavorful dishes.

But looking back, there was one dish that proved that I would venture into a food-cen­tric career as an adult: pork chops.

Shake ’N Bake pork chops were the din­ner that I passionately despised, and to this moment I still loathe the thought of them. As a child I dreamt of my parents serv­ing something outlandish like sushi, which never did actually happen. My parents were good cooks, but when they served those bland chops they (unknowingly) inspired my search for deliciously flavored foods, an adventure that continues to this day.

It seriously started for me in the summer of 2009. I was living and working in Nashville for a summer internship at Country Music Television. At 20 years old I wasn’t sneaking into bars with a fake ID; instead I was ven­turing to farmers’ markets discovering new ingredients and attempting to create a deli­cious meal.

I’ll never forget the first time that I made a basic potato salad. I was so proud! I couldn’t wait to serve it to my new friends. From what I can remember, the flavors of my food had a similar resemblance to bland Shake ’N Bake pork chops, but regardless of taste, food had become a passion of mine.

The following spring I set off to Florence, Italy, on a semester abroad program. Although my adventures abroad taught me much about culture, art and the world out­side of the Berkshires, my love of cooking was solidified in my Food of Italy classes. There I learned topics such as how to perfectly time risotto and identify the depth of flavor in Chianti wine. Italy also taught me the true essence of enjoying a meal not just because it tastes good, but because it brings people together. Those four months of food exploration in Italy jump-started me to a life in a food-focused career. 

One year later I graduated from Western New England University with a degree in market­ing communications and advertising. It was back to the Berkshires with a job lined up in finance. Finance was definitely not my thing but I could hear the clock ticking down to impending school bills. So being the responsi­ble individual that I am, I took the job.

Those days and weeks in the financial indus­try moved incredibly slowly and my only saving grace was Sunday dinners. Every Sunday I would wake up and engage in a full-blown cooking fest. I would make everything from appetizers to homemade bread, entrees to sides and of course, desserts. On Sundays I could be where I felt most comfortable: the kitchen.

After six long weeks of finance hell I was kindly let go from the job. It was possibly the best thing to happen to me during that time. As I walked out of that office, I promised myself to never take a job for the money, but to find a career that I’m passionate about. I can say with confidence that I’m now on my way there.

I filled the weeks between my next full-time gig working odds jobs where I could. I worked at everything from restaurants to child care programs until I found the amaz­ing Storey Publishing.

I couldn’t believe that this gem had been hid­ing under my nose, a cookbook publisher in North Adams, the Berkshires! Of course they publish other fantastic books, but I could work on cookbook publicity. I was over-the-moon happy when I was hired part-time as a publicity assistant. A month later I was hired full-time as an associate publicist and eventually promoted to publicist.

My days at Storey consisted of promoting upcoming books, working with the media and coordinating author tours. To promote our cookbooks we began a small series on YouTube called “Inside Storey’s Kitchen,” where on camera I would demonstrate reci­pes from our cookbooks. Storey not only fostered my professional development, but also allowed me to flex my cooking muscles.

After three years as a publicist I found myself searching for more. I love the Berkshires and I certainly loved my job, but I needed a new challenge.

I parted ways with Western Massachusetts in November 2014, moving to Boston to begin my current role as the event and marketing coordinator at Trident Booksellers & Café. Each day is a challenge to host and plan great events from play readings to cooking dem­onstrations, spoken word events to book signings, for the public in our café.

I’m happy to say that the young boy who loathed pork chops has not only gained chops in the professional world but also in the culinary world, and that my search for delicious flavor still drives me to build a career around food.

Matthew LaBombard is the Event & Marketing Coordinator at Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston. He can be found blogging at CookeryAndTaste.com, Matt’s anec­dotal website featuring plant-based recipes and adventures with food and life in the city. Born a natural party host Matt is always eager to cook for private dinner parties, and is avail­able if he’s not planning something for his family and friends.


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