This Christmas with Melinda Doolittle
Melinda Doolittle takes the stage at The Franklin Theatre on Thursday, December 14, at 8 pm. Tickets range from $32.50 to $42.50. Doolittle is a soul–stirring songstress,
Emily Brock’s fondest memories from childhood are centered on the kitchen: cooking with family and gathering around the dinner table with friends. But while many would reflect on the food, drink, and conversation, Brock says the centerpieces to her stories are the kitchen utensils. Her happiest thoughts are triggered from flashbacks of a pair of tongs used to scoop the salad, the breadboard that displayed the cheese assortment, and a petite bowl that held salt.
“Everything in your house has a potential to be meaningful,” she says. “There’s something really special and unique about using tools to create meals and memories that someone has put their heart into.”
As the owner and artisan of one-year-old Board&Bread, Brock has only recently started selling her handcrafted, wooden serveware—but she’s spent a lifetime developing her craft. A third-generation woodworker, Atlanta native Brock follows in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, a staircase maker, and her father, an artist who creates sculptural furniture and whom she calls her inspiration and mentor. She started her career while living in Washington state on a blueberry farm. Through FaceTime calls from Spring Hill, her father was on hand to help her set up her first studio in an old canning shed on the property.
Last year, she moved to Tennessee and into her father’s workspace. While she started out using the cutaway wood from his larger pieces, Brock now sources local Tennessee hardwoods—black walnut, curly maple, and the more exotic African rosewood—from fellow artisan Matt Alexander of HollerDesign. “Everything I work with is hardwoods, for their lasting durability,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m making heirloom pieces that can withstand the pressure of cooking with high heat.”
She starts by sketching her design and using it as a base to cut out her initial desired shape with a bandsaw. She next uses a series of files with different points of teeth and scrapers to create the curves and prominent edges. “Then begins the sanding—a lot of sanding,” she says. Using various grit levels, or coarseness of sandpapers, she smooths the wood down by hand or with a power sander before burnishing everything with Scotch-Brite pads. “For that beautiful shine and smooth finish, I rub in a beeswax oil that I make myself,” she adds. “The perfect proportion of mineral oil and beeswax, heated to a certain degree, melts to a creamy paste. When it’s warm, the pores of the wood open up and the wax melts in to coat and protect the wood, keeping your tools longer.”
Brock launched a wholesale division earlier this year and is now focusing her efforts on expanding to new markets. Her pieces are available at White’s Mercantile and other local retailers, and she also has items from bowls to breadboards being used at restaurants like Rolf and Daughters.
“At a restaurant, it’s the little touches that make the meal or the experience, more than just food. The natural light, the sea-salt tin on the table—that’s what I remember,” she says. As a home cook, she also finds inspiration in bakeries and restaurants and wants to make pieces that are beautiful but keep the common kitchen needs and obstacles in mind.
“A big part of my design process is making things ergonomic and yet very appealing and feminine,” she says. “Having the background of being a cook and a baker really helps me to design pieces that are functional and realistic to other cooks’ needs.
When it comes to the wear of the wood, she advises using each product without fear of the imminent cuts and scrapes—those are what builds character. “Instead of focusing on the wear and tear that happened you might remember that night as the time when you made such and such with your husband,” she says. More at boardandbread.com.
Photos by Chris Daniels