Page through a copy of “Adventures in Comfort Food,” Rockland chef Kerry Altiero’s new (and first) cookbook and you may notice a recurring theme – dishes named for a fellow named “Jerry.” There’s Jerry Dressing, Jerry Fries, Jerry Pizza and I Dreamt of Jerry (a burger that uses Jerry Dressing as a condiment). A few weeks ago, when Press Herald reporter Meredith Goad was interviewing Altiero, chef/owner of Cafe Miranda, she made an apparently common mistake – assuming that the Jerry in question was the late Grateful Dead musician Jerry Garcia. (Altiero is a fan.) “No!” he said adamantly. These dishes, he corrected her, are named for Union resident and former Cafe Miranda waiter Jerry Brooks.
We thought we’d call Brooks up and ask him a few questions about being the muse of a well-known chef. That interview, punctuated with a lot of laughter and later lightly edited, follows.
But first, the background. In the early 1990s, Brooks was working three jobs, as a landscaper, caretaker and waiter. Exhausted and hungry one evening after a long day followed by a long shift at the restaurant, he apparently sat down to a fortifying meal of blue cheese and chili sauce on bread. Altiero, a chef with an unusually imaginative palate, took this “psychedelic combination,” as he called it, and ran with it, ultimately combining blue cheese and Sriracha sauce in a number of dishes that he has served at Cafe Miranda over the years.
Q: So if I went to your house today, would I find blue cheese and Sriracha in the fridge?
A: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah. Definitely Sriracha, you’ll find a barrel full. Blue cheese, sambal oelek, all those things.
Q: Where did you learn to like these foods?
A: It would have been Kerry. He opened the doors to a whole new dimension in terms of taste. Back then, when he opened (in the early 1990s), he was so far ahead of anything in Rockland. Of course, I grew up in my family, where we really like spicy food, which is odd for English descendants. And I had been in the Navy for six years down South, so I had a lot of culinary experience. But he really opened up the Thai food realm to me.
Q: What other oddball combinations do you like?
A: I don’t know if you have enough time. Tons of stuff. Anyone who knows me knows I put some wacky combinations together. I love peanut butter, jelly, Sriracha and green olives.
Q: So this is in a sandwich?
A: These days I prefer a wrap. That’s one of my favorites. Also there used to be a deli in Rockland – I’d call up and order liverwurst, green olives and sauerkraut. They always knew it was me.
Q: You’d eat these things together?
A: Well, I’m not known for finesse and taste. I kind of go for the gusto.
Q: Do you like to cook?
A: I prefer to eat.
Q: Is it good to have dishes named after you? Or would you prefer, say, an airport? A concert hall? A hospital?
A: It’s great! I love food. I don’t have much good experience in hospitals, but I have plenty of good experiences with food. Everyone thought it was Jerry Garcia initially, and they still do. There was Chicken Jerry. Panko-breaded chicken with sambal oelek and blue cheese and jasmine rice. It was fantastic, actually. It was mind-blowing.
Q: Any reaction since the story appeared in the Press Herald? Has NBC or ABC called?
A: Some friends copied the sections that had me in there. But you are definitely the first reporter. When you called, I thought, ‘Geez, the Press Herald. Did I do something wrong?’
Q: Altiero named pizza, fries and a burger for you – junk food, mostly. Is this the sort of food you still like to eat?
A: I try to be a little bit more moderate in my approach these days. I am climbing up around 50. I am trying to avoid having my waistline approach my age.
Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at: