As makers, we have to admit: we often fantasize about being the master of another craft. Perhaps you’re a seamstress dreaming of the film set or a creative director making eyes at the art of confection. In this quarter’s theme (Polarize), we wanted to explore these envious inklings. We featured sweetheart Brooke Weeber, who braved the pastry game in New York before blossoming into an illustrator/weekend warrior (read her piece here). Now we bring you brand strategist culinary-genius hybrid Kyle Hildebrant. He’s a Clark Kent type, with an apron as his cape. The day-to-day has him sitting as Founding Partner at OVO, and in his spare time he perfects extraordinary recipes for Our Daily Brine. Kyle founded both of these impressive operations, leaving us to wonder how someone could be so incredibly talented in two very distinct trades.
“I believe that one of the greatest powers we have as humans is the ability to create. To bring together disparate things and form something new. Whether it’s through design by using shapes, typography, color, and photos to communicate a message or incite an emotion; or through salami, by selecting particular strains of bacteria, encouraging their growth, and creating something entirely different than the sum of its parts. Creation is the commonality for me.”
Kyle has the three traits that produce a successful maker: talent, intuition, and dedication. From an early age, he had the foresight and diligence to turn his interests and hobbies into vocational skills that would lead him to where he stands today. “In addition to my interest in art, I was fascinated with computers. I was first introduced to the TRS-80 in the early ’80s. We had a printed book of demo program code. I would spend nights re-typing this code into the console for the simple joy of watching it produce a couple concentric circles.” This led Kyle to the The New School for the Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he found the perfect pairing of his interests in art and technology: graphic design. While in school, Kyle worked as a manager at Schlotzsky's Deli. Though his leadership position at the market took him away from school, he spent his free time devouring design books at the library. “When I find an interest in a subject, I can be obsessive. And I was obsessed with learning to be a designer. I skipped school and read every book I could on the topic.” While the boom of the web fed Kyle’s interested in combining code and design, he was also experimenting more in the kitchen. “I think I started canning food at about 19 after moving out of my parents’ house. Pickling led to fermentation of vegetables, which in turn led to fermentation of meats, or salami.”
Fast forward to the present, and Kyle has build an empire in both creative camps. His professional mainstay, OVO, has offices in both Portland and Pheonix. His food blog, Our Daily Brine, which hosts a rich variety of complicated recipes on salumi, charcuterie, fermentation, and preservation, has gathered a hell of a following. But once you get into his mindset, being so diligent and focused in these two separate projects is art therapy. “At any given time, I have a million things moving through my mind. To cope and stay focused, I’ve learned that repetition and hyper-detailed tasks allow me to block out the noise,” says Kyle. “At the office, I’ll wear headphones and listen to droning, repetitive music like Philip Glass. Similarly, if I’ve had a particularly trying or stressful day, I will come home and cook something complicated. For me, the process of doing something that requires my full and undivided attention allows me to set aside the stresses of the day and be in the flow of what I’m doing. It’s cathartic.”
A typical day for Kyle could start with brand strategy and end with gochujang—two highly complex creations from two completely different worlds. But this combination offers completeness for Kyle. “Food allows me a creative outlet not governed by time, budgets, or client opinion. As creatives, I think it vital that we find opportunities to create outside the bounds of necessity. It’s in those personal projects and expression that we often find betterment—both personally and professionally.”
If design and charcuterie is Kyle’s perfect pairing, what’s yours? We hope his story inspires you to take on those creative pursuits you’ve been daydreaming of.
For the culinary-inclined readers, here are foodie inquiries we had Kyle answer. Be sure to check out his blog, Our Daily Brine!
WeMake: What’s the craziest food you’ve ever prepared?
KH: Crazy is a pretty subjective thing. A good amount of people might consider a lot of the things I do as “crazy”. I’ve had a batch of fish sauce fermenting for the last 16 or so months. If you’ve had dinner at my house, it’s likely that I've introduced you to it after a couple drinks. It started as a lot of mackerel fish, chopped up in rough pieces with guts and all, and mixed with 20% salt by weight. What’s amazing is that you’d expect this to have some sort of “off” smell while the bacteria break it down to a liquid. But honestly, it’s just this fresh-fish smell. People are amazed after I convince them to get their nose down inside the bucket.
What is your favorite food to work with?
Fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes at the peak of ripeness. That lingering smell on your fingers from the tomato vine is like nothing else. It’s a time-warp back to my youth in my parents’ garden. My mouth is watering just thinking about this. Pork is up there too. There are just so many applications: from the obvious, like salami, to the best pie crust you’ve ever had, using lard. And mushrooms. Chanterelles and maitakes. I get really excited about mushrooms as well.
What are your favorite places to shop for meats?
That’s a long answer. Ideally I’d buy and butcher a whole hog from a local farm. Payne Family farms is a great one. Carlton Farms provides some great, yet affordable, meats from a collection of different Oregon farms as well. I’m a huge fan of Chop, who have a meat counter at City Market and a booth selling their salumi at the PSU Farmer’s Market. On a weeknight you’re likely to find me at the butcher’s counter in Sheridan Fruit Company—they’ve got an excellent house-made porchetta roast, by the way. That said, nothing beats sourcing meat from a local farmer.
Where do you eat out?
Anywhere I can. That’s one of the reasons I live in Portland. This list is so long… I’m not even sure where to start. I will say that Le Pigeon is at the very top of my list. Fat and acid. Balance. It’s something they do so well. There are so many great chefs making good food around here. Chefs like Justin Woodward at Castagna, or Ryan Roadhouse at Nodoguro. The list is just too long and I feel like I’m going to forget someone…