Alex and Val are the husband and wife duo behind Pickle & Rye, managing a crowded dining room with a smile and a joke and grilling your favourite burger to perfection. Today we’re sitting down, giving this hard-working couple a double espresso (and maybe a doughnut), and finding out a little bit more about what makes them tick.
What drew you to food? How did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the field?
Val: For me, growing up in Iowa, it was completely normal to love food! I grew up in a home that valued gardening; growing your own produce and showing love through food by making everything from scratch. Everything I do today is based off of my knowledge as a child, learning how to eat and live as sustainably as possible.
The very first job I had was a restaurant – the chef was Egyptian and had travelled the world, cooking with food I had never even seen or heard of before, my curiosity was hooked! Working in a restaurant became something I did to supplement my income and make sure I ate well, even after I graduated uni and had a fulltime job. After Alex and I met, and he told me his dream of opening up his own place, I just knew it was the way for us to move forward together, doing what we both loved.
Alex: My very first memory is of food – eating soft-boiled eggs with my neighbor before pre-school. It’s incredible how a taste memory can last with you for a lifetime and I’ve come to really appreciate the connection with the past that food can offer.
I worked a variety of jobs growing up but being inside kitchens was the one I kept coming back to; something about the fast-paced nature of the work plus the camaraderie that happens within the team, I just fell in love with the feeling of it.
What would you say is at the core of your cooking/eating experience?
Alex: I’ve always loved diners, sports bars and comfort food- they all serve food that brings fond memories back and reminds me of family, friends, travel and life experiences.
As someone with lots of relatives and childhood memories in Texas, barbecued meats and smoky southern flavours are ones I naturally gravitate towards. Val and I also love Mexico and try to travel there annually; so Mexican food is also a favourite. Diners were a staple during my late ‘teens/early 20’s and I still love a good diner today; comforting and hearty. Lastly, a few of my mom’s staple family meals are always near my heart –namely grits, chipped beef and pulled pork.
Val: I gravitate towards home cooking: food that is both comforting and casual. Though I do attribute my ever-growing palate to Alex, who is constantly testing food at home. We spend a lot of time bouncing ideas and dishes off of each other! Food is meant to be enjoyed and shared.
What would be your desert island dish/last meal?
Val: Easy. My moms chicken tenderloin sandwiches and strawberry shortcake.
Alex: Prime rib au jus with cheesy double-baked potato.
What’s something you want the UK to know about American cuisine?
Alex: There’s been a big American food movement hereover the last ten years, so I think the UK is already aware of some things; burgers and hot dogs are big here now, southern BBQ, Tex-mex, and deli sandwich fillings like salt beef, brisket and pulled pork. I would love more food here from the American Southwest, Californian and Hawaii (like poke) next – there some really amazing flavours I think people here would love! We do serve some at the restaurant depending on the season, but there’s so much more that could be explored, especially in a city like London where there are people living here from all over the world!
Val: I think overall we want the UK to know that at its core, American food is down-to-earth, homemade, tasty, comforting and fun. That’s what we try to promote at the restaurant, both with our service and atmosphere and with our food.
Thanks Val and Alex! Do you have a burning question or two to ask? Follow us on social media or leave a comment and let us know!