BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) — As the coronavirus forces people apart, three southeast Iowa men are bringing the world together with a common bond: a passion for food.
Since its launch on March 25, the Quarantine Kitchen Facebook page — featuring cooking videos produced by Burlington police officer Brian Carper, Lee County Sheriff deputy Brent Gibbs and former Martini’s chef Brandon Burrus who also has worked in kitchens in Chicago, New York and Hawaii — has garnered a worldwide audience, with 11,493 followers, many of whom also contribute, from all 50 states and 32 countries as of Saturday.
“It just kind of took off,” said Carper, explaining he had expected to get maybe 300 followers. “We must’ve found something people needed right then. … In a time where people can’t get together, it’s a place where people can come together and talk about food.”
According to the Burlington Hawk Eye, cooking long has been a passion for the self-taught Carper, who has been with the BPD for 25 years and dreams of opening his own restaurant specializing in Americana comfort food and specialty pizzas when he retires. His dishes have been big hits among family and friends, with many requesting his recipes.
As the coronavirus forced states to adopt quarantine-like social distancing measures and people spent more and more time at home, Carper had an idea: why not start a Facebook page with cooking videos?
He pitched the idea and name for Quarantine Kitchen to Gibbs and Burrus, friends of his whose personal Facebook pages, like Carper’s, are festooned with photos of dishes they have made. They were happy to get on board.
“I thought the title was really catchy,” said Gibbs, an entertainer at heart whom some may recognize from local rock sensation The Gibbs Brothers. Plus: “It’s a way to connect with strangers over our common love, which is food.”
It also gave Gibbs a way to continue providing entertainment while venues where he and his twin brother normally would perform are closed.
For Burrus, it was a fun way to continue sharing his passion for the culinary arts.
“I was like, ’All right, cool. Sounds like fun,” said Burrus, who left the culinary profession due to the long hours and hectic lifestyle that come with it in favor of a job with Keurig Dr. Pepper. “I love to cook and it’s always been a passion of mine, so we just went from there.”
And so, the three began setting up shop in their kitchens, each posting about one video per week with their own unique style.
With his 12-year-old son, Chandler, behind the camera and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World” playing in the background, Carper began his first cooking video with an Italian chicken dish and a guest appearance by Milo, the family dog.
“Hey! This is a cooking show, not a dog show,” Carper can be heard saying in an effort to redirect the attention of his son and the camera on the food.
The father and son team keep things light with jokes and quips throughout their videos, with Carper providing simple instruction and a laid back approach to cooking (he prefers a hammer to a meat mallet).
“I try to keep it simple for people,” Carper said. “I don’t get into measurements. I tell people to season to your taste.”
Chandler has gotten in on the cooking as well, manning the grill while Carper works the camera.
In addition to his initial Italian meal, Carper has filmed the making of his smoked pulled pork nachos (his rub recipe is and will remain a well-kept secret), Thai basil chicken, chicken mashed potato pizza and more.
While Carper does his prep work ahead of time, Burrus prefers to shoot his videos — with the help of his son, Jayden, 15, and nephew, Lachlan Kirk, 14 — from start to finish, quickly dicing up vegetables and explaining how best to chop them before continuing on with the next step while offering expert tips on how to bring out flavors.
“Know flavors,” Burrus said. “Know what goes with what.”
Lemon juice, for example, contains acid, which brings out flavor and opens your taste buds, and lemon zest and fresh-ground pepper make for a higher-quality lemon pepper than what you get in the seasoning aisle.
He encourages people to be creative and not be afraid to cook.
“Food is an art form,” Burrus said. “It’s like an artist who has a paint brush. They can create so many different things with it and food’s the same way. You can create however big you want to go and however small you want to go.”
Burrus’s 12-year-old son, Logan, likes to make his own cooking videos. He even dons a chef’s hat and apron for the occasion.
With his wife, Chrystal, behind the camera, Gibbs likes to have fun with it and put a smile on viewers’ faces, both with humor and the food itself.
“Any video I post, I like to throw comedy into it,” Gibbs said. “It is a sad time for people right now. We’re here to make people happy and make people smile.”
Gibbs begins each video by reviewing the ingredients needed for his dish of the day —think chicken Alfredo pizza, chicken burgers and prime rib roast, Gibbs’ favorite.
Whether attempting to pronounce the names of ingredients (like many, he struggles with Worcestershire), throwing in a tasteful expletive or playfully bantering with his camerawoman/wife, viewers can tell Gibbs is enjoying himself and wants others to do the same.
“I’m not a professional chef by any means, but I’m a chef who likes to have fun with what I’m doing,” Gibbs said.
His 6-year-old daughter, Scarlett, also joins in on the action, helping to add ingredients and arguing with her father over whether cheese really is a secret weapon.
He tries to keep the videos relatively short, editing the footage to exclude cook time.
It wasn’t long before the Quarantine Kitchen’s three administrators became flooded with requests from people of all ages and parts of the world to join. As those requests were approved, members began adding their own photos and videos showing what they’ve been doing in their kitchen during quarantine.
“We’re learning just as much from people around the world on how to make their cuisines in our kitchens,” Gibbs said.
The dishes range from carnitas tacos to chocolate ganoche and just about everything in between, including a hotdog topped with cheese and ice cubes.
Carper, Gibbs and Burrus monitor the posts to make sure no one is abusing the site with cyber bullying, foul language or memes.
Burrus stressed the page isn’t just for foodies or professionals.
“It’s amazing to see all the people in different countries and different states who keep asking to join and are having such a great time with it,” Burrus said. “You don’t have to be a chef to enjoy good food. You can do whatever you want, however you want it.”
The three plan to continue with Quarantine Kitchen even when the quarantine has passed for as long as there is continued interest.
No matter what the future may bring, the Quarantine Kitchen will serve as an important reminder for bringing about a sense of togetherness in a time of isolation and uncertainty.