Ricky Aiello, Jr. and his girlfriend Amanda Picotte are the duo behind the down-to-earth YouTube cooking channel Braised by Wolves. The show filmed in Greenpoint, New York began almost a year ago as a passion project and collaboration between the two creatives with Ricky as the chef and Amanda behind the lens. Ricky is of Croatian-Italian decent, but grew up in L.A. with his heritage as an underlying inspiration for some of his recipes.
I found out about them through my soul mate Melani and I was instantly hooked after watching the first episode. The show has a laid back DIY-style that I love and since I can't cook to save my life, their approach is really simple, and fun. If you can't cook or are limited to what you throw down in the kitchen, I say cruise through their channel-I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two.
Has cooking always been a part of who you are or did you pick this up when it was time to adult?
Cooking has always been a pretty big part of my life, for sure. My mom and dad were always cooking in my house growing up. I remember always getting so stoked for Sunday because my dad would bake bread and make meatballs and gravy. Watching Food Network with my mom and my sister was kind of a regular thing too, so I picked up a lot from that. But it wasn't until I moved out to Arizona at 19 when I realized that cooking food is what was going to keep me alive while living on minimum wage. When all you have in your house is potatoes and packets of Chick-Fil-A sauce, there's nothing left to do than try and make some homemade French fries. Slowly but surely cooking became my favorite thing to do.
What inspired Braised by Wolves, and how long have you and Amanda been working at it?
It's funny, the name Braised by Wolves actually inspired the show. I was living with my friend Jason at the time and I had came up with that name one day randomly while cooking. I felt like if I didn't make a cooking show or do something with it, someone would take it and I would regret it forever. So we geared up and made two absolutely ridiculous episodes that I'm sure we will end up re-releasing at some point. It wasn't until about a year later that I met Amanda. She grew up in restaurants and was working at the time as a food photographer, so it made perfect sense to collaborate. It's been just under a year since we teamed up and it's been an absolutely incredible ride thus far.
If you could cook for anyone who would it be?
It would probably have to be Gennaro Contaldo (most famously known in the states as Jamie Oliver's mentor). Being able to cook for someone that knows so much about cooking and Italian food would be so rad because not only would I have a killer time trying to impress, but I know I would walk out of there with some culinary tips to carry with me for the rest of my life. And that dude just seems like the most lively, kind-hearted guy around, so getting to spend some time with him would be great.
What’s the most satisfying part of cooking? For me, cutting fresh vegetables with a sharp knife is 100% the most satisfying part of cooking. Don’t get me wrong, things like seeing a happy face after someone tries your food or the feeling of plating a dish you just busted your ass to make possible are all great, but cutting veggies is just, like, so much more awesome. The sound, the feeling of the knife, the colors. Im getting hyped just thinking about it. I’ll chop veggies for days.
You took your channel to Nicaragua, what other country would you like to visit and what other type of cuisine would you like to master?
Haha yeah, Nica was a great time. Personally, I would really like to visit Sicily in efforts to try and somewhat master their cuisine. I've been diving into a lot of Italian culture and cuisine lately trying to connect with my roots. My family comes from Sicily, so I find it fascinating to learn about where they came from, their natural resources, why certain traditions came about and such. Being able to understand food like that is important to being a good cook.
How do you come up with recipes and what kind of cooks does Braised by Wolves cater to?
To be honest, I just smoke weed, eat food, and think about other food. I’ll try and think about different ways to prepare and eat common foods, what obscure flavor combinations can I put together to result in some killer munch, etc. Im just always trying to challenge myself to be more “out there” in the kitchen. Moral of this answer is.. weed is tight. We try and keep our recipes easy and use commonly found ingredients so that everyone can take something from the show.
You’re also an artist, and musician, how did the transition to cooking come about? Do you still make music and art?
Yeah, it’s a double edged sword juggling so many things. I've been playing in bands and writing music since I was about ten years old. That was pretty much all I did until I moved out of my parents’ house. Around the same time as I was getting serious about the food I was making, I started painting and drawing. It wasn't until a year or two later when I became a "professional" artist, doing gallery shows and commission work. Music and art used to be very conflicting to me. I'd feel one way and I would have to paint or I'd feel another way and I had to write music. Cooking was the one thing I could always do to clear my mind and relax, regardless of my mood because after all, I am always hungry. Currently, I'm in two bands still making music and I'm drawing and painting just about everyday. Finding the time to do all can be incredibly frustrating at times but when it's supposed to work, it works, and it's a great feeling.
You and your partner are the masterminds behind Braised by Wolves, how is it like creating with your lover and how do you balance each other out creatively?
Creating and working with Amanda is a pretty incredible thing. Being able to share serious passion over a project with the person you love is just something that doesn’t compare to much else. Thankfully, we are on the same page with the direction and aesthetic of the show. We also both have strong opinions on how to execute a lot of our ideas, but we know how to hash out these ideas productively. I’m grateful of the fact that I get to work with my girlfriend, but also work with such an incredible photographer with a great work ethic and an extensive background in food.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to cook with? I know you like tomatillos a lot, but is there another veggie or an herb that just instantly carries the food to another level?
Haha, yeah. Tomatillos are tight.
Other than that, I really enjoy cooking with these hand ground Korean chili flakes that our friend Sunny brings us back from Korea whenever she visits. Her grandma grows the peppers, dries and grinds them, it’s crazy. They’ve got just the right amount of heat and the flavor is really bold with almost a smokey quality. It adds some serious bottom to a lot my of recipes and I’ll forever be stoked on it.
What other projects are you working on for this year, and what’s the next goal you have for Braised by Wolves?
I’ve got a lot going on. Almost too much haha. Right now I’m working on some commission work with my drawings and paintings, playing in two bands, experimenting with photography, and just trying to do everything I can to feel like I’m not wasting away. As far as Braised is concerned, we’ve actually got some cool events coming up this year with some extra rad sponsors, so that should be real tight. Also, we’ll be celebrating our one year of the show this March, so we plan on putting together our first cookbook!I already started putting the recipes together. reeeeeal hyped for that.
To stay in touch with Braised by Wolves subscribe to their cooking show on YouTube, Follow them on Instagram and like them on Facebook.