Natalya Brusilovsky, Culinary Choreographer

Natalya Brusilovsky loves to cook to music. And as you’ll see below, she recommends dancing as a way to enliven a cook’s mood–and her dish! (Call it kinetic spice.) And this community-based theatre artist and pop-up restaurateur knows how parlay these two art forms into a tasty fusion. (Appropriately enough, she has provided theatre consulting to the Baltimore Performance Kitchen, among many others.)

Natalya has directed, produced, stage managed, performed in, designed lighting and/or run tech systems for various groups, including Funkopolis, Trade City Productions, Fringe Benefits Alliance, Charm City Kitty Club, Darb TV, Strand Theatre, Juntas Partnership, Theatre Action Group.

But her most prominent stage might be Shorty’s Tulip Café, a cozy eatery she runs out of her Baltimore home…for now. Because Natalya is working on moving the café to its own, separate space–with a spotlight on art and local, healthy food, of course. Now that’s a delicious blend….

Could you speak to how you build community through food?

Because everybody eats food, if you put some down on a table with some chairs around it, people will sit down and start eating. Inevitably people will also start talking, joking, and learning from each other. Therefore, you are building community–on the most basic level. But on another level, the way people think of themselves within a community varies greatly from one person to the next. Some people are averse to naming themselves inside of one community or another, so I tend to shy away from using language like “building community,” because the goal for me is for people to able to be themselves, to come hungry, or curious, or needing a hug, and stay for as long as they choose. The great thing about that is, when people begin to feel welcomed somewhere, they begin to participate and lead. I guess it’s my wish to help build participation and leadership by inviting others to partake in eating food.

What are some ways folks can enjoy a more soulful relationship to food?

Fun question. And crazy because you caught me in a very strange time in my soulful journey. I am currently mourning the recent loss of my beautiful mother, and have been living in a different relationship to food than usual–one of “emotional eating.” Many of us do this, it is, perhaps, part of the soulful fabric of how we do.

I’ve been enjoying comfort foods these past few weeks because that’s what my belly wants right now. For me, it’s bagels and lox cream cheese. Mexican- style foods, Indian-style foods.

I’m so glad to be able to pronounce this publicly online (thanks for the opportunity)–a soulful relationship to food is about being in touch with what your body wants and needs. With so many opposing diets and nutritionists vying for our attention, it is increasingly difficult to weed out the clutter of research and opinion to get to what our bodies and spirits really want and need. These days, I am doing my best to take the time to close my eyes and feel out what I want and what I need in my belly and in my life in general to get through this heartache.

I think a soulful relationship to food always takes this road, even when we’re not mourning or feeling “bad.” Connecting to what we want and need in our bellies, in my opinion, is one of the most soulful acts we can harness.

Dancing while cooking helps as well.

So many people are intimidated by cooking. Any advice on how someone might start exploring in the kitchen?

Here are my keys to cooking:

When setting up your kitchen, make room for guests/loved ones to hang out, enjoy some music. Access the recesses of your mind to a time when you watched someone make something delicious–in person or on TV or anything. Maybe use recipes as inspiration and take. your. time.

Hang out with people who are forgiving! When I was about 19 years old, I made a dinner for my three best friends. Pasta with garlic sauce. Easy peasy. About three minutes into the awkwardly silent meal, one of my friends said, “Can you pass the salt and pepper?” and all of us started cracking up laughing because of how absolutely bland and tasteless my meal was. I made dozens more meals for them in the following years, each time getting tastier and tastier. And fumbling on texture or flavor on occasion as well. It’s all part of the journey.

Also of equal importance: begin to experiment! I used to live in Los Angeles–a place of endless beauty and spectacular cuisine, and the energy of the city is full of risk-taking and adventure on many levels. There is year-round gardening and the culinary practices of many restaurants (and friends) were such that all sorts of cultural staples were mixed together. I call this “Cali-Chaos,” and fell in love with this style of cooking. I have no shame when I mix a peach salsa with sesame noodles, avocado, and breaded baked cod. Now I make Cali-Chaos style meals all the time everywhere

Bonus: the amazing work of local hoop-houses and year-round farmers of Baltimore and the surrounding areas makes it easier to experiment all year, complemented by the seasonal foods from the great farmers of Baltimore as well.

Favorite cookbooks or good cooking resources online?

Any and all. I have a Community Arts Brunch Cookbook that was created by residents from my neighborhood, and I also receive Daily Recipes from to whet my appetite as my day progresses–possibly inspire a dinner or dessert!

How is being a pop-up restaurant owner like being a theatre artist?

Doing anything–completing anything–is like being a theatre artist as far as I’m concerned. Partly because I have been doing theatre for as long as I can remember, and often compare EVERYTHING to theatre.

The elements are all there–the script, a production timeline, a budget, the cast and crew, props, promotions, the set and other design elements. Specifically, with pop-up food and theatre–what these two wonderful worlds have in common is that it doesn’t take an army, a giant budget, or fancy equipment to make either. You can use only the essentials in both. The fun of both food-making and theatre-making is the getting-your-hands-dirty-in-the-creative-process, and the anticipation of others appreciating the finished product. I gotta say, though, creating a unique menu and giving names to your own dishes does feel very similar to birthing amazing stage characters.

Anything else you wanna say?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the need for more actualization of what is known to be food justice. The political reality of what controls so much of our relationship to food should be acknowledged–from the technology of new and bizarre pseudo-foods to the way too many humans on this planet are not able to provide nourishment for themselves for various reasons related to poverty. I believe these tragedies affect all of us in some way or another, and must be recognized as problems to be solved as we move forward in our journey.

Photo Credit: Solace Photography