Keia Mastrianni: Professional Plate Spinner

Keia Mastrianni
Keia Mastrianni - photography by Jamey Price

Keia Mastrianni is many things: a freelance writer, oral historian, and small business-owner, living on a working farm in Western North Carolina. 

“I usually say I’m a professional plate spinner,” Keia Mastrianni laughs. “Freelancing is for hustlers, not for the faint of heart.”

Born in Florida, she graduated with a double-major in English and Advertising, and went to ad school at the Creative Circus in Atlanta, Georgia. Today, she says she is most enamored with “bakers and pastry people, especially those putting in work to hand-laminate pastries and work with the seasons, close to the land.” 

Her writing has appeared in Local Palate, Bon Appetit online, Edible Communities, Modern Farmer, and Food Republic, among others, and as an oral historian, she has worked in partnership with the Southern Foodways Alliance. Keia Mastrianni is also behind the small-batch pie business Milk Glass Pie.

What about food and agriculture fuels your fascination?

I was into food in various ways when I lived in Florida, but it wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina, where we have a beautiful climate for growing and an abundance of farms in close proximity, that I really took to food and agriculture. When I moved here, I started growing my own food, frequenting farmers markets, and engaged with the farmers. That completely changed my relationship to food: Buying local mattered more than anything and those relationships blossomed, guiding me to the realization that, ‘Wow, food is my passion.’ 

From there, what led you to develop your own brands?

I’m a writer first and foremost, a food writer mostly, so my Keia is Hungry website is my personal website to share the articles I’ve written or multimedia pieces that I’ve produced with others. It was a cheeky moniker I came up with early on (I began writing professionally in 2011), and it just stuck. Milk Glass Pie is my pie brand, and it will be under construction very soon.

Keia Mastrianni
Keia Mastrianni – photography by Jamey Price

What can you tell us about your new book collaboration with Chef Bruce Moffett

Bruce Moffett and I collaborated on his cookbook, Bruce Moffett Cooks, beginning in 2015. I had spent a solid few years covering food in Charlotte. As a means of professional development, I also wanted to pursue a book project. Since Bruce wanted to create a book, too, we ended up co-authoring. I drafted the book proposal (two, actually), created the concept and template of the book, wrote 73,000 words over eleven chapters, and tested 125 recipes. Heck of a project!

Tell us more about your blossoming small business, Milk Glass Pie? 

I gravitated toward pie as a means of creative expression. It was a party trick I wanted to have in my back pocket, knowing how to make a good pie from scratch. However, it became much more than that. I’ve been baking for about five years now, and Milk Glass Pie has been my side hustle/passion project. I pop-up from time to time and occasionally bake for my friends at Free Range Brewing. I also send out a holiday pie list for Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, it’s taken on a life of its own and I see myself bringing pie to the forefront this year. You have to give the people what they want! 

You seem to be juggling a ton of different projects. What does a typical day in the life of Keia Mastrianni look like and how do you stay balanced? 

I make a lot of lists! My days depend on what I’m working on. Sometimes I’m writing, sometimes I’m baking for an event or pop-up. It all depends on the day, really. I learned long ago that I wasn’t meant to work in an office environment, that I appreciate my autonomy. But that still takes a bit of balancing, and I certainly get off balance and overwhelmed at times. I do what I love and work when I want, and that’s alright with me. Long term, I’d like just to remain true to myself, put good into the world, and foster community through my work, whether writing or baking or whatever else I choose to pursue.

Keia Mastrianni
Keia Mastrianni – photography by Jamey Price

Who or what is your greatest inspiration in regards to writing and creating recipes? When you need inspiration, where do you turn? 

Many people inspire me, and it’s a long list of folks who inspire my writing and baking in particular. As a writer, I have so many peers who are doing great things. But a dear friend of mine, Courtney Balestier, is a constant inspiration. Her podcast, the WMFA podcast, is one every writer should be listening to. Recipes and pie inspo comes from many places as well, but Tara Jensen is always at the top of my list. I took a pie class with her when she had a bakery called Smoke Signals in Marshall, NC. I also often turn to my cookbook collection for inspiration, especially the vintage ones. And doing something that doesn’t involve food or writing, like a hike or attending an art show, usually unlocks some good juju. 

Do you work regularly with or alongside anyone else?

Not really, unless you count my partner, James Swofford (also known as The Chef’s Farmer) who is hopelessly intertwined into my life. We help each other in all things (both of our lives are rooted firmly in the food world), and also do pop-ups together. We call it the “Sweet & Sour Pop-up,” because I make pie, and he serves his vinegar-based botanical beverages under the name Old North Shrub.