In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with Andy Baraghani, a New York City-based chef and author of “The Cook You Want to Be.” The two discuss their favorite NYC restaurants and bars, the world of food media, and queer nightlife in the city. Plus, what are the only foods that Cornell and Baraghani avoid? Tune in for all the details.
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Jake Cornell: Thank you very much for doing the show. I’m very excited to talk to you.
Andy Baraghani: I’m very excited to be here. I feel like you’ve spoken to some of my besties, or people that I also just love and don’t know. But I’m very excited.
J: A lot of people have been telling me to get you on the show and I was like, “Yeah, of course.” And then Grossy Pelosi made it happen.
A: Oh, yes, he does make it happen.
J: He really does. God bless him. I’m so excited to talk to you because I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I’ve made your recipes, I’ve watched your videos, I’ve liked your Instagrams. But I don’t know all that much about you, like how you got to where I met you on the internet. Your path in the restaurant industry, your path in the food industry, and then also your relation to it as a person. Which is really the premise of this show.
A: So we’re basically going to talk about all the things, my life story, all the struggles, the ups and downs.
J: So where were you born? Let’s start with your astrology. No, I’m just kidding.
A: I’m a Sag, through and through.
J: Nice. I love that. The way I usually start the show is by asking the very uncomfortably broad question of, what does going out mean to you?
A: Oh, my God. Should I answer that right now?
J: Yeah, let’s go.
A: So I would say it has evolved from, let’s say when I was obviously a teenager to when I was in my early 20s to late 20s to now. I’m in my early 30s.
J: Nothing wrong with that.
A: Nothing wrong.
J: I saw “Company” on Broadway last night, and the whole premise of the show is that she’s 35 and on the cusp of death. We need to chill.
A: That needs to be rewritten very quickly. I think that before, going out just meant it was so easy, it was so casual. I could just message my friends and I would be around five, 10 people. Not that I was ever in that kind of group, but it was very easy to go out in your early 20s. Now, obviously with Covid, too, but I feel like now I’m scheduling things and sending calendar invites or receiving calendar invites. But going out at the end of the day, through and through from even back then ’till now, has been really good to the people around me. Whether that’s one person, two people, a small, intimate group. Just have a lot of good food. It doesn’t need to be one big meal. There could be a lot of different snacks. Ideally drinks are involved. That’s usually the case, I would say it’s gotten more tame. It’s gone to the 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m mark rather than the 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. mark. I don’t know if my friend Dan said this in the email; he knows about going out. He used to definitely go out, but has calmed down.
J: At some point you have to keep it going. You know what I mean?
J: So did you come up in the food world via the restaurant industry? What was your path to working in food?
A: It was definitely through the restaurant industry. I was born in California, in the Bay Area — East Bay Pride — and there’s just so many good restaurants and it has such a rich restaurant history there. It has some of the most incredible produce in the world. So I was surrounded by a lot of that growing up. I’m a first generation American; my parents came to the States from Iran in the late ’70s just before the revolution. So it was having this kind of access to these restaurants and these markets, then also eating Iranian food pretty much every single day. And that food is so incredible. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s harder to translate into restaurant food. But I think it’s becoming more and more popular.
J: Why is that? Can you explain why?
A: Yeah, I think Persian food, Iranian food takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of prep work and you can’t really rush it. So dishes take two, three, four hours to just cook. And then the prep involved can take a lot of time as well. So it doesn’t necessarily work, the slow stews and the elaborate rice dishes. That’s why a lot of the Iranian restaurants you tend to see are more like kabob houses, which really just scratches the surface of Iranian food.
J: That makes sense. I feel like part of your persona when you were in Bon Appétit was like the person who was very comfortable with a very long recipe that had a lot of steps. And it makes sense if, culturally, that’s innate to the food you grew up eating and cooking.
A: Yes. When I first joined BA, that was definitely something I had to grapple with. Because it wasn’t so much the Iranian food, it was more working at restaurants. And I started working at Chez Panisse in California and then had different stints in Paris and in New York. I didn’t go to culinary school. I just worked in restaurants. I went to NYU for school and I worked my way up in restaurants, and that’s really how I got my education. But I was always obsessed with food. It started very, very early. I feel like my family has a lot of photos of me with my play kitchen
J: At NYU, did you know that food is where you were going to go after?
A: Oh, I was leaving class early to go work at restaurants.
J: What did you work at?
A: I was working at Frei, which became Aska, which is still around, incredible. It’s a restaurant from Frederick Vesalius, which has just become very Michelin-starred and fancy. I was at Estella in Houston when it first opened. We’re talking about seven years ago. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but the restaurant has changed so much since then.
J: Yeah. Estella is one of those restaurants that I feel like has a true, almost cult following in New York. People f*cking love Estella.
A: But the joy of working in restaurants is that, if you’re working on the line, someone is doing the prep during the day and you have all this access to different kinds of ingredients. It’s definitely more elaborate than home cooking. So I think when I shifted to go into food media, I had to kind of eventually shift. In the last two years working in food media, my recipes have just gotten so easy and it’s very few ingredients and less steps.
J: Was that a creative choice for you or a practical choice, that you think that’s what needs to happen to make recipes more accessible?
A: I actually wrote about this a while back and it was part of a larger subject matter, an essay I wrote about sexuality and my ethnicity and how they intersect with food. But it was actually talking about the struggle I had working in food media, specifically when I started off at Bon Appétit. Because I feel like my recipes were a little bit elaborate and I really wanted to focus on regional foods and specific dishes. I don’t think there was as much of the audience as there is now. Things have changed so much for the better. We really are that much more curious and willing to take a few more steps or go to a different market to find a specific ingredient. But I think I shifted in the sense that I had to really ask myself, “What is the food that I want to cook at home?” And how, at the end of the day, my goal as a recipe developer is for people to make the recipes right.
J: Of course.
A: You could develop the best recipe, but if people aren’t making it, you have to kind of work on that. So I find that people are willing to maybe buy a lot of ingredients, but the steps need to be really short or the steps could be long, but then the ingredients need to be very short. They can’t do both.
J: I mean, that makes sense. I think that’s so interesting, what you were talking about. I’m sure there’s such a pressure when you’re coming to a place where you’re now expected to create food media to be consumed by the masses and you have a specific cultural background that you’re coming to it from. And there’s this balance I’m sure you have to walk of your cultural background to it and your perspective to it, but then somehow making it palatable and packageable and commercialized. And those almost seem idiosyncratic.
A: I definitely would never describe myself as someone who is an Iranian cook. I am Iranian and I am a cook. But my recipes are certainly not just Iranian. But when I did try to present recipes that were Iranian, I tried to provide as much context as possible. I felt like that was very important. You can’t really skip the steps or try to do a riff on a dish if you’re not giving the context of what the origin is.
J: I was thinking about that when you were just talking about wanting to showcase food in that way. I think a lot of times people will critique food for being inauthentic or inaccurate, oftentimes see that’s coming from people who also aren’t of the culture that the food comes from. It’s this more elitist thing of being like, “No, you have to go to this special place and get this special ingredient or fly to this country and eat it here.” Instead of explaining the context and the history of why the dish is done this way and what different things bring to it. Because information, in theory, should be free. Context should be free. It’s not about necessarily going to the place. It’s not necessarily about getting this very specific expensive ingredient. It’s more about learning the ideology behind it.
J: I think that’s important to disseminate that out. I feel like that ties into a lot of what Dan was talking about in his episode. In his episode, he was talking a lot about the similar thing of wanting his food to feel accessible and not judging people for their access to certain ingredients or access to certain resources to make food. Just because you live in, I don’t know, some town in the middle of Oklahoma, that you can’t cook Iranian food because you don’t have access to certain things. There should be that sort of context.
A: Exactly. Cultures are constantly evolving. And those dishes of those cultures there, they’re evolving as well. I can think of certain Iranian dishes that are essential to the cuisine. But if you go back hundreds of years, it’s a completely different dish. The way it looked, the different meat, I can go on and on.
J: Totally. So when you were going to NYU, being an NYU boy and also working in restaurants, what was that like socially? Were you more with restaurant friends or NYU friends?
A: It was trouble. I was a riot. I was doing well in school. My professors loved me..
J: What were you studying?
A: I was studying food studies and cultural anthropology.
J: Oh, OK, cool. So it was all tied in. It’s not like you were a Tisch major.
A: I do love films and all that, but no. I had a pretty good social life. I went out. God knows, I feel like I dated half the city back then. Obviously the pandemic has had an effect on all of us in that sense, but I get a lot of energy from being in the city. I’m a city boy through and through. I like being in nature. I love the ocean and mountains. But I am a city boy. And if I’m away from the city for too long, it hurts. Back then I was just eating at every restaurant that I could afford because as soon as I moved to New York, I got a job within two weeks. I don’t come from money. So I was very much just working and eating and working and eating and going out and using my fake I.D.
J: I know. I moved here when I was 21 and it was very much the same as just going to restaurants I could not afford, but needing to. And going to bars I could not afford, but needing to see them and experience them because I just can’t. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do this whole time.
A: I feel like we both have similar nostalgia about the city. You’re from Vermont, right?
J: Yes, I am.
A: You had some proximity to New York. How old are you?
A: OK, so I’m a little bit older than you.
J: Not much, though.
A: But I think we both have this nostalgia of New York growing up, it was the early aughts. What episode was I listening to? I think it was Suchin Pak and the TRL era. I was always watching that. I need to get to New York. I need to get out of this state. And I feel like it was the Misshapes era. Do you remember Misshapes?
J: My brain is holding a place for it but can’t fill it. What is it?
A: I guess they were these party promoters. The only way it was documented was that they would throw these parties — Misshapes parties — and there was this music and sometimes celebrities would come and people would be posing against the wall. Again, pre-social media. But there were always these parties and that particular kind of emo style of hair. And I was like, “I have to get there, I have to get to New York.”
J: That’s the thing, because it was food, it was partying. It was also being f*cking gay. That’s what it was, it was wanting to go to New York and be so gay.
A: I mean, Bay Area’s pretty, pretty f*cking gay. I think I like that. I want that.
J: You were like, “So I’m actually an East Coast gay.”
A: Yes, exactly.
J: I had just spent so much energy wanting to feel like I was in it. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be at the parties, at the restaurants, at the bars. And then at some point, you realize that there is a little bit of an illusion to that. That doesn’t necessarily fully exist all the time. And most of the time it doesn’t. Occasionally, it is. There are those nights where you’re like, “I’m at the spot.”
A: You feel it, you know it.
J: You feel it. There’s alchemy to it. You can’t fully predict what night’s going to be the night where like, “Wait, this is the spot. We found it, we did it. We got here.” It just has to happen. And it’s a really magical thing when it does.
A: There was a time, and maybe this is saying too much. I really probably shouldn’t say this.
J: We can edit it if it’s too bad. But I trust you.
A: I remember the parties. I remember the name of the party. Tuesday, I would go out. Wednesday, I would go out. Thursday, I would go out. Friday. I would maybe take a break because I feel like there were just cheesy parties happening on Friday. Saturday and even Sunday. So Monday and Friday, I wouldn’t go out. I was going out all the time and I came out alive.
J: I think that if you have that hunger in you, you have to fully explore it to then prove to your brain, OK, you saw it all. Now you know what it is. So now you can skip it some nights.
A: Exactly. I’m referring to my early 20s. So it wasn’t like I had a comfortable setup with living situations. Of course I wanted to be out.
J: That’s the other thing. I have three roommates and there’s no room and this apartment’s dark.
A: I didn’t have a window for a period of time.
J: You’re like, “Get me out of the f*cking house.” If you were to plan a night out now, what would it look like for you?
A: I feel like I’m planning one right now and it’s bringing together three of my friends that I haven’t seen in a minute and doing a full-blown, indulgent dinner and too many bottles of wine.
J: Have you picked a location?
A: I typically pick the location because I love restaurants and I feel like I keep up to date. That was definitely part of what I did at my previous job. And I’m happy to take the lead. But yeah, I think it depends. Sometimes it’s a new restaurant that I want to check out. Sometimes it’s an old-school institutional place I don’t even need to think about. One of the best nights I had recently was when I reunited with two of my past roommates. They’re both from France, but they happened to be here. And it was actually a time when I had six roommates, so we all reunited and we went out and we just went and had drinks. Have you been to Wildair?
A: So we basically went to Wildair, which is an incredible restaurant. Fabian and Jeremiah are my favorite people. I love them. Big shout-out to them. We just had bottles of wine and so much food. And I think we closed it down, which I don’t typically do at this point, but it was just so much fun and nostalgic and we have a lot of memories. So it’s very easy to make fun of each other.
J: That’s gorgeous. That’s really gorgeous. A big group is reuniting and parking it. It’s a rare move, but I respect doing the full night out at a restaurant. If it’s clear that they don’t need the table back and you can just park it, that’s one of the rare moves that is truly heaven.
A: Rare in New York. But when you’re able to, it is so comfortable. And especially that restaurant, it’s small and it’s a tight space. But the food, it’s small plates. So we just kept on ordering things and ordering more things and pacing and it was such a vibe.
J: If you know you’re doing it, it’s the kind of thing where there’s no rush. Let’s order three things. And then in 10 minutes when we’re hungry, order more. If Heaven’s real, it will just be me at a table for eternity with friends. We just keep ordering sh*t, that’s all it’ll be.
A: Now in this world of freelance life, I am very into the long, lazy lunch. I’m also very much for that.
J: Yeah. A lunch that meanders into a light dinner. That’s a full heaven to me.
A: How long have you been in New York now?
J: Coming up on eight years.
A: And you’re in Brooklyn?
J: I’m in Brooklyn. I was in Manhattan for the first three and I’ve been in Brooklyn for five.
A: How much do you love it?
J: Brooklyn versus Manhattan?
A: Just New York. This is home.
J: It’s home. Obviously, being an actor and a comedian, people are like, “Do you want to move to L.A.?” Absolutely not. Did you listen to Molly’s episode? Molly Baz basically had a gun to my head.
A: I love her so much, she’s my sister. I’m going to give her so many kisses next time I’m in L.A.. The truth is, she did New York. She loves L.A. She is L.A. It makes complete sense.
J: Energetically it clicks. It makes sense for her.
A: I love California. I was born there. It has influenced me in so many ways. But this is home. I breathe easier here than anywhere else.
J: I’m 100 percent the same. Cognitively, I know it right now. Sitting here with you, I’m literally in NoMad talking to you. I know I love New York. But the way I really f*cking know is when I’m away and on day five, I start to get that feeling, Even if I’m in Europe, honestly. Maybe in Europe it’s like day nine. I’m like, “I need to get back to New York.” You could call it an addiction, but I don’t care. It’s home.
A: I want that rush. I want that inspiration. Even on the coldest days and it’s gray, like today, actually, I’m looking out my window.
J: It is gnarly out today.
A: But I’m like, “Oh, I love this city.”
J: The power of a walk in New York. The power of just going on a walk, for me, is like everything. If I’m just in a bad mood or if I’m feeling blah. Especially now that I’m like you, I’m freelance and it’s like, “Ooh, there’s a lot of lack of structure.” You can get depressed or bored really quickly. A simple walk can really change the game.
A: Yes, definitely. Right before this I was like, “I should make a salad.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna just buy a bagel.”
J: I got pizza on the way here. It was really good. I’m curious, as someone who is the restaurant picker and it’s part of your job, I want to talk about spots. What are the places you love? Let’s get into this.
A: I know a lot of people who are hard-core. I’m hard-core, not just with the pics, but with lists.
J: Just the restaurants to go to?
A: Restaurants and anything else you could imagine. Any city I’ve been to, I just do hard-core research and then I make a list and then I break down the neighborhoods. Oh, my God. I feel like I’m showing my true self. And I just populate it on Google Maps.
J: Is there Virgo in your chart?
A: There is Virgo in me. Well, that is Virgo. I think people would probably think I’m more of a Virgo. I definitely feel connected to a stage.
J: I would say you read Sag. I get that. But there’s definitely a Virgo moon moment or Virgo rising or something.
A: But for spots in New York, I got you covered. You want to know New York?
J: Yeah. Let’s talk about New York. I mean, I have the same thing.
A: I think it’s a few things. I have my regular spots I love. I just moved to Brooklyn a few months ago. Even though I knew this neighborhood, I’m more settled in and going to see everybody. So I’m in Brooklyn Heights, I’m going to Clarke’s Diner, Shelsky’s. I’ve been going to Sahadi’s and Damascus for years. Places that I really love and always will. I love Hart’s. They’re amazing. Everything they do is incredible.
J: I love Pat, the GM of Hart’s. He’s the best.
J: Yeah. My friend’s the beverage director of that group, Stacey, she’s amazing. I’ve been dying to try Lodi.
A: I love Second Avenue Deli. That’s where I go and get my pastrami.
J: Oh gorge.
A: Old school. People have their own picks for where to go for pastrami. I won’t name other spots, but Second Avenue Deli is my place. I’ve always loved Barney Greengrass uptown if I happen to be up there for breakfast. Where else? I eat a lot of Chinese food. It’s my favorite food. I’m eating it once a week, that’s baked goods like pork buns at Mei Lai Wah bakery. I want to give you all the spots. Spicy Village in the Lower East Side, their tomato and egg cumai is incredible. It’s my favorite vegetarian dish in all of Manhattan.
J: Whoa, that’s insane.
A: Yeah, it’s my favorite vegetarian dish. The scrambled tomato egg with a little bit of soy and hand-pulled noodles. Pacificana is my favorite dim sum place in Sunset Park. Dumpling Galaxy in Flushing, Queens.
J: You really do the work.
J: Those are my top two to try. Those are literally my top two to try.
A: Uncle Boons, R.I.P.
J: I did go to Uncle Boons and it was incredible.
A: OK, so Thai Diner is the sister restaurant, and it opened just before the pandemic. There is a little bit of overlap with Uncle Boons; some dishes that are a little bit of a riff. But everything they have is so delicious. Their stuffed cabbage is amazing. And then Cherry on Top in Brooklyn is a very cute small wine bar that opened up a while ago. Dr. Clarke has the chicest interior.
J: I don’t know this.
A: Dr. Clark opened on Bayard, I believe, in Chinatown. And the interior, which is done by this New York firm called Green River Project, is so chic. You have to go there. And Dame I love. I mean, I had almost every single thing on the menu and every single thing was more delicious than last.
J: I’ve heard Dame is insane. Ever since I stopped working in Manhattan, I’ve been really bad about coming into Manhattan to go to restaurants. Because I’m in Brooklyn, there are so many good options there. I need to get better about it. That’s been my biggest issue. But I know Patricia from when I used to work at Kindred and she was helping out at Red Gate. Do you know Red Gate Bakery? She was helping out there and Dame was still a pop up. And I know her and she’s the best. And I just still haven’t gotten over there and it’s bad.
A: I want to go to a lot of new spots. But then I also find myself just going to spots I know.
J: The internal struggle.
A: It’s so easy, I don’t need to think about it.
J: I know. But your neighborhood over by you has five restaurants I can think of that I would just happily go to a million times.
A: What do you know around here?
A: Yes, of course.
J: I went to Popina on Monday and had — I’m not exaggerating — one of the top five dishes I’ve had in a restaurant in the past three years.
A: What was it
J: It was a bruschetta in brodo. So it was a thick cut bruschetta toast with burrata and arugula and prosciutto and then in a clam broth with whole clams, out of the shell. They literally fill the bowl with the broth and then just drop it in. The bread is saturated with this seafood, salty broth.
A: A little bit crunchy on top still?
J: The crust is still hard. And then you cut through it and it is silky and velvety and crunchy and fatty and salty. I was screaming at the bar. I was making other tables uncomfortable. I was losing my f*cking mind over this dish.
A: I love that. That sounds so good. I’ve been going to Habina Diner, which is a very neighborhood Japanese spot. That’s very good. It’s a gem around here. And then, obviously, you forgot to mention Long Island Bar. Have you been?
J: I’ve been to Long Island Bar multiple times. I usually do Long Island Bar as a pre-drink to Colony. That’s my favorite move, getting like a Martini or something at Long Island Bar and then walking over. Or going to Long Island Bar for the cheese curds, the Wisconsin cheese curds. Which you can’t do before Colony because then you’ll die. And the burger at Long Island Bar is phenomenal, too. And I also really like Elsa, the cocktail bar.
A: It’s really good.
J: Their sister, Ramona, which is in Greenpoint, I think it’s still open as well. They used to have a cocktail on that menu that had a rye syrup in it that literally tastes like you were drinking rye bread in a glass. It was so f*cking good.
A: Is there anything where it’s like, “Oh, I can’t get into that” or any ingredient or things that you’re not a fan of?
J: The unfortunate thing is I had an allergic reaction to shrimp once, so I’m technically not supposed to eat shrimp. But all other shellfish is fine and it’s one of my favorite categories of food. So that’s my only true dietary restriction. And then I do have the thing, and it’s my least favorite thing about myself, I have the thing where cilantro tastes like soap. I hate it about myself. If I could change anything about myself, it would be that.
A: I appreciate this so much because one, you’re frustrated by it. You know that cilantro is amazing and what it tastes like. I guess right now I’m feeling it so much because my boyfriend has the same thing. I’m like, “No, it’s bad for you.” But I can’t have you prevent me from eating cilantro.
J: Yeah, my boyfriend also f*cking loves cilantro, and it’s hard. If it’s a little bit in a dish, I’ve trained myself to kind of ignore it. If it’s predominant, I really can’t get past. It sucks. And what’s crazy is, I also want to know what cilantro tastes like. Everyone’s like, “It tastes so good” and I don’t f*cking know what it tastes like.
A: I definitely know there are certain flavors when they’re mixed together that I’m not a fan of. But ingredient-wise I wouldn’t say there’s anything. There’s one thing that stands out, but otherwise.
J: What’s the one thing?
A: I don’t love raw bell peppers.
J: That’s a common one, too. I almost wonder if there’s a genetic thing to that because I like them, but I feel like a lot of people have a very intense resistance to that.
A: Look, give me a red bell pepper, scorch the bark out of it, make it blackened outside. Remove the skin until it’s jammy and sweet and silky. Give that to me. Put it on a salad. Have it saucy. Great. But a raw bell pepper.
J: Wow, it’s that intense for you?
A: I don’t understand. But that’s the only thing. I feel like I’ve said that before, and people have gotten so upset. I’m like, “Oh, my God, give me the one ingredient.”
J: My other thing is I’m wary of a really cream-based sauce, like an old school alfredo is not usually my vibe. But I’ll do a vodka sauce, happily.
A: I’m right there with you. Rarely do I want a cream-based sauce. I’m happy for us to be finished with cream. I want butter. I just want butter. I would rather take butter.
J: Yeah, I feel the same way. If I’m at an Italian spot, I’m always going to lean towards a tomato base over a cream base every time. But that’s just me personally. Those are my only hard-and-fast things, though, shrimp and cilantro. And at this point, I kind of want to try shrimp again because it was five years and I was only in the hospital for like five minutes.
A: I had an allergic reaction to pineapple. Generally speaking, some kind of tropical fruit I react to, but I still go with it.
J: The thing is, shrimp is easily my least favorite of shellfish. I’m not excited by a shrimp in the same way I’m excited by a clam or a lobster or a crab, personally. You look offended.
A: I mean, shrimp isn’t my favorite, but it’s definitely up there. I’ll say this. I love clams, clams are probably my favorite.
J: Linguine clams is probably my favorite, it’s a top-tier food. The clam f*cking toast at Hart’s.
A: It’s iconic. And whether it’s Manila, a Little Neck, whatever kind of variety, I love clams. I love shrimp, too. I like to suck the shrimp heads. I do that every single time.
J: This is why I haven’t gone to Thai Diner because I don’t want to deal with having a shrimp allergy there. I’m anxious to sit down and be like, “Hey, I’m so excited to be here. I respect this venue so much. I’m allergic to one of the most popular ingredients in this cuisine.”
A: I know for a fact, there’s definitely a lot of dishes that don’t use shrimp, whether it’s fresh or dried. I love crab.
J: I adore crab.
A: I will say that lobster is a touch overrated. I would take crab over lobster.
J: OK. Interesting. A lobster pasta or a lobster roll will always make me a happy person.
A: Hot or cold?
J: Cold, cold, cold.
J: I was really nervous because I have one friend that’s hot and we get in fights about it.
A: I want it lightly tossed with some mayonnaise and a little bit of celery leaves.
J: That’s exactly it.
A: I don’t need butter on my lobster, it’s already buttery enough.
J: I’m hardcore on the cold front. OK, then in terms of drinking, what are you into?
A: I love lots of wine, plenty of natural wine. I’m a tequila mezcal guy. It wasn’t always the case. I was definitely someone who drank a lot of gin before. Now I don’t touch gin at all. For some reason I just never do.
J: Interesting. I started with tequila and moved to gin.
A: I think that I drank too much gin and now I’m sensitive to it. Also, gin sneaks up on you. And also I’ve heard this by many people and it never had this effect on me — I never was a heavy drinker — but gin brings out the dark side. Have you heard that before?
J: I’ve heard that as well. I don’t have that issue personally. A dry Gin Martini is my favorite drink, so I feel like if a gin was going to bring out the dark side of me, it would have done it by now.
A: I was doing tequila mezcal or I will do this. This is maybe not OK to some people, some hardcore cocktail people, but again, do what feels right. I do a dry, little bit Dirty Martini on the rocks.
J: That’s a twist. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why are people mad at you for that?
A: It’s like, Oh, you can’t have a Martini on the rocks. It has to be up.
J: That’s not true.
A: Oh, I don’t know. I basically am looking for a vodka on the rocks with a sh*t ton of olives and a lemon. That’s basically what I want. Or I love mezcal so much, and tequila.
J: Yeah, mezcal is incredible. People say that about tequila, too, that tequila makes you angry. I really don’t find any of that stuff true. Not to be condescending, but are we in high school? You can’t blame your mood and behavior on the type of alcohol you’re drinking. It’s all alcohol and I won’t hear anything otherwise.
A: 100 percent. If anything, it just makes me a little happier. It’s like a little upper whenever I’m drinking.
J: I get a little booze. But if you’re crying every time you drink, I don’t think that’s the alcohol’s fault. I think there’s something wrong with you.
A: It’s internal, and that’s OK. Got to work. Let’s talk about it.
J: 100 percent. But if you’re fighting with your boyfriend to the point of tears every time you drink, that’s not the booze’s fault. I don’t want to hear it. Are you a bar person or if you’re going out, it’s usually restaurants?
A: Yes, I’m a bar person, if there is food involved. Before I used to go to bars a lot more often, now less so.
J: That 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. pivot from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., that’s what that is.
A: God, I can’t believe it. We’re not talking about restaurants and just going out, but whatever. I wouldn’t go to bars. I would want to go to dance parties. That’s the thing.
J: Well, yeah.
A: The bars were 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. and then go out. But there is a new bar I want to check out. I think it’s called The Nines.
J: Where is it?
A: I think it’s above Acme restaurant, maybe not. But I know it’s the same restaurant group as that. It’s actually a piano bar, which is not at all something that I go for, but it looks so cool inside and the food menu looks great. So I’ll check that out.
J: Gorge. I’m so interested. I want to check it out.
A: The Nines.
J: As someone who’s avidly exploring restaurants all the time, is it Instagram that you’re using to find places? Is it just by working in the industry and knowing people?
A: I would say it’s a combo. I feel like I definitely have a few people that I trust in the food media world. They have great taste. So I went here, they went there, we both went to the same place and we’ll say what we like and what we didn’t like. Instagram actually is a big help. I do have a folder. Oh, God. I feel like the Virgo really is coming out, but I have a folder of restaurants. Part of it is, I’m a lover of food and cooking. But I also think it’s the editor in me and working in that world and loving the research. When you work in the magazine world like I did, you’re always looking for what’s new and what’s next. Whether it’s in food, fashion, music, whatever it is. And so that is still very much in me and where I’m always looking for like, “Oh, what are the new spots?”
J: Yeah, that makes sense. What’s always the hardest thing is balancing trying to find new spots and wanting to still go to your loves. It’s a constant struggle to not eat in restaurants seven nights a week, to be honest.
A: I feel like I was cooking so much peak pandemic and now it’s a mix. I also just finished writing my first cookbook.
J: Congrats. That’s huge.
A: Yes. And so I feel like I just was in hardcore cooking and developing recipes mode. I feel like it’s my treat to just not have to do that.
J: You earned it, babe. You earned some restaurant hours, for sure.
A: My friends ask, “What do you want to do, you just finished the book?” And I was like, “I just want to eat at restaurants.” I just crave that.
J: Between having to cook the same dish over and over and do the dishes every time, I can’t imagine.
A: Over and over and over. But I’m very excited, it comes out April 26. Everybody please preorder. That makes a huge difference.
J: Oh, I will preorder it the second we get off this call. OK, here’s a question that just came to my mind as someone who just wrote a cookbook. Is there an ingredient or a couple ingredients that you feel like are the undersung “thing” that you find incredibly useful? Or is there something in cooking that this is a thing that you love using that you don’t think gets the shine it deserves.
A: That’s such a good question. And I have so many thoughts. The things that came to mind are more technical than this, than an ingredient, per se. Certain things are like combining butter and oil, doing that combination when you’re cooking things really does something magical. I find myself adding a tablespoon of butter oil when I’m cooking down onions and it just makes it sizzled and jammy and brown, but also that much more unctuous.
J: Because you get the richness of the butter. But doesn’t the oil kind of insulate the butter from over-browning? Is that the idea?
A: Exactly, gold star. And I like combining two different types of acids. When I’m making a dressing or a vinaigrette or I find that I’m using vinegar, but then I’m using a little bit of lemon juice or lemon zest, you get that extreme tart acidity from the lemon juice. But then depending on the vinegar, you get earthy notes from the vinegar, and it makes it that much more interesting. And you don’t really need to do that much else besides add some salt, pepper, oil. And then if you want, add a shallot or not, or added garlic or not. But really, I think the combination of the two vinegars makes it much more exciting.
J: I’m constantly having heartburn and I just don’t go to the doctor because I know they’re going to tell me to stop eating acidic foods and I don’t want to hear it.
A: I do love salts and fatty foods, but I would say the dominating flavor in so much of my food is acid. I use so much acidity in my food. The two other things that just came to mind was, I love black pepper. Your basic black pepper is so good. I think it just needs to be fresh and freshly ground black pepper, and you want to keep it course. That’s the thing, you don’t want pre-ground pepper. I think it makes a big difference. And use a lot of it. I find that I am using pepper in my cooking, actually cooking it in the oil and activating it and sizzling it but also finishing my food. I love that flavor. And then the other thing that people probably wouldn’t think so much about my food, but I do love it, is onion powder. I love onion powder.
J: OK. I have a question about this because I was thinking about this recently. I generally don’t know this. This is just me using you as a food knowledge resource at this point. What is different about using fresh onion or fresh garlic versus a garlic powder or an onion powder? What is the difference in terms of how that’s going to spread in the food? Obviously, other than the fact that you’re going to have pieces of garlic or onion.
A: Yes. So obviously for onion powder and garlic powder, you’re taking an onion or garlic and it’s dried out and then you’re pulverizing it until it’s a powder. And then you need to activate it by ideally heating it up. But you could just add sour cream to make a sour cream and onion dip.
J: There’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s just be clear.
A: Nothing wrong with that. I find myself doing that a lot these days. But with actual onion, you’re introducing water and caramelization. The actual caramelization, that’s happening with something that’s already dried. And it’s a stronger base foundation to whatever you are cooking, whatever that dish may be, whether it’s a soup, a stew.
J: What is it about onion powder that you’re finding that you really love?
A: It’s a concentrated, sweet — this word is used a lot — umami flavor. I find myself adding onion powder to onions if I don’t have enough onion to just make it more. Just how tomato paste has an effect, a little bit goes a long way in the sense that it makes things taste like they’ve been cooking for a long amount of time. I feel like a little bit of onion powder does the same thing.
J: That analogy makes a lot of sense to me. That makes a lot of sense. I’m going to steal that.
A: Yes, take it.
J: I guess if I pay for your cookbook, that’s not stealing it.
A: I was going to say, there’s a lot of those tidbits and geeky information in the book.
J: I love that. This went by so quickly. I cannot believe it. That went by in a second. This was so perfect. You’ve listed so many places. I guess as a certified NYC restaurant expert, I will shout out a couple of places for people who are in New York in one night and can only eat one dish. What would be the dish?
A: Oh my God, that is painful. That is so hard because I always refuse to answer anything like that. My idea was to actually not go to one restaurant and just go to Flushing. Just do a hardcore tour and stop in everywhere. If you had to pick one restaurant, I don’t know.
J: I was gonna change the question. What if someone said that on a day like today, where it’s gross and rainy and cold? What would be the thing you would want to eat today? Because you’re right. There’s too many variables to say one dish to eat.
A: I would go to the Second Avenue Deli and have an everything bagel, scallion cream cheese, and lox. Get some rollmops, if you’re into that, which I love.
J: I don’t know what that is.
A: A rollmop is a pickled herring, stuffed with onions, rolled up, and then a bit of cream sauce. Do that and then go further west, go up and down Lexington, eat all the Indian food and then go to Chinatown. Go to my Mei Lei Weh and eat the baked goods. If you want to have a really nice restaurant, I love Cafe Altro. I really do think it’s such an incredible restaurant.
J: Those restaurants in that group do just have a cult following. They know what they’re doing and people f*cking love it.
A: Everything from the appearance, the design, the restaurant, the menu, everything to me is great. I also feel like Ignacio Mattos is someone I call a mentor. So for sure it’s definitely shaped the way I cook.
J: Incredible. Well, thank you so much for doing the show. Congrats on the cookbook. If you need to try a place and are looking for someone, hit me up. I’m happy to try any restaurant, any time.
A: I’ve got you covered.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.