The Break­fast Bach­e­lor

Hello Mr. Magazine - - THE BREAKFAST BACHELOR - text by Alexan­der Testere pho­tos by Daniel Se­ung Lee

About a year ago, I bought my­self busi­ness cards for the first time. I doo­dled in a note­book, took a pho­to­graph with my shabby cam­era phone, and sent it along with $30 to an online printer in ex­change for a tiny box of sturdy pa­per that said I was a “pri­vate brunch chef.” I felt rea­son­ably qual­i­fied for this po­si­tion: I had a blog. I had cooked for a few peo­ple in their homes, walked away with some rave re­views, and had even been paid a lit­tle bit. Now, I’m all out of busi­ness cards and I’ve cooked in dozens of homes; I’ve catered in gallery spa­ces for open­ings, TriBeCa rooftops for the one-per­cent’s one-year-old sons; I’ve cooked for Easter Sun­days, Mother’s Days, bach­e­lorette par­ties, date nights, and even date morn­ings. The New York Times once sent a reporter to an event of mine, and I got to see my name in a na­tional news­pa­per for the first time, even if they did re­fer to me as “the so-called Break­fast Bach­e­lor.” Ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence is en­tirely new and al­ways shakes up any idea I might have about what ex­actly this job of mine is, but I love it.

It be­gan with an ob­ses­sive love for brunch I car­ried over from col­lege, where I learned the value of a meal spent gos­sip­ing and nurs­ing a hang­over with a lit­tle hair-of-the-dog. Per­haps most im­por­tant was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the true con­vivial magic of an in­ti­mate, rit­u­al­is­tic meal: mi­mosas in hand, tired feet dan­gling from thrift shop stools, and boun­ti­ful plates of the most im­por­tant meal of the day be­ing passed from per­son to per­son. Mov­ing to New York ex­ploded this idea for me, pro­vid­ing con­crete, sky-high proof that other peo­ple val­ued th­ese things too. That re­al­iza­tion, along with an over­whelm­ing de­sire to claim a part of the city as my own, re­sulted in my very first blog.

It was a break­fast blog. Break­fast for me was about over­com­ing the crush­ing anx­i­ety of New York City and how im­por­tant it is to wake up early and make some­thing even when you’re ex­hausted and the al­lure of bed is a siren’s call of lazi­ness. Break­fast was about mak­ing time for me and about be­liev­ing that I wasn’t alone in how much work it takes to be sat­is­fied hav­ing a hec­tic, un­sleep­ing city as a home. In a way it also be­came a blog about be­ing sin­gle, and how be­ing sin­gle in a city is lonely but also the most re­mark­able and eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a young per­son. You have a lot of bat­tles to fight, and you fight them alone. You dis­cover the tremen­dous ca­pac­ity for hu­man growth in a stone-cold jun­gle. And it all be­gan with break­fast.

Mak­ing that move wasn’t ex­actly a walk in the park, though dis­cov­er­ing New York’s parks was re­liev­ing. I was cheeky, naïve, and only twenty then, hav­ing grad­u­ated a year ahead of sched­ule. I had noth­ing but a mod­est grad­u­a­tion check in my pocket and a suit­case on my back. I had a friend (an on-and-off ex) in the city who promised a place to sleep for a cou­ple of weeks, and I whole­heart­edly be­lieved that I could find a sta­ble job and an apart­ment of my own in that tiny times­pan, and walk right on out of that room a stronger and more de­vel­oped per­son. I cer­tainly did, too, though it took de­vel­op­ing a twitch in one eye and nearly a fort­night of cry­ing my­self to sleep. But I did it. I se­cured a temp job that af­forded me a lit­tle Bush­wick sub­let and I re­mem­ber that first night in my in­de­pen­dently-funded room, my ba­sic needs sud­denly taken care of, feel­ing like I was do­ing ev­ery­thing I had ever set out to do in the world. Now that I had a home and a job I could start do­ing the things I love again. I could start writ­ing, I could start cook­ing, and meet­ing peo­ple, hav­ing drinks, and go­ing on dates. It was a break­through mo­ment in re­al­iz­ing that I was ca­pa­ble, and that even if I started out only pre­tend­ing I knew what I was do­ing, it was good enough. I was a “pri­vate brunch chef” af­ter all.

Word­Press was the first to com­mend my blog. They sent me an email af­ter my first post say­ing “We love this!” and they put it proudly on their home page for a day. Fol­low­ers start­ing gush­ing in, and com­ments and winky faces and “Good job!”s came too, and the pres­sure was sud­denly and def­i­nitely on to cre­ate and up­hold this new

project, only a baby then. Some­where be­tween “Iced Cof­fee: 2 Meth­ods” and “How To Poach An Egg,” Kitchensurf­ing, then a small culi­nary startup and now a far-flung in­ter­na­tional en­ter­prise, reached out to me with an of­fer to start putting my blog en­tries onto plates in peo­ples’ homes. I was ec­static. I jumped on it im­me­di­ately and was sud­denly set up for my first gig, a Mother’s Day brunch for a fam­ily in TriBeCa, al­most a year to the day af­ter I had made my move to the city.

And my first gig as was an ad­ven­ture, to say the least. I brought fresh in­gre­di­ents to a stranger’s home, pre­pared cock­tails and cooked a four­course orig­i­nal menu for twelve guests. Of course ev­ery­thing that could go wrong did: I for­got the arugula for the salad, some of the eggs poached all goo­gly-eyed, and the ba­con was tak­ing twice as long as I ex­pected. I was on a stage within this stranger’s kitchen, all eyes on me and the brunch dis­as­ter I could po­ten­tially pro­duce. Yet at the dark­est mo­ment there was this mo­ment of ab­so­lute clar­ity; when sud­denly the fog of im­mi­nent dis­as­ter dis­ap­peared and a clear course of ac­tion was un­veiled. I let the ba­con cook while I raced to the store for more arugula, and I made an im­pec­ca­ble hol­landaise to mask the lop­sided eggs. Brunch was served with­out a hitch and ev­ery­one was too far gone on mi­mosas to think oth­er­wise. As I walked back to my car with all my empty tote bags and my oil-splat­tered note­book, and as my heart rate re­turned to nor­mal, I re­al­ized that I had fallen in love. With my first real taste of risk, of ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion mak­ing, of adren­a­line and cre­ative au­ton­omy, the sta­ble ap­peal of my salar­ied desk job just com­pletely van­ished. There was no turn­ing back.

I quit my desk job shortly there­after, a de­ci­sion cat­alyzed by a lively new friend with a bot­tom­less pit of sagely ad­vice and the con­vic­tion to con­vince me it was true. And I be­lieved her, be­cause she had never once en­joyed a dough­nut un­til she met me. I man­aged a food cart on the High Line for a while, and had a flex­i­ble sched­ule that al­lowed for the oc­ca­sional brunch gig. And when sum­mer ended and the cart closed up I was on my own again, re­ly­ing solely on my­self to pay the rent. How About We, a dat­ing site used across the coun­try, of­fered me a sea­sonal con­tract as a “break­fast in bed” chef that their cou­ples could book as a date ac­tiv­ity. I quickly over­came the ini­tial awk­ward­ness of this en­deavor and trav­eled to a dif­fer­ent cou­ple’s apart­ment ev­ery Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ing for months, flip­ping pan­cakes in dozens of dif­fer­ent kitchens and de­liv­er­ing plates to a huge ar­ray of food-lov­ing strangers, all while they sat in bed.

And while I loved th­ese gigs, they hardly cov­ered the costs of travel and in­gre­di­ents. The busi­ness­man in me is shak­ing his fin­ger but the Ro­man­tic in me is en­am­ored by the very ex­pe­ri­ence of it all. My fa­vorite one was for a gay cou­ple in the West Vil­lage. I only ever re­ceived one name on the book­ings so I would never know what kind of cou­ple I’d be en­gag­ing with for the morn­ing. Th­ese guys lived in a beau­ti­ful lit­tle apart­ment, cozy and quaintly dec­o­rated, and I made them hot bour­bon ap­ple tod­dies on a chilly Fe­bru­ary morn­ing, which they en­joyed at their bar while I started fix­ing break­fast. They talked with me about work, about cook­ing, about how they were hes­i­tant to have too much bour­bon in their cock­tails since they were at a James Beard Award pre­sen­ta­tion the night be­fore and had had far too much wine with their meal. They ad­mired my fi­nesse in flip­ping frag­ile burst­ing-blue­berry pan­cakes, and I served them up with grated orange zest and fresh whipped cream. Then the ba­con came out of the oven, can­died with maple su­gar from my own spe­cial some­one’s most re­cent trip to Vermont. I glazed a dozen dough­nuts while they ate, lis­ten­ing around the cor­ner to sat­is­fied signs and know­ing that the best course was yet to come. Sour cream dough­nuts fried fresh and dunked in a glaze of vanilla-in­fused bour­bon. This time, noth­ing went wrong. I gave them my card when I had ti­died up and packed my bags, and they passed along a gen­er­ous tip on my way out. I’ve for­got­ten their names and haven’t ex­changed a word with them since, but I re­mem­ber the menu, and the magic of that morn­ing, and I’m sure they re­mem­ber it too.

Nowa­days when I’m not cater­ing, I work as a cheese­mon­ger at the BK­LYN Larder. I cut enor­mous and un­wieldy wheels down to man­age­able sizes and ed­u­cate cus­tomers on the diver­sity of tast­ing notes of cheeses from all over the world. I love this job, and I love the sta­bil­ity it of­fers, and I love that I’m still im­mersed in the food world,

learn­ing ev­ery­thing I can while I plot my next move. I’m still cater­ing brunch, plot­ting new de­vel­op­ments in dough­nut de­liv­ery, and mak­ing a plan for all the in­evitable ob­sta­cles that will stand in my way. I know there’s a way to make this in­ti­mate, edi­ble magic a uni­ver­sal ex­pe­ri­ence, and I think I’ve al­ready be­gun.

I ad­mit that get re­ally ex­cited when I talk about food. I thrive on the mul­ti­plic­ity of nu­ances in fla­vor, tex­ture, taste, and aroma, and on the way a sur­pris­ing spice or herb can com­pletely trans­form a dish. I sur­vive on that in­cred­u­lous mo­ment when you first ex­pe­ri­ence the bright, flo­ral notes of vi­o­let in a ripe blood orange, or when you re­ally taste the deep, round fla­vor of wine in your cup of cof­fee be­cause you learned about how those par­tic­u­lar cof­fee berries were fer­mented like grapes be­fore be­ing stripped from the seeds and roasted. And I’ve been lucky enough to find a guy who shares th­ese loves of mine, and who loves me just as much, even when I’m fling­ing trays across the floor at 6am be­cause my dough­nuts failed to rise and I’ve got to be at a gig in two hours.

Th­ese adventures keep me tick­ing, keep me think­ing, and are the kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences I want to un­leash onto the world. And while I’m not sure where it will all end up, I’ve al­ready planted my­self over a stove in New York City and I couldn’t be hap­pier. I’ll con­tinue to doo­dle in my note­book and take shabby cam­era phone photographs. I’ll con­tinue spend­ing most of my mea­ger bud­get din­ing out just as of­ten as I cook, and let­ting my lovely boyfriend cook for me when I’m feel­ing low. I’ll con­tinue to devour ev­ery­thing I can get my hands on and ap­proach ev­ery new chal­lenge with a vo­ra­cious ap­petite. Who knows, maybe I’ll be ac­cept­ing a James Beard Award of my own some­day, and my old for­got­ten friends will be once more drink­ing too much wine in the au­di­ence, and fondly re­mem­ber­ing their morn­ing house call from the Break­fast Bach­e­lor.

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