The Breakfast Bachelor
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.