This week, Jake goes out with chef and cookbook author Carla Lalli Music. The two discuss their top Brooklyn spots, their favorite burgers of all time, and the things that make them want to leave a restaurant immediately.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Jake Cornell: Okay. I have to tell you…
Carla Lalli Music: Tell me.
J: Your new cookbook.
C: Thank you. I’m already like, “Yes, you’re welcome.”
J: I’m not exaggerating. This is not me blowing smoke up your ass. I’m not exaggerating. My boyfriend and I, I have never enjoyed a cookbook so much, made so many things from it.
J: The sizzled beef with the scoopy grains.
J: I’m forgetting the proper name.
C: It’s the Crispy Gingery Beef.
J: The Crispy Gingery Beef. The chicken cutlet, which we paired with the gem lettuce salad with the…
C: Yes. Perfect. With the ranchy dressing.
J: That was heaven. The No. 1 for us, though, and we’ve made it — at this point, I’ve probably made it 12 times and I’ve like made my, now there’s like my version of your recipe.
C: Good, perfect.
J: The sizzled greens with the roasted squash and the yogurt.
C: I love that recipe too.
J: Carla. Then, one of my best friends, Casey, when your first cookbook came out…
C: “Where Cooking Begins”?
J: “Where Cooking Begins” and the second cookbook… “That Sounds So Good,” we haven’t said the title yet, but we had been a fan of yours… The day that “Where Cooking Begins” came out, I came downstairs to a box on my stoop and she had pre-ordered it for me as a gift.
C: Oh my gosh.
J: And it just arrived.
C: Oh wow.
J: But so, when the second cookbook came out, she texted me and she was like, “Have you gotten Carla’s second book yet?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I have it. We’re cooking it.” And she just responded, and we sent at the same time, sizzled greens.
C: Oh my gosh.
C: I really like that recipe too. It’s such a great Thanksgiving recipe actually.
C: Because the squash only cooks for 15 minutes.
C: And then the greens get the hot, seedy, sizzly dressing. And I just like the little popping noise that it makes.
C: But you can roll into summer with that. That could be…
J: I mean, we’ve been doing that.
J: That’s like, and also sometimes what we’ll do is we’ll not do the squash component.
J: And change out whatever, like the protein of it is or the starch is. And it’s totally so fun.
C: I love that.
J: And I also, my addition is I, to the seeds, add a sh*t ton of cumin seeds, and it’s so good.
C: I love cumin seeds.
J: I live for cumin. It’s one of my favorite flavors.
C: I have, it’s so funny because of Andy Baraghani, who I know you also know.
J: Yes, adore Andy.
C: Andy is wonderful with spices.
C: He’s so particular. I learned so much from the people that I worked with, but also that their likes and dislikes are forever embedded in my brain.
J: Oh sure.
C: And Andy has a thing about cumin.
J: He’s anti?
C: He’s just very small. It has to be like a very subtle amount. He always said that cumin is obnoxious.
J: Okay. Well, I, as someone who I think has also been called obnoxious, really identify with cumin. I think it’s so good.
C: I really like it too. That you’re warming my cold dead heart with all these compliments, so thank you.
J: No. Yeah. But you should just be really proud of the book. It is so fantastic.
C: Thank you.
J: And I enjoyed so much of the food that it has inspired me to cook.
C: That’s awesome. I love making it your own. I mean, that’s just been a big message that I’ve tried to get across to people, like always including spins in every recipe and talking about things like, “You don’t have this, use this is not going to make or break it.” Like, I just want people to cook and not get hung up on like the half- teaspoon of paprika that maybe they didn’t have.
J: A hundred percent.
C: Or like, “Is it okay if I have a different lettuce?” Is it like, can I, and that’s how I cook, you know?
C: I never make anything the same way twice when I’m cooking my own recipes. I’m like, “What did I do? Why should I do that? Crazy or is it different today?” You know?
J: Totally. And I think that’s what’s so, and it ties into what I also love about going to restaurants and even bars is like, the more you learn how food and drinks are not these really strict technical rules and these really constrictive boxes of like, “This is how this has to be done,” or “This is how this is supposed to be done.” And it really is like this improvisational creative thing, it makes cooking so much more fun.
J: I feel like those, like over the past, I worked in restaurants for like 10 years. And then also I’ve watched a lot of food media, as you might be able to tell, and getting to the place where I could, even just last night, walk into my kitchen and be like, “Oh, what is here that I can make a dish with?” And that was so fun.
J: And not being so precious with it.
J: And then also being able to then go to restaurants or bars and see the really fun, creative ways that people are doing these things.
J: You know what I mean? I don’t need to go and get it, I mean, I guess sometimes I do want it perfectly executed, like a French dish or whatever.
J: But going out and seeing the ways that people are improvising, changing things up, being creative is what’s so exciting.
C: Yeah. Even dishes that you know and love and that you’ll go to a restaurant and see some other seasonal thing coming in, replacing something else like, but the essence of the dish is the same.
C: It took me a while to learn that about cocktails because I feel like they’re so ratioed.
C: And just not having worked as a bar person.
C: But then, if you make the same drink over and over and then realize, “I like it a little less sweet.” Like even with the Negroni, like messing with those ratios. And then I was like, “This is okay.”
C: It’s okay.
J: You have to be comfortable with, I mean, there’s an element of privilege to it, right? Where there’s like a luxury to not being so precious with your materials. It’s like, “I totally f*cked this up and have to throw this dish away.” That will suck, but it’s okay.
J: And obviously there’s like a privilege to that and it’s the same with drinks where it’s like, “I have to be comfortable with like, I might waste 3 ounces of gin on this if I like…” You know what I mean?
J: And that has to be okay.
J: And once you get to that space, then there is so much room to play and be like, “Oh, like what if I just like f*cking try this thing?”
J: And that’s where it gets so fun. And I think that came to me with cocktails first because I was a bartender and I worked at a place where they were like, “We want weird cocktails. We want interesting things. So let’s push and see what we can do and let’s try it.” And that was so fun. And then I think I was able to carry that over to cooking.
C: People really underestimate failure.
C: Like it is integral to the process of anything, but especially with creative ventures.
C: And in the kitchen, absolutely as a recipe developer, the whole point is that I’m going to f*ck it up like three times.
C: So that fourth time is good. And then you don’t have to go through that waste or those trials and tribulations or those like, “Wow, this really doesn’t look or taste like what I thought it was going to in my brain.” And that is okay to be like, “I hate this and I’m going to either fix it or ditch it.”
J: That’s such an interesting way of looking at being a cookbook author or like a recipe developer is it’s like, you’re not the authority on how to do it. You’re just the one where part of your job is, “I’m doing all the leg work of time to figure this out.” And then you get to drop in at the point where like, “Hey, this is a baseline where it’s going to work,” but you still play with it and f*ck around with it.
J: I hadn’t thought about it that way.
C: Yeah. People think that we are like, “Oh my God, you’re such an amazing cook. How do you da, da, da, da, da?” Whatever they say to other people like me.
J: Yeah, no, totally.
C: No, people would be like, “How do you do that so it looks so effortless as it looks?” And I’m like, “Yeah, because I did it like three other times that were really bad.”
C: And my family ate it, but I was like, you know what I mean?
J: A hundred percent.
C: Especially, I developed “That Sounds So Good” in the pandemic. So we were, that was not the way it was supposed to go down at all. And there were nights where I was like, “We’re eating what I’m developing and it’s definitely not there yet so I welcome your feedback.”
C: It was like my own little test kitchen.
J: And there’s sauces to get it down, I’m sure.
C: Yeah. And then, you have to go through that to make it better. And then at that point where someone is reading my book or watching me perform these recipes on YouTube, like yeah. We’re good now.
J: Totally. I have a couple questions about the cookbooks.
J: And then I want to move into talking about restaurants and bars in Brooklyn.
J: But I’m curious, you have two cookbooks that have come out. When you have a cookbook that comes out and now it’s like, “Okay, I’m writing a second one.” How do you decide what’s different? Is it just like, “I’m going to develop more recipes.” Are you going for a different style? Like moving away? Like what was the thought process there?
C: Yeah. That’s a really important question that comes before everything else.
C: And so the motivation with “That Sounds So Good” was really around celebrating, sharing, and cooking and the emotional connection to food. I just wanted to lean into the idea that food is one of the very few things in our lives that we do for sustenance and pleasure.
C: And you get to do it every day.
C: Like there are not that many things like that.
C: So it doesn’t have to be a big affair or a big to-do, but you have, at least three, being super standard about it, three meal periods a day where you have an opportunity to do something that is richly pleasurable in the eating, but can also be creative, fun, and a break. And if you enjoy the act of cooking, then that’s like a chance to go do that.
J: A hundred percent.
C: If you like taking a walk, like go take a walk.
J: Go take a walk.
C: So I knew that was like the heart of the book, but that was a really big thing of distinguishing it, from how is this book different than “Where Cooking Begins” for people who bought “Where Cooking Begins” to not deliver the same book and have people go like, “I really liked ‘Where Cooking Begins,’ but I looked at the new one and it’s similar, I get it. Like, I’m not sure I need to buy that.” So how to make it look and feel different was a big motivator. And once I figured out the organizational structure to divide it between Monday through Thursday and Friday and the weekend.
J: Which is just so genius.
C: Thank you.
J: It really was. Especially, what’s the one section that’s like, I don’t remember the exact name of it, but it’s the one where you’ve just been hanging out, drinking in the backyard all day.
C: Yeah, day drinking and lazy lunches.
J: I mean, I was like, “My heaven is like that space.”
J: And just like the idea that you could contextualize the recipes within the social spaces they will exist within brought me true joy. I was like, “Oh, this is exactly how I like thinking about cooking and eating and drinking.”
C: I feel like we ask a lot of cooks as people who write recipes to not say, like, I don’t know. It just got a lot of feedback from people over the years who were like, “Oh, I was so psyched to make this. And then I got like halfway through it and realized it now cooks for two hours.” And it’s like, “Right, you should read the whole recipe before you start.” But nobody does and this happens a lot. So once it was divided between how I cook on a night where I worked or commuted or had to deal with reality versus how I cook when I wake up at 10:30 or 11 and think about what I want my day to be like, and enjoy cooking and like, “Let me start something that’s going to go for a long time.” Then the book was about time, and how to use time as intelligently so that you don’t, like we are obsessed with all sorts of this idea of mise en place.
C: Like I feel at a certain point, food media people told home cooks that the most important thing that you could do as a home cook is do mise en place because that’s what restaurant cooks do. And that is a lie.
C: We’ve been lying and I’m sorry. On the behalf of everyone who told you to get your mise en place together, that is not true. Unless you’re making something-
J: Large format or scalable.
C: Or like a stir fry.
C: Or something where you, or baking where you can’t stop in between steps. You have to keep going.
C: Or a caramel, like you need to have everything there and ready.
J: Something with constant active cooking, yeah.
C: But like for most dishes you can start the thing that takes the longest and then do the prep of the thing that you’re going to use in 10 minutes.
C: Nobody tells you that.
C: And the reason restaurant cooks have mise en place is because actually they’ve done all of that pre-work.
C: So their life is about, “How do I throw it in the pan and do the five-minute pickup.”
C: So yeah. Mise en place, that’s a lie. Hot takes.
J: I think it, no, it makes sense, because it’s almost like, “Oh yeah.” It’s like, the food media people are saying like, “Oh this is like what helps.” And it’s like, “No, this is so you can do it in a video.”
J: This isn’t all on a tray that’s right next to the stove.
J: But like, if I’m not videotaping it in my kitchen, which I’m not, I don’t think we need that.
J: It’s so funny. So you live in Brooklyn.
C: I do.
J: You lived in Brooklyn a long time?
C: 20-something years.
J: Long time.
C: Yeah. Same, same neighborhood, Fort Greene.
J: I love Fort Greene. I walk there. I live in Bed–Stuy.
J: Just farther down the ice. So I walk through Fort Greene most days.
J: Let’s talk about restaurants we love.
C: Sure. And bars we love.
C: Where are we going? So I moved to Fort Greene when there was Chez Oskar.
J: Yep. Which is now in Bed-Stuy.
C: Oh yeah, they do have one in, but the one in the location in Fort Greene is now Evelina.
J: I understand. Same owners or different?
C: No, no. It’s like a really nice Italian place.
J: Yes. I have a friend who works there.
C: And big outdoor seating.
J: It’s gorgeous.
C: Lovely. A little pricey.
C: Like for a neighborhood spot, a little bit of sticker shock, but they execute well and they’re lovely. And it’s really, really nice.
C: I love Roman’s. I love all of Andrew Tarlow’s restaurants and Roman’s, forever and ever.
C: Love, great bar.
J: I haven’t been to the bar there.
C: I mean, I love to sit and eat at the bar, but it’s also a delicious drink program.
C: Forever on the chalkboard when you come in, they have a sour of the day and a bitter of the day.
J: I love that.
C: Yeah. And they always change and it’s like, “Ooh, what am I right now? Do I want to be sour or bitter?”
J: Easy to be both.
J: So Roman’s and then, so is the Chez Oskar in Bed–Stuy, is that the same group that was the original?
C: I think so.
J: Okay. I need to go there then.
C: Yeah. I mean I, and I also love Bagel World and I love Kinara’s too on Myrtle. That’s our favorite Indian takeout, their dining room closed, like, the whole pandemic, but we used to go sit in there because we would have the room to ourselves. But Kinara is really good. Delicious Indian.
C: LaRina on Myrtle.
C: Also lovely.
J: The smoked spaghetti. It’s so good.
C: It’s really good. And they have a lovely backyard.
J: They have a really beautiful backyard.
C: Did you ever go to Baguette About It on Vanderbilt? It’s gone now. Now it’s a Brooklyn Hero Shop. It wasn’t very good, but it was one of the great names of all time.
J: Oh, Baguette About It’s really good. You’re talking about, wait, is this Brooklyn? The one that’s like around the corner from Great Georgiana?
C: What’s Great Georgiana?
J: You know Great Georgiana. It’s the bar on the corner.
C: Oh yes.
J: Up DeKalb that has the big outdoor seating.
C: Yeah, totally.
J: And then is that the sandwich shop you’re talking about?
C: Yeah, Brooklyn Hero.
J: They are quite good. You can have to wait a minute there.
C: You might wait a minute.
J: But I would say it’s worth it.
C: Yeah. And we love 1 OR 8 for sushi.
J: Wait, I don’t know this.
C: Oh 1 OR 8 is fantastic.
J: Where is that?
C: It’s on the corner of Clermont and DeKalb, that corner space. It used to be General Green.
J: Okay. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
C: Which was a good restaurant when it opened and became one of the worst restaurants ever by the end.
J: Always sad when that happens. Yeah. It’s nothing worse when you go to a place that you love and you sit down and you’re like, “Is this so bad?”
C: Yeah. You’re like, “Do I hate it here? Can we never come here again?”
J: There was a Thai restaurant that when I first moved to New York, I thought was the most amazing place in the world. And by the time it closed, I remember I took a friend there and apologized. Yeah. I was like, “I promise you, this used to be good, but like it has descended into hell.”
C: Exactly. Yeah, that happens.
C: But we also love Paulette for a burger. Like it just depends.
C: But I’ve had some, love it, but like you also learn when you’re a regular, like I’ve had some definitely sandy oysters there.
J: Okay, sure.
C: But like the burger’s always good.
J: But the burger’s always good, I hear that.
J: So when you’re going, as someone who obviously is a chef and you worked in restaurants, I know GM Shake Shack and then where you worked in non-fast food.
C: So working as a GM at the original Shake Shack, which I just walked past and it smells very beefy in Madison Square Park, that was like the tail end of my restaurant time.
C: So I had started as a line cook and then worked as a line cook for two or three years and then got into back of house management and then from there into operations and then opening restaurants. And that led me finally to GM, which Shake Shack honestly was probably the only restaurant in the world that I could have been hired to be the GM because I really had no front of house experience.
J: So yeah. That makes total sense.
C: And Shake Shack was basically like an open kitchen with a cashier as that in-between person.
C: I loved cashiering there too.
J: Yeah. So obviously Shake Shack is an iconic institution at this point, because it opened before I lived in New York. When it opened was it explosive in an insane way?
C: Yeah. It was like a spectacle.
C: And I didn’t, I worked around the corner. I worked on 22nd Street when they opened.
C: And like New Yorkers don’t wait online for anything, right?
C: And I used to go on my lunch break and sit in the park and just watch what was happening because I couldn’t figure it out. I was like, “What is happening here?”
J: Do you know what was causing that? Was there a review? Was there an article? Like, was there like a viral moment?
C: I think it was a combination of a lot of things and being in a park environment and having food that had the pedigree of this Union Square Hospitality Group institution, but also everything was really good and like really beautifully, caringly made. Even the lemonade was just the best fresh lemonade and everything had that specialness about it.
C: But then also having the experience of being in the park and you’re under the shadow of the Flatiron Building. And that mix didn’t exist.
C: And it was, for New York City, this remarkable outdoor experience. And then it just became like its own, it created its own phenomenon by being itself.
J: That feels really special. Did it feel special to be at the center of that or was it incredibly stressful?
C: It was both.
J: It was both.
C: It was like being amazed.
J: Did you know before it was opening, were you like, “I think this is going to blow up?”
C: No, when it first opened, it was like two six-foot tables and they were serving hot dogs. Like literally, but even before the structure was built.
J: Oh, sh*t.
C: Then when the structure existed, they thought they were going to be a hot dog place because that was what they had been when they were just like the cart and put a burger on the menu. And then the burger became the thing.
J: The thing.
C: And then, people are just obsessed about burgers.
J: There is something about a burger.
C: I’m not, I wasn’t like a burger person like that. Are you a burger person?
J: I’m a burger person. Me and my friend pre-pandemic had burger dates where we were trying to go to all the iconic burger spots in New York and rank them.
J: I do love a burger, but I recently found out I have bad cholesterol, so I’m trying to cut back.
C: Okay. But bad cholesterol, total number or ratio?
J: I think it was both because I thought, it came back and my doctor was like, “Your cholesterol is too high.” And I was like, when I went to get my blood work done, I didn’t know I was getting my blood work done that day. And so I hadn’t fasted before and I was like, “Oh, well I forgot to fast. So I don’t think those are accurate.” And she was like, “They actually changed that rule in the ’90s. You don’t have to fast anymore.” And I was like, “Okay, well f*ck.”
C: I learned that recently too. I went and she was like, “Do you want to do like the lipid panel or whatever the f*ck?” And I was like, “I do, but I just had a three-egg omelet at Odeon and fries and gruyere” And she was like, “Yeah, it doesn’t matter anymore.” And I was like, “Okay, but can we subtract?”
J: Yeah, can I get at least like a little bit of a credit. No, but they, she was, but I’m trying to just eat oatmeal in the morning and hope that fixes it all.
C: I’m sure it will. Yeah.
J: No, but I do. I really love burgers.
C: Yeah. I worked with people who were burger people who had at least a burger a week, you know?
J: I’m not there but I do love a burger, but I’m specific. I have a lot of opinions.
J: I’m, and I think that I’m in the minority of New York. I find that New York was when I moved here and is increasingly more and more pro-smash.
C: Big time.
J: And I’m a thick boy. Yeah. I like a thick patty.
C: You want a bar burger?
*J: I want a bar burger. I like a juicy patty.
C: You want Jackson Hole? Do you know the Jackson Hole chain?
C: I don’t know if they were still around, actually, but that was that style of burger. And it was a menu that they had, it was just their burger, their style of burger. But you could get a pizza burger and you could get like the Mexican burger and you could get the Southwest burger with the hatch chilies, but it was a really good burger.
J: I just love, like, for me, because I don’t eat burgers all that often, but I love them. I’m like, “If I’m going to get into the vault, I’m going to rob the bank, I’m going to empty the vault.” Is that what it says?
C: I don’t know that one.
J: But it’s like, I’m just going to get as much as I can out of this one burger, so I want a thick, juicy, delicious patty.
C: So who has that burger in the city?
J: When my friend and I were doing the tastings, the top two, actually funny enough, were both Union Square Hospitality burgers.
J: My number one was the GT burger, which is annoying to pick one of the most expensive restaurants in New York and be like, “Their burger is the best,” but it was unbelievable. And then Union Square Cafe’s was truly phenomenal. There’s also a diner on Third and, like, 20th called June something. I’m not going to remember it, on maybe 23rd or something over on Third Ave. It’s a diner that has a famous burger. I’m not going to remember it.
C: Oh, I know that place.
J: Thank you.
C: Yeah. It is Joe Jr, right?
J: Thank you, Joe Jr.
J: Thank you.
J: That’s a very, very good burger.
C: Yeah. And when you walk in, you’re like, “Am I going to get hepatitis here?”
C: Yes. Walter’s does have a good burger.
J: Walter’s has a good burger and Walter’s burger really gets a lot of extra points because they have my favorite kind of fry. I’m very pro the McDonald’s-esque fry.
C: They have a good fry. Yeah. Walter’s was another spot in the neighborhood that we re-embraced in the pandemic because of the outdoor seating.
C: They had a nice area.
J: They have a, they did a really good job with their outdoor seating.
C: Yeah. That might have been the first place that I actually ate indoors when you could eat indoors again.
C: I think we had a family meal and my parents were there and we went to Walter’s because like, you can make a reservation. But then we thought it was outside of, when we got there, they were like, “Right this way.” And I was like, “Oh, f*ck we can’t…” And they were like, “You made a reservation for indoors.” And everybody looked and we were like, “This is supposed to be okay. I don’t know.”
J: And we’re here today.
C: Here we are.
J: As someone who has worked in restaurants, has worked on the line, now cooks a lot at home, and can make really delicious food for themself and their family, what are the things that are drawing you to a restaurant?
C: I mean all of those reasons because we ate, I love, I realized how important restaurants were to actually just being excited about food when I didn’t have them, you know? And I was someone who, I was developing my cookbook and we were very careful about Covid and at the beginning there was this, we’re still an idea that like, maybe you would pick it up from the packing materials like nobody really knew. So I was like, “I’m going to cook as much as I can until I’m like, really…”
J: Losing my mind.
C: I don’t want to use this card until I have to. And the loss of being around people and having food cooked by people who are thinking about food and creative about food and inventing food and introducing you to flavors, like to have that experience in a city where there’s so many incredible restaurants, there’s just a huge takeaway. And I realized how much eating out had inspired things I wanted to try, flavors I want to try to recreate not like wholesale whole dishes, but like eating the burger at Hart’s and like thinking about like lamb and anchovy and then like where that might take you. And it’s vinegar and just having eye-opening experiences like that. That’s a huge reason I think why we eat out, and then to be in a room filled with people when we’re this community is like, as human beings, is what is essential to our life. It’s not this freaking late-stage capitalist nightmare of a dystopian nightmare we’re living in. Being human is about, I think, satisfying elemental needs and pleasures and being around other people.So you get to do that in restaurants too.
J: That’s so it, specifically bringing up the burger at Hart’s is such a specific and like the perfect example of I think what you’re talking about, where a restaurant like that is really, like the GM is on the floor. You can see the kitchen. I feel like the owners are there all the time.
J: People know that restaurant group and really love and care about that restaurant group.
J: And they have the ability to, I’ve worked at a lot of restaurants where they, the chefs have not been able to like to put anchovies on a burger because it’s like about making it palatable to the people on the Upper East Side who are coming down or whatever it is.
J: And like a restaurant group like that is, I think four people who are excited about food are excited about the community of the hospitality industry.
J: And so you get to, there’s something so special about, I remember being at the bar, I was friends with Pat who was the GM up until recently of Hart’s. And I went there on his last night and while I was sitting, I met his other friends at the bar who I didn’t know. And we were sitting there and one of them got the burger and it came. And I remember seeing the like filet of anchovy on the top and seeing that it was a lamb burger and instantly being like, “Oh, wow, like this is a place where like the chef is really allowed to try something weird and new.” And then the front of house gets to be like, “This burger is not like anything you’ve had.”
J: And it’s exciting and you’re going to love it. And I’m going to love that you’re trying it. And there’s like, that’s like such a New York restaurant thing. And that was seeing that burger. I was like, “This is what we’ve been missing for so long.”
C: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Like a lamb burger, I would, I’m so much more psyched about, than like a regular beef burger.
J: Totally. And that’s a thick one. Yeah. That patty is thick. They’re not smashing that one.
C: True. Yeah. I think that when I finally went back to eating indoors again, the magic of being with people, including the people who work there and being really grateful as someone who spent 10 years in restaurants, like during the pandemic, I felt helpless. Like I felt like I couldn’t help the restaurants because the thing that you could do to help them the most was to buy their food, and like, you couldn’t eat indoors. And then it was winter. And just thinking about everyone I knew who was constantly having to shift to like, “Oh, now we’re healthcare experts. And we’re like an authority on this. Now we are actually bouncers. Now we’re this. Now we’re a takeout place. Now we’re delivering cocktails.” The energy to constantly morph like that every six weeks, the toll that takes, and then having just the business pulled out from under you. We are lucky to have restaurants in our lives.
C: And if you are not tipping 25 to 30 percent, go home, go back home and f*cking put that Stouffer’s pizza because you’re not allowed.
C: And it’s really expensive, like food’s expensive, menu prices are going up. You have to tip large. It’s changing the restaurant world. I don’t really know what’s going to happen.
J: Same, and I was working in it during that time. I only left restaurants back in September, so I was in restaurants for all of the pandemic. And I had the same thought where I was like, “This is reaching a breaking point and a turning point.”
J: And in the restaurant industry and also society at large was reaching a breaking point. And so, it is like, you still have to show up and do like, “Yeah, I know it’s f*cking expensive.” And it makes it like you can’t go out as much as you’d like, but also like you going out as much as you’re like should not be predicated on the exploitation of the workers.
J: And so it’s like you just got to tip a little more.
C: And there might be fewer restaurants and that’s how it’s going to be.
J: And that’s how it’s going to be.
C: Yeah. And I do try to think about going places at every price point, but yeah. Meal out, it’s just a lot, like my 18-year-old son is looking for the maximum amount of calories for the least amount of dollars. And that’s how he judges places.
C: He’s like, “That place is pretty good. The burrito’s big.” You know?
C: Or like this new sandwich place open near school. And he was like, “They’re giving a 10 percent student discount, and it comes with like a pickle in the thing, a pickle on the side.” And it’s, he’s like, “And it was $8.” Yes. I’m like, “Great.”
J: Feeding, because you have multiple teenage children.
C: I have an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old, but he’s like 12 large.
J: Yeah. Feeding two growing boys during the pandemic. I cannot. I will never forget my, I have siblings that are much younger than me, and a few years ago, one of my brothers came and visited me for a weekend and he was probably like 15, 16 at the time. And I went to the grocery store and got food to have in the apartment for him. Do you know those, like, giant grocery store muffins?
J: That come in the big plastic tin. I will never forget this as long as I live. I was standing in the living room and I watched him eat two.
J: And then turned to me and said, “What are we doing for breakfast?”
J: And I was like, “I don’t know what to tell you.” There’s not enough food in the city apparently. So I can’t imagine what you went through.
C: Very early on because dinner is like protein and vegetables. I’m still thinking about building a dinner around like, “What’s our protein? What is our vegetable, and what is the carb or the starch?”
C: And having those three variables like very quickly in play became overwhelming.
C: So we were on day nine and I was like, “Okay. A family meeting, tonight and every other night the carb is going to be rice. Does anyone have any objections to it being rice every night for the foreseeable future? No end.” And everybody was like, “We second.” And I made rice every night, thank God, because it took away this, that like one. So then it was just like the protein and the vegetable, protein and the vegetable, protein and the vegetable. And some dinners were weird and there were some dinners where I was like, it did force you to rely on like you have food in the house. Yeah. You think you have nothing in the house, like we’re not going out to shop. Like, this is a whole thing. So you can’t even get a reservation on Fresh Direct. We’re not, you know?
C: There’s no chickens. It’s like a disaster. So I call it going shopping in your refrigerator, just take all the things out that could potentially make something and like look at them. And then it’s like a mystery basket. And then maybe put one or two back. Like “I’m not going to end up using that.” And then you make something.
J: Yeah. When you are shopping for food in Brooklyn, are you, I feel like I’ve seen in your videos and, like, mentions, you seem like someone who is trying to be cognizant and ethical and mindful about where your food is coming from. When you’re developing a cookbook and recipes for a cookbook, so you have to buy a lot of food and go over, is that super f*cking challenging?
C: It was challenging in some ways, but in other ways like, so another part of my philosophy about cooking is dividing the food shopping.
C: And I worked on that and “Where Cooking Begins” and it was something I had been practicing like in my home. And then I was like, “This is a thing.” Wrote about it in the book, and it’s still really true for how I cook now. There’s things you buy in person and there’s things that you don’t. And I feel like people got much more comfortable with ordering online and there’s many, many more vendors for doing that.
C: You have to be careful where you order your stuff from, but I really divide things. If it comes in a box, a can, jar or a tub, you can order that online.
J: Yeah, because you’re not assessing the quality in the shop.
C: Exactly. Like this can of black beans or that one, like literally makes no difference. You know the brand that you like, order it, those things are heavy. Those are your canned tomatoes, your vinegars, your condiments. Your rice, flour, sugar, like that is annoying to schlep. So don’t schlep it and then shop in person for your produce and your protein.
C: And that simplifies things a lot. It can be very, very hard and very overwhelming to stand in the cereal aisle. Like when I was a young parent of a younger kid and I would go to Fairway and sometimes I would stand in the cereal aisle and just be so overwhelmed because I wasn’t sure if any of it was okay.
C: Like standing there going like, “Okay, well I ate Honey Nut Cheerios when I was a kid. And is it okay? And is this too much sugar? And is that bad? And what else does the Kellogg’s company do?” And I’ve walked out many times without the cereal because all of these things, all of this information is flying through your head and I just believe in an 80-20 rule. Like if you’re like a hundred percent good, like 80 percent of the time, then like you’re doing great.
J: And it’s also the thing is like we spent the past 15, 20 years trying to be that way and look where we are. It didn’t do anything. Do you know what I mean? So I’m just like at this point I literally don’t, it’s not that I don’t care, but I’m like, “I’m not going to like give anyone a hard time about buying Goya.”
J: Like I can’t. If I’m at the store and there’s a cheaper option or if there’s a comparable option, I’m like, “Oh, let me try this. I haven’t had that one before.” Like sure, but like, if it’s not as good, I’m going to go back, I think.
C: Yeah. And that’s okay.
J: And I think that’s okay.
C: I think that’s okay. I think another big turning point for me was, when it was non-GMO and no genetically modified this and it’s terribly bad and they’re making a pesticide-resistant, that’s f*cked up and not natural. And then I read something that was like from someone who’s trying to solve world hunger, and was like, “Genetically modified crops are the reason why people are going to starve to death or not. And so get off your high horse about this.”
J: The world would not have enough wheat to survive, if we had not GMO-ed wheat, that’s a fact.
C: And I was like, “Oh, that’s a really great point of having crop resistance in places where it’s really hard to grow.” And then I was just like, “I know nothing.” So let’s just try to do the best that you can. And you can make mistakes and get called out and think about it and then do better.
J: Yeah. I just found out that apparently aluminum and deodorant is fine and I’ve been smelling bad for like three years getting rashes from these natural deodorants. And apparently there was nothing to be concerned about. We can’t win. Do you know what I mean? I’m just done. But I do think like that’s where it comes in where, like, I think it is much more if you’re trying to have like a direct effect of being ethical in your consumption, applying that to what f*cking restaurants you go to is much more direct.
C: Do you still, I mean, one big thing for me was like, Amazon is out like right in March of 2020 was like, we’re done with Amazon, no more Amazon, like zero Amazon. And that to me was a bigger change, and hopefully that is about literally like how to treat people.
C: Horrible treatment of workers. You cannot think about it. And I was just like, “I’m not doing that anymore.” And it has meant things are less convenient, like getting on the subway to go to B&H when they open to pick up something that if I still order from Amazon, I could have gotten it same day. Do you know what I mean?
J: Yeah, giving up. You need to understand if you’re listening to this at home. If you make, if someone who makes video content at home says they’re giving up Amazon, that’s a big deal.
C: B&H is closed on Fridays and Saturdays, guys. Friday evening, all day Saturday.
J: It also is, you have to take a train to Penn Station. There’s a lot of reasons why B&H is tough, so that’s actually a huge deal. Yeah. I mean, similar it’s like, that’s like, like I think I’ve been reading about the stuff that Starbucks is doing with the union busting and sh*t. And I don’t think I can do it.
J: But that’s like a personal choice for me, but it’s also if I hear that a restaurant, I have a lot of restaurants that I’m like, “Oh, I know that like they treat their staff like sh*t or they’ve been stealing tips or they’ve done X, Y, Z.” That for me is like a hard line. I’m not going to go.
J: I don’t like to disparage. I have a personal rule where I don’t disparage restaurants by name on the podcast because I’m not trying to affect someone’s tips at the end of the day. I’m not trying to f*ck with anyone. I’ll bring up restaurants I love, but restaurants I don’t like I’ll like to refer to, but I won’t name them.
C: And so from working in restaurants for as long as you did, do you feel like you can walk into a restaurant even when you’ve never been there before and know based on how the staff comes over to your table, whether they are having a good experience at that place or not?
J: By the end of the meal? I would bet my check that I know.
C: I can see straight through that stuff now, too. And I feel like for me, I would rather have okay food in a great environment where you’re having a great time with your server and the hospitality was amazing. And the people at the next table became your friends and you had a really good time and the food was fine. That is a place I will go back to over and over and over again. Yeah.
J: Yeah. I feel exactly the same. I feel exactly the same.
C: Like I don’t need to have a like experience, like the idea of a fancy $400 tasting menu is my nightmare.
J: No, because the thing you just described before is to me an experience like, and that’s the joy of it, you know?
J: And it’s like, that is like a recurring theme on this podcast and we have these conversations is like the best. I think if you’re a restaurant owner creating a space where your staff is thriving and having fun will be the best influence on your product that you possibly can have.
J: Nate, my boyfriend, is so clued into like sensing this energy for me. But if we sit down at a restaurant and in the first like 10 minutes, I can see, like, our server’s f*cked. We haven’t been greeted yet. They’re understaffed. And no one’s really paying attention. At that point, I want to leave. I would rather, and I have left.
J: I have been like, “I actually am not going to enjoy this dinner at this point. I would rather go down the street to the place that I know, you know what I mean?
J: Go up to the bar, I’m done.
C: This has happened to us so many times that my spouse will look at me when the opening move feels like that. And he’ll look at me and be like, “Please let us stay. Please. Can we stay?”
J: No, but I can feel that.
C: And I’m like, “If one more thing happens, like we’re walking.” And he is like, “I think it’s going to be fine. I think you just got to give it another minute.”
J: And it’s like, the thing is, I can’t say I’m not mad because in the moment I’m mad, but it’s like, it is not personal against the server.
J: It is not personal against anyone, but it’s like, this is going to be really stressful for me the whole time.
J: Because you are not set up for success and I’m not now set up to have an experience that’s anywhere near what I want. So I think it’s just best if we all walk away.
J: And I’ve done it. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I would rather do that than sit and be, because I’m going to start to get frustrated.
J: Like when I can preemptively, I had an experience once where I was at a restaurant and they were doing this like tasting and I could tell that the server was really overwhelmed and he took our order and I watched him walk to the POS and I saw someone flag him down halfway and him and then go to the table. And I was like, “Our food’s not getting rung in.” And I know it, and I’ve watched it happen, and it’s over. And I was so hungry.
C: Oh my God.
J: Thirty minutes later I can’t flag down the room and be like, “Hey, I think you forgot to ring our food in because I watched you get distracted.” That’s psychotic, but I did.
J: And then eventually our food didn’t come and I had to come and be like, “Hey, our food never came.” And he was like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” And I was like, “It’s okay.” But I was just miserable at that point.
J: But then it, and it’s the thing of like, someone just needs to acknowledge that it’s happening.
J: And that’s always like, when I was training people to be servers in restaurants, because I was exclusively front of house. I never did back of house. I would always be like, “When you f*ck up, tell the table.”
J: Be like, “Hey, this happened, we are acknowledging it and we’re moving on.” Because it’s when you constantly keep pretending that it’s not happening, that’s when the ship sinks, because you’re not repairing the hole. Like, you know what I mean?
C: Yeah. You enter into a trust relationship where you’re like, I get the same anxiety from being in restaurants for a really long time. The sequence of events and knowing like the signals that are happening that are intangible. But if you haven’t worked in restaurants, you might just, it’s all happening around you.
J: Sometimes I’ll start to get anxious and they’ll be, “What’s wrong?” I’m like, “We haven’t got water yet.”
C: Right. Exactly.
J: And if we haven’t got water yet, no one knows we’re here.
C: Exactly. Yeah. Or like the server showing up or actually the runner showing up when the table has been struck, but there’s no new silverware been put down and then you can see them approach the table and go like, “F*ck.” And, yeah, it’s a whole thing.
J: Yeah. But that’s so what’s funny there, is like that to me because like I’m thinking back to like my restaurant where, the first restaurant I worked at in New York, which was very traumatic and bad. And that was the place where you were constantly afraid of mistakes because you get in a ton of trouble, which is a bad place to work.
J: So at that place, I would walk up to the table if like, let’s say I have a handful of food and I see they’re not mised. I would sh*t my pants. I’d be like, “I can’t drop the food. I’ll get in trouble.” Whereas any sane person would prefer, “Hey, I see you don’t have silver yet. I’m going to bring this back, put this down. I’m going to be back in two seconds with your f*cking knife.”
C: Exactly. Right.
J: And everyone’s fine, but it was like, that was not allowed in this space. And it’s like, “Okay, now I’m doing laps in the dining room pretending this food is somewhere, someone else.” And that’s the place where I don’t want to be because no one’s empowered to actually just do the executive decisions that will make it better.
C: Yeah. I think coming up in restaurants when there was no, it was all shift pay. There was no health insurance. There was no paid time off. You couldn’t call out because that meant that you were screwing over everyone you worked with by not being there.
J: Pre-pandemic, I don’t think it’ll ever go back. But it’s like people being, oh no, like you were expected to go to work with the full-blown flu.
C: Oh dude. Like when I was kitchen manager, people would, on occasion, walk out of the kitchen and vomit because they couldn’t call out and they were very ill. And that’s not cool.
C: And now I feel like, thank goodness. There is so much better awareness of treating people like human beings.
C: Especially when you’re touching food and all of that stuff you can’t be having that. That is not okay. And yeah, but I feel like my first three, four years working in restaurants, I just assumed that like, you’re going to get treated like garbage, people are calling you terrible names all day long.
C: And you’re going to get cut. You’re going to get burned. You don’t have time off. And that’s the job. I had my experience and I loved many things about it, but my older son just got his first restaurant job for the summer and he’s 18 and he got hired to do prep work and I am so happy that he is going into a restaurant job at a time when the minimum wage…
J: Is not $4.
C: Yeah, exactly. And they post a schedule and when he got Covid his second week of being at work, they were like, “Oh my gosh, we’re so sorry. How are you feeling?” Instead of like, “Wow, this is really a problem now. And maybe you shouldn’t come back at all.” You know?
J: Yeah, which is what it would’ve been.
C: And I’m like, I’m so happy and excited for him to go through that experience where you do meet amazing people, you learn so much, and you’re not being abused at the same time.
J: How have you, going through 10 years in the restaurant industry and then your career after I guess just food media, but how have you, or maybe you haven’t, stayed in love with it the whole time?
C: Yeah. Career’s like marriage.
J: Yep. Well that’s the thing.
C: In any long-term relationship, like not every year is an A+.
J: No, totally.
C: There’s ups and downs.
C: And I think that I had that feeling when I first got into food and went to culinary school and had my first internship at a restaurant. My first nighttime service as an intern in the kitchen, the first order was called and the first plate went out and I got a rush of adrenaline like nothing else.
C: And it’s probably like what rock stars feel. They’re like, “This is it for me.” And I knew that it was it for me, and I also have been very fortunate to have worked a lot of different jobs in this industry. So when you do approach a burnout or I’m ready for a new challenge, my job changes every two to three years. I think food is just like a thing that you’ll never stop learning about and getting better at and growing. So for me, having many, many experiences of feeling like I know nothing, that really gets me, it probably plays into my own “you could always do better” messaging of my parenting that I was receiving to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing is a very motivating thing. So even leaving Bon Appétit and writing a book, I felt like I have no idea what I’m doing, and now I’m like an independent, horrible word, content creator. And I made a ton of mistakes my first year making my own videos. After doing it for years, I was like, “I know how to make a food video. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I know how to pick a recipe and I know how to do the thing.” And then you’re like doing it on your own. And you’re like, “Oh, I have no idea how long it’s supposed to take to edit this. I have no idea what my budget should be. I don’t know. I don’t.” I’m hiring people. I’m making mistakes. I’m like the first year was just really hard. But then I was like, well, I’m the CFO, I’m the studio manager. I’m the talent. I’m the food stylist. I’m the YouTube strategist.
J: You’re a business owner.
C: Yeah. It was really a lot.
J: I’m sure.
C: And again, like going back to being okay with failure and feeling like, yeah, this was like opening a restaurant, you spent too much money in the first three months. You overstaffed it. You weren’t sure what the orders coming in were going to be. So you like had waste. Like I really kept comparing it to the idea of opening a restaurant and that it’s built in that’s not going to be the most profitable.
J: I mean, that makes total sense.
C: The opening is not the most profitable era, but you have to put everything behind it to try to do it right. And then figure it out and adjust.
J: But that makes sense. Just constantly evolving. What is the thing you’re doing, so that’s always a challenge?
J: And the fact that I guess, I was thinking as you were answering, just like going back to what you said at the beginning of the interview, you’re always going to need to eat three meals a day. You’re always going to need food. Our bodies are built to always be excited about this thing and care about this thing.
C: Yeah. We had leftover rice that I crisp stepped in a pan and tuna salad.
C: And like four-day-old bread that I revived in the toaster for dinner, with lettuces. My husband was like, “I love this dinner. This is like one of my favorite dinners.”
J: I will say before we get into the final question of the interview, that something that has a big 2022 thing. Leftover rice, just keeping leftover rice in the fridge is ultimate. Every white rice I get with like a Chinese delivery, that is the most amazing base to have in your fridge. There is nothing better.
C: No grain unturned.
C: If you know what I mean. And we, so we were having rice every single night, just the rice consumption. So at the beginning I was like one cup of rice for four people. And then my 18-year-old was like, “I think we can bump that up.” And I’m like, “Great.” We went to a cup and a half, we went to two cups and like, two cups is now minimum because you need-
J: The leftover.
C: It’s disappointing if there’s no leftover rice in the morning.
J: A hundred percent to throw an egg on. That’s my ultimate breakfast.
C: Every day.
J: Yeah. Yeah. That’s until I got my cholesterol. So egg on rice was my number one breakfast and now we’ve pivoted. Okay. I like to end the interviews by planning a night out with my guests. Okay. So if we’re going out, what’s the night out between Jake and Carla look like?
C: So a night out for me, like, I would love for it to start at like 3:30 PM.
C: And maybe we’re going to get like that day drinking lazy lunch moment. I went to Leo Sourdough the other day.
J: So that’s one of my top favorite restaurants. Adore.
C: Fabulous. And the guy who opened that restaurant used to work at Roman’s. And so when we used to go to Roman’s, we were friends with him and would see him all the time. And also from going to Roman’s over the years, like people stay a really long time or you would not see someone-
J: Another sign of a great restaurant.
C: Yeah. And then you go to dinner and you’re like, “Oh, you’re here.” So while we were eating at Leo the other day, someone walked in to begin their shift and I saw her and totally recognized her and Fernanda was like, “You remember her?” And she used to be a manager also at Roman’s. And so the fact that they’re working together now was very happy. He’s really happy. Okay. So we go to Leo.
C: And we’re going to get Espresso Martinis.
C: And Caesar and a pie.
C: And just like, just warm up around that.
J: Perfect. The pomodorini, I think, is the one.
J: That one with the pepper, the banana pepper pizza.
J: That’s my favorite.
C: Because I want to have like a couple drinks there and then maybe have a place that would be a walking destination so that you get the lovely experience of that day, the day buzz.
C: And then when you go you’re outside and you’re like, “Wow, it’s so bright, like people are amazing.”
C: And I’m trying to think where I want to walk after that because now I want spicy, I want Vietnamese food.
J: Have you been to Jajaja, the vegan Mexican restaurant?
J: Okay. It’s one of my favorite restaurants. Okay. And it’s on, we could walk there. It’s towards the, it’s by Domino Park, towards the water in Williamsburg.
J: We can sit down.
C: Perfect, okay.
J: Great Margaritas, but really one of my favorite restaurants and like the fact that it’s vegan has nothing to do with it. It’s just so good.
J: And there’s a lot of spicy options there.
C: Okay. So we could go to Jajaja.
C: And then maybe we could go over to Misi and just get some gelato.
C: And a nightcap.
J: And a nightcap.
C: And now it’s like 9:15.
C: It’s great.
J: It’s perfect.
C: You can get in like an episode of “Below Deck” before you have to go to sleep.
J: Yeah. And just ooh, little car home for Misi on the water up and down Kent. Wow, that’s a perfect day out. I’m really excited about it.
C: Okay. Good.
J: Okay. Great. Looking forward to it.
C: Text me.
J: Thank you so much for doing, yes I will. Thank you so much for doing this show. This was so, so fun.
C: It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
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.