/Cookbook Author Lazarus Lynch Loves an Ugly Tomato

Cookbook Author Lazarus Lynch Loves an Ugly Tomato

Lazarus Lynch at
Charley St.

Photo: Christian Rodriguez

Queens’ own Lazarus Lynch is charmingly enthusiastic, restless, and vivacious. He is exactly the type of person who can make anyone feel like they know how to cook. This summer, the writer and video host published his first cookbook, Son of a Southern Chef, a book that’s an uninhibited, personal celebration of his family’s cooking and African-American foodways. Now he’s thinking about “what do I want to say now,” including in music — he’s working on his first album and “doing a lot, a lot more singing than ever before.” Of course, he’s also eating plenty well: sprinting to the train with Mister Softee and rogan josh in hand, eating his way through the Queens International Night Market, and freaking out over “divine” chocolate-chip cookies on Fire Island. Read all about in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, August 8 
This may as well have been dubbed the “Day of the Supermarket Runnins.” I’m not a fan of grocery stores to begin with; I’d rather just order online. However, this day I made three deliberate trips to two grocery stores for multiple things.

I started the day with my daily green juice which is a combination of fresh spinach, celery, cucumber, oranges, green apples, ginger, and water. Because I’ve been fighting a cold, I added to that a mighty clove of garlic and a healthy spoonful of ground turmeric to help me fight. On top of that, I made my ritual cup of matcha with my favorite Oat Leaf oatmilk, warmed. It’s just smoother than other brands (IMHO).

I picked up on some writing and researching for a new project I’m working on, and within a few hours I was ready for lunch. I ran out of groceries so I made my list and headed to my preferred, near-but-far local grocery store, Stop & Shop. Trip one. There, I got some of my favorite breakfast foods including tons of fresh fruit, a box of Nature’s Path Maple Pecan Crunch cereal (OMG I love!), and a loaf of multigrain sourdough bread to make several egg toasts.

After I reached home, I unpacked the bags and realized… no bread! Discouraged and hungry, I opened the box of the Nature’s Path cereal and satisfied myself with a bowl of sliced banana for lunch.

Trip two: I headed back to the Stop & Shop, did I mention it was near but far, with receipt in hand to see if I could retrieve my bread. I asked for a manager, told him all about my sorrows and asked for a new loaf. To my delight, he did not refuse me bread :). On the way home, I stopped at the Home Depot to get a new bathroom door knob handle (TMI).

Finally home, lunch was calling my name big time. I scrambled some eggs, sliced and toasted a piece of the loaf, and sliced into the juiciest, ugliest yet beautiful heirloom tomatoes I bought the day before at the Union Square Farmers Market. The uglier the better for me.I sprinkled the entire shabang with Maldon sea salt, and shoved lunch part 2. At this point, it was around 4 p.m. and I was already thinking about dinner.

I had the idea to make panzanella using some leftover homemade croutons from a Caesar salad I made a couple days before. I live with my family so when one makes dinner, it must serve at least six people. After I replaced the door knob, and cleaned up my kitchen, it was time to prepare the Panzanella.

While I prepared the salad, I realized what it desperately needed was fresh herbs; specifically fresh basil. After debating whether or not it would be worth it to go back to the grocery store, I decided the panzanella deserved it so I schlepped my way to my closer, but not preferred local grocery store – trip three. I searched the produce aisles high and low for basil, but of course, there was none. I opted for Marjoram and fresh parsley. The salad was heavenly, my family agreed, but we all wanted some fresh seafood with it like shrimp and calamari to round it all out. Sometimes, dinner is just dinner. No, I did not make a fourth trip to my local fish market, although had I thought of this in advance, shrimp and calamari would have been on the menu.

Later that evening, my family decided to go to the movies for the 8:53 p.m. showing of The Lion King. I love going to the movies because it’s pretty much the only time I eat what I’m about to share with you: a large popcorn coated in fake butter, salty nacho chips with the best artificial hot cheese sauce in the world, and a Coca-Cola with lots of ice. If you know anything about me, you know ice in my drinks are a no-no; the movies are the exception.

After the movie, we returned home and I needed a hot drink to cleanse from my movie indulgences. I made a cup of bedtime tea, Ashwagandha, from my favorite tea store in the Lower East Side called Flower Power Herbs & Roots (I get all my teas from them, including my matcha.)

Friday, August 9 
I started the day with a handful of mixed nuts and dried fruit. I proceeded to get ready to go to see my friend Dan Churchill at his quick-casual-healthy café, Charley St, in Nolita. I made my morning green juice, toasted up two slices of multigrain sourdough toast with Smart Balance butter, and had a hot matcha. I always say, coffee shoots you up, matcha is a calm rise. I still appreciate the smell of coffee in the house, but I found that drinking it I was way too anxious.

I fittingly ordered the Nolita bowl from Charley St, with avocado, kale, quinoa, roasted squash, walnuts, zesty apple, and goat cheese. I also ordered another matcha latte, because there’s no such thing as too many matcha teas in a day.

After meeting with Dan, I headed back to Queens for a vocal practice with my friend Stephanie. By 4:30 p.m. I was on my way back into the city to go birthday shopping for my dear friend, Al. By 6:30 p.m. I was done shopping, exhausted from running around, and my phone was on 10%.

I met up with two friends at the Public Hotel for a catch-up before ordering dinner from Benares, in Tribeca, via Uber Eats. I ordered the prix-fixe special: one appetizer and one entrée selection served with basmati rice, naan bread, raita, and mango chutney. For the appetizer, I ordered the classic samosa (with potatoes seasoned with cumin, ginger, green chilies, and mango powder, in a crispy dough), and for my entrée, I ordered rogan josh (a signature dish from Kashmir with tender pieces of lamb in a cardamom, aniseed, and paprika sauce). I held out on eating dinner for when I got back home to Queens, because you cannot eat takeout food in the Public Hotel lounge, and took a 9:00 p.m radio interview in a private bathroom stall (the only quiet space I could manage to find).

I left my friends downtown and immediately started craving Mister Softee ice cream. I know, crazy. I had been listening to a podcast earlier in the week and someone mentioned soft serve ice cream with rainbow sprinkles and the image was seared in my mind. I was sure I wouldn’t find a Mister Softee truck near me, but I was on the search for its equal. I went into nearly every place I could imagine selling soft serve, including Baskin Robins, and could not find it anywhere.

Finally, 11 minutes before my 11:11 p.m. scheduled Long Island Rail Road back to Queens, I stumbled upon a Mister Softee truck! It was cash-only and, of course, I had no cash. I ran into my bank right behind me, as fate would have it, got some cash, and then ran back to the truck. By that point, the line had disappeared and the driver was missing from the truck. I turned around and noticed him standing on the corner. I hollered to him, “My train is leaving Penn Station in seven minutes, can I get a cone?!” He kindly ran back to the truck, washed his hands, and made the perfect Mister Softee cone with rainbow sprinkles, and gave me a $2 discount. I ran for my train, one hand holding rogan josh and the other balancing a coveted Mister Softee vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles. By midnight, I was at my kitchen table with zero appetite, an empty stomach, and a bag of takeout.

Saturday, August 10
What didn’t I eat! The plan was to spend the day with my friend Al, visit Smorgasburg, head to MoMA PS1 for the Warm Up concert series, then head to the Queens Night Market in Corona for dinner. We took the ferry from Manhattan to the East River stop, caught a beautiful view of Queens and Brooklyn, and dived into Smorgasburg heaven. We started at Nansense, an Afghan food truck, for their mantu dumplings and bolani, a crispy flatbread stuffed with vegetables or potato). This was a great appetizer. Next stops were: BBQ seitan sliders from Monk’s Meats, a poke bowl from Sons of Thunder, vegetarian baos from Mao’s Baos, sweet-potato cinnamon rolls from my friends at Millers and Makers, and an iced passion-fruit juice from … I can’t remember the name.

We left Smorgasburg and took a Lyft to MoMA PS1 for the Warm Up concert featuring Ron Trent, Eris Drew, Chika, Channel Tres, and DJ Python b2b Anthony Naples. I was most excited to see Chika perform. We experienced the work of many wonderful artists in the museum including James Turrell’s Skyspace … brilliant! I drank lots of water, but there were plenty of cocktails going around, including this passion-fruit one my friend ordered.

After some time there, we worked up an appetite for round two of eating for the day. This was me and my friend’s first time attending the Queens Night Market … it’s Smorgasburg on steroids. I think there were almost 100 vendors, if not more, many more international options, and all the food options were between $3 and $6. I lost order of all the things I tried by the end of the night — to be very honest, I ended up eating so much that day I forgot to take notes on anything I ate. But here’s the rundown: Salvadoran pupusas from Los Almendros, lumpia keso (those were just outstanding) from Lapu-Lapu Foods, really delicious ganjang chicken from Kini, Trindadian shark sandwiches from Caribbean Street Eats, Persian eggplant stew with crispy rice from Joon, Taiwanese crispy chicken from Bstro, Pho by Em restaurant, Indonesian coconut pancakes from Moon Man, Balut (a duck egg) from Grilla in Manilla, and probably a thousand more bites from various vendors.

As we ran into friends, we quickly developed a strategy of divide and conquer! If you go with a group of friends, have a game plan. We stood in one line for about 45 minutes and tried at least four different items friends foraged from other vendors. The day was well spent, our bodies were well fed, and our taste buds were overwhelmed.

Sunday, August 11
I was headed out to Fire Island for the first time. Friends were throwing a beach party and there was sure to be lots of food. I did my green drink, adding in a cups worth of fresh blueberries — the color was not very pleasing but it tasted fine. I did my usual matcha tea, which I barely drank as I was rushing early in the morning to get ready. And a warm water (between 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit), which is how I like to drink water always. Since it was super early and I had been up very late last night at the Queens Night Market, I didn’t have a big morning appetite. I snacked on a banana and a few nuts in the fridge. I packed my friend Kwame Onwuachi’s novel, Notes From a Young Black Chef, to continue reading, the August 2019 edition of Bon Appétit, and some snacks for the train ride which included baby carrots, dried fruit and nuts, bananas, two avocados, plantain chips, and my favorite Vita Coco coconut water.

We got to the house and were greeted with ruffle potato chips and sandwiches. I changed into my swimming trunks and headed for the pure blue water. My friend carried a tray of tonic waters with vodka and lime so I enjoyed two glasses. I got hungry at this point and rummaged through a half of an avocado, some pita chips, salami from Applegate Farms, a cheddar-cheese sandwich on 12-grain bread, and more pita chips with sweet-pepper hummus.

My friend who knows the island well took me on a tour, passing by many nude men and pool parties. We returned from the tour to the house just in time for dinner: a barbecue. My friends fired up fatty smoked sausages, pesto pasta salad, and the best damn burgers I’ve had all year. The patties were cooked perfect medium rare (more rare than medium), juicy AF, and topped with an aged cheddar. All I added was bread and that was the highlight for me. Turns out, the person who made the burgers had only grilled for the second time in his life that day — it tasted like true mastery.

We wrapped this dinner up with the best chocolate-chip cookies I’ve had all year, as well. The chocolate spread through every crevice of the cookie. All I wanted at the end of each bite was some flaky Maldon sea salt, but it really didn’t need it. I’m not a chocolate-chip person, and I’m very particular. Especially with chocolate, I want pure dark chocolate or semi-sweet. But she used milk chocolate and, oh my God, they were divine. I was hounding the person who made them for the recipe, like, “what did you do? What did you do?”

There were deer hanging out in the front lawn, which I was cautioned to stay away from as they sometimes carry ticks in their antlers. Apparently the deer also get excited when humans feed them and take it upon themselves to insert their way into people’s bags on the beaches to feed themselves.

Anyhoo, we took the two-hour Long Island Rail Road train back into the city and snacked on Champagne red grapes. When I reached home, I showered, brushed my teeth, opened up an avocado and ate half with some Maldon sea salt, snacked on some nuts with dried fruit, plantain chips, and a chocolate-chip cookie from the party I wrapped up in a tissue! So GOOD!

Monday, August 12
I slept in pretty late after getting in late from Fire Island. I don’t often drink, but the one or two tonic waters and vodkas I had, on top of being out in the sun all day not drinking enough water, left me very dehydrated.

At 11:30 a.m., I hopped out of bed, drank a big gulp of Vita Coco Coconut water, an almost-brown banana, and put my shoes on to go running. After 45-minutes of workout, I could feel the hunger stepping in. I got back home, took a shower, and heated up the samosas from the other day I never touched. It came with stewed chickpeas. I pulled out all the extra sauces they packed for me and lathered up the samosas; they were standalone delicious. I totally see myself going back just for the samosas.

I had a late start; it was around 2:30 p.m., with the green drink and matcha magic. I had some writing to do and upgraded my Spotify account to the family plan so everyone in my household could enjoy the benefits of listening to music at the same time. It’d been a light and easy start to the week, and I kept that going with dinner: my leftover rogan josh, which I had barely touched, with warmed naan bread and sautéed mixed vegetables! I cooked a pot of rice, too, and ate the whole pot with those leftovers. I’m a huge rice eater.


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