Chef Jonathan Bardzik is one tasty dish... there's no denying that. Outside of his good looks, he also happens to be an mastermind in the kitchen with his superb cooking abilities that should be tasted by each and every person in this world. I've been fortunate enough to try some of his stellar plates, and let's just say that I felt stuffed in all the right ways (I'll stop these annoying culinary puns now).
He has also become one of the most sought after LGBTQ chefs in the United States, booking gig after gig while penning not one, not two but three different cookbooks that are filled with wonderful recipes for you to try yourself. Consider him a much younger, hotter, and bearish version of Julia Child. In other words... grab that glass of red wine with a side of furry goodness (once again, I'll stop the puns).
The D.C. native sat down with me at Instinct to discuss how he got into the culinary world, his deliciously hot husband, favorite dishes, and so much more. Take a look.
What inspired you to want to get into the culinary world?
Seven years ago I was looking for my next big adventure in life. I was a successful marketing executive, living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC with my amazing husband of two years, Jason. I asked the question, “What’s next?” and it turned out to be this. What started with giving cooking demonstrations with the seasonal ingredients that I found at historic Eastern Market has turned into a full time career as a storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author. I spend my life speaking and cooking in front of audiences, whether live or on screen.
On a deeper level I would answer “Joy.” I believe that life can and should be well lived and that almost all of us can achieve that each day by preparing a simple meal, setting a table, and sharing it with the people we love – even, and maybe most importantly – when that is a table for one. I was inspired to share that joy with my audiences.
Do you remember what your first dish was that you perfectly executed?
Perfection happens so rarely, especially for me. My favorite thing to cook is what I haven’t cooked yet. I love playing with new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques.
However, I once cooked a perfect Baked Alaska for Christmas dinner. It was my third try. The first time the menu was too aggressive and I ended up serving dinner at 11:30 at night. Everyone was asleep by the time dessert came out. The second time I set the table on fire while pouring flaming, cherry brandy over the top. The third time was my husband’s first Christmas with my family. I was determined to recreate that disastrously late dinner and serve it promptly at 7:30. I was successful, giving my family plenty of time to tell Jason other embarrassing stories about me.
Do you find that it’s hard for someone with an LGBTQ background to thrive in this environment?
I think there are so many challenges to success whether you are a black, lesbian, Muslim or grow up with financial disadvantages. I applaud everyone who gets up each day and fights to achieve success. I believe we have a responsibility to lift each other up when we can. Individually, I think we achieve the most when we focus on the challenges we can directly influence through our careful thought and bold action.
As a gay man this work has been challenging. When I started cooking in front of live audiences 7 years ago I was faced, each week, with the prospect of coming out simply by telling stories of my life at home and the meals I shared each day with my husband. Gay marriage was a hot and controversial topic, particularly in the local environment here. I asked myself if in these stories Jason should be my called roommate, my partner or my husband.
I came to the realization that being a great storyteller requires speaking truth directly from the heart. Worrying about what to call Jason would keep me from doing that. So every single time I stand in front of an audience I come out through the stories I tell. There are days when it’s scary. However, there isn’t one moment that I am not proud: proud of my husband, proud of the amazing LGBTQ people in my life, and proud of the person I have become because of my experiences as a gay man.
You’ve put out several cookbooks, done a ton of demonstrations and some television appearances over your career so far. What has been your favorite moment and why?
Without a doubt it was when I shared the layout for my first book with my parents. The opening and closing stories form a bit of a love letter to them. By the time we got through it we were all crying. I was so proud to honor them in that way.
But I get more than one, right?
There are the moments you geek out about – my first demo, my first TV appearance, opening the first box with my first cookbook, cooking at National Geographic, at USDA, in the US Senate offices, my first recipe in the Washington Post or the video story about me on USA Today.
But my favorite moments – and they happen often – are when my husband tells me how proud he is and how much faith he has in me. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy and he gives me strength, patience and love.
Do you have a favorite dish to cook during the cold fall season?
I love making soups. They capture so much of what I love and teach about cooking. Making soup starts with a simple set of techniques and practices – preparing stock, layering flavors, seasoning to taste. From there it is infinitely variable allowing one to explore and create diving into the ingredients and cuisines that are inspiring you at the moment.
I love celebrating rich, heirloom pumpkins with thick, creamy soups. I love brothy soups that start with chicken stock and are filled with whatever turns me on at the farm market over the weekend whether it’s fresh spinach, broccoli, new potatoes or turnips and celery root.
You can spend hours slowly simmering them but I can throw together a quick, Tuesday night soup in 20-30 minutes and have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day or serve a tableful of friends. A few years ago, at my Dad’s suggestion, I began making soup as soon as I arrived home for a family gathering. On the first night, when everyone arrived at different times, everyone could grab a bowl of the soup on their own schedule rather than trying to get everyone to sit together at the table. We all hang in the kitchen with the crowd growing as each new carful arrives.
Tell us about your relationship with Jason. How did you guys meet and is he ever your sous-chef?
Watching my parents over my life I have realized that, while they are amazing individuals, in finding each other they became a greater whole. I have found that in Jason. He is the great joy and strength of my life.
We met at a Washington Nationals baseball game that a mutual friend had invited us to. I thought he was hot from the moment he walked up to me on the street so we all could walk over. I didn’t get his phone number that night but we bumped into each other about a month and a half later at Bear Happy Hour here in DC and the rest is history. He still makes my heart flutter a bit when he walks into the room.
When I talked to Jason about starting weekly cooking demonstrations at Eastern Market he gave me full support. That first week he came out with me to help set up, wash dishes, and talk to friends who visited while I was talking to the crowd. Despite this being my passion and having his own full time job, Jason was there with me every weekend for the first two years.
At home I do most of the cooking but when I really exhausted and need a night off he’s always reliable for a perfect grilled cheese and some cuddling on the couch.
What do you have coming up in your career that is worth mentioning?
Things never seem to slow down. I’m working on a new book, I’ve got more requests for farm market cooking demonstrations and private teaching dinners than there are weekends in the year and I’m also working on developing my own TV series with an LGBT production company.
In the immediate future I’m so excited for Thanksgiving. I spend the next two weekends serving up fresh, seasonal Thanksgiving side dishes at four different farm markets in the DC area. I host a Thanksgiving helpline each year on my Facebook page (facebook.com/Jonathan.Bardzik) answering questions for 48 hours straight and I’m on TV both Thanksgiving morning and the day after. Two appearances on two networks in two days is pretty cool!
Biggest goals moving forward?
My biggest goal is to see people experience more joy in their lives: in the kitchen, shopping with the farmers and producers at their local farm markets and around the table with the people they love.
I would love to do that by seeing a significant growth in the number of people I reach through Instagram (@JonathanBardzik) and Facebook (facebook.com/jonathan.bardzik). I would love to do it through more keynote speaking and teambuilding work at conferences and corporate events. I would also love the opportunity to share this joy with the LGBTQ community at more runs, events and media appearances.
The big moment, of course, will be watching that first episode of my TV series when it airs on TV. I promise you’ll be the first to know when it’s going to happen.
The good news is that no matter where my career takes me each and every day is a good one – even when I have to sit down and do the book-keeping! I love my work and feel truly blessed that I get to spend my life pursuing it.
For more information on Chef Jonathan Bardzik, please check out his official website.