Aarti + Brendan Part I
Meet Aarti Sequeira (you may remember her as the Season 6 Winner of Next Food Network Star) and her comedic husband, Brendan McNamara. Since winning Food Network Star and starting her show - Aarti Party - Aarti and Brendan have given birth to a beautiful baby girl + are about to release her new cookbook (info below), while Brendan recently published his comedy record The Big Tickle.
An adorable and scintillating couple - we felt they were perfect for All is Fare in Love + Food. And we were right! This week we are bringing you a two part series. Keep reading on to journey along with Aarti + Brendan as they open up about their favorite foods, destinations + each other. Come back on Thursday as they both share recipes they created using ingredients from July's The FareTrade Basket Featuring chef Jeremiah Bacon.
What was the first meal the two of you shared?
B: iHop. Pancakes.
A: Nope, we didn’t sit together (it was a freshman year at Northwestern University bonding thing where Bren flirted shamelessly with me, and I flirted right back!)
B: Less shamelessly. More coy.
A: First meal, huh? I’m guessing it would have been some of that awful stuff at the dining hall. I just remember there being vegetarian versions of meat dishes everywhere, and they’d called it Kung Pao Chicken Not. Chicken NOT.
B: If it was at the dining hall then a typical meal of mine would have been a double cheeseburger with a fried chicken patty added, on a burger bun, bananas foster (3 servings), and a “red” drink with whipped cream stirred in.
A: Oh man, I remember that red drink concoction. It’s really a mystery how you were 285lbs by the time we graduated university.
B: Yeah. I overachieved and landed the Freshman Fifty.
Who cooks + who cleans?
B: She cooks. She and I clean. Now that Eliyah was born, we both clean more and yet there’s more mess. Fun.
A: I’m fairly obsessed with both. And yet our house looks “lived in.”
B: You definitely inherited the dual obsession via Nature/Nuture. I ADORE half of it.
Favorite dish the other makes?
A: Brendan’s version of a fry-up is labour-intensive, decadent and finger-smacking good: kochujang-laquered pork belly pieces, perfectly crispy polenta rounds, slices of cold, crisp Asian pear. So danged good. Also his homemade hazelnut-almond milk, sweetened with dates and sometimes flavoured with fennel seed is second to none I’ve tasted around LA.
B: Strangely, the first two I think of are both rather phallic. I feel like I should talk about my mother now.
A: (eye roll)
B: Either, hot dogs a la Rose, or chicken sausage, halloumi and freshly sliced tomato and avocado. As an addendum to the former, chapatis in which to spoon said recipe.
A: Oh yeah you love chapatis. When you got back from fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, that was the first thing you requested.
B: Chapatis with salt and butter.
Favorite foodie destination?
B: Well, I truly feel like I don’t need to GO anywhere for what has become my favorite foodie destination – here. Los Angeles may not have the enjoyable weather (give me SEASONS!) or a moral compass but the food in this vast, sprawling metropolis is on par with anywhere I have ever been. It’s like a New York-style culinary melting pot was filled to the brim and then dump-splashed across the mountains and valleys of the “Greater Los Angeles Area.” You can travel the world without ever losing sight of the same smog we all look up at!
A: Singapore-Malaysia. Not only is there a “Hawker Center” (street-food-court) on every block, but they’re open all hours and serve such a wide variety of food – from noodles to ice kachang.
B: Singapore was amazing. I felt like we ate like Kings & Queens for very little. Although I’m also curious as to what it would be like if we could take advantage of the UBER-EXPENSIVE ultra-chef stuff there, too. But I can’t say I felt like I missed I thing. Now that I’ve kissed LA’s collagen-injected booty, I should say Portland was the first city I felt like we went with an entire Food-based itinerary in mind. And were NEVER disappointed. From Pok-pok, Salt & Straw, Toro Bravo… and the COCKTAILS! And that’s even though Naomi Pomeroy called me “a F^$#ing hipster.” I STILL loved Beast’s brunch the next morning.
What Drew You To Food?
A: I’ve never not known what it was like to be obsessed with my next meal. My family values food so highly – every meal is categorized, judged, analyzed and discussed as if it were breaking news. I remember when my aunt and uncle arrived in Goa for a family wedding from Australia… I asked her how the flight had gone, and the first thing she said was, “Good! They served a very nice chicken curry for lunch…”. We’re just nuts about food!
B: I’ll say what first drew me to food was hunger. What comes to mind second is depravation. The first foods and drink obsession I recall are almost all items that were deemed unhealthy and not allowed in my house growing up. For example, I had ulcerative colitis as a kid and couldn’t consume dairy. Ever since the Lord healed me, my lust for ice cream immediately hit a fever pitch and has continued unabated to this day.
A: Hahahaha totally. There’s something about being denied certain foods that makes you crave them even more. I was a fat kid, so there were rarely cookies and dessert in the house. And so, like any smart fat kid anywhere, I just learned to make them instead! And to this day, I cannot fathom celebrating any occasion without having something sweet to mark it. Bren and I have had many “fat kid” dates where we just eat whatever the heck we want all day long. We just did one to mark our completing the Whole30. Some say it defeats the purpose. I’d politely tell them to… well, I erased what I really wanted to say.
B: For me, my interest in food, in exploring food as a sensual tactile flavor experience as opposed to an occasionally curious necessity, came hot on the heels of your exploration of a career rejoicing in food.
A: Awww. It’s true though. You are often more excited about the latest food trends and restaurants than I am!
B: I am your Boy Friday.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
B: The internet. Movies. Imagination. God. Music. Very rarely from the farmer’s market, seasonality or reason. That’s largely, of course, because I am way more of an Idea-Foodian than a Chef. I love seeing what someone has done that feels fresh and familiar all at once and thinking of how to apply the same principle to as many other dishes as possible. Even impossible. And then seeing if you will make them!
A: I never know how to answer this question. Ummm…
B: You can just say “My Husband.”
A: [Laughs] Yeah, okay. ALSO the very things that DON’T inspire you – namely Farmer’s Markets, seasonal produce… and yeah, the Food Community at Large. It’s cool to feel like I’m part of this Food Community and we all inspire, challenge and encourage each other to push ourselves in the kitchen.
B: I like pushing you in the kitchen. Especially your bum. That’s what “Behind!” is all about…
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Cook Dinner For?
A: Tom Waits.
B: First I would like to say, cooking for a dead person, unless this just got deep/real and you mean spiritually seems a waste of good food. Zombies like their food fresh. So you wouldn’t be cooking anything. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the funny thing about this question is that it highlights perhaps the zenith answer to the question: why eat? It is to share an experience as a way of connecting and communicating with others. So all of the answers to that question are based on who would you like to sit at a table for hours with, than anything to do with the food itself.
A: Yeah, that’s true. Although I do think that you’re answering primarily as an eater and a consummate conversationalist (aka chatty cathy)…
B: Ok fine. Tom Waits.
A: Hahahahaaa, no no, I just mean that as a cook, I’m also thinking of people who might appreciate the way I cook. I always SWEAT BULLETS when I have to cook for someone new. It’s really a nerve-wracking experience for me, because I want to them to like it so. I hate how trite this is going to sound, but when I cook, I really feel like I’m putting my heart on the plate. It’s a very vulnerable experience for me. Heart carpaccio,if you will.
Favorite Seasonal Ingredient?
A: Oh my GOSH… Really? What do you mean?
B: Love usually dies for me somewhere in the first three weeks of LA Summer. So it’s seasonal. And if you aren’t cooking with love, why are you doing it in the first place? Okay, fine. Persimmon. Fantastic roasted. Amazing eaten fresh off the tree. Makes a wonderful liqueur. Ice cream. Tastes like Autumn. After my AWFUL first experience with persimmon – I got one of the ones you have to let turn into mush but didn’t know and the first bite tasted like only the “dry” of “a dry wine” and stinging nettles – it’s been all love since then. That’s right. Full circle back to love.
A: I don’t understand. Why does love die in the first three weeks of summer?
B: Cause I remember that, as a white man of Irish heritage, the Sun is my enemy. And I am going to lose our battle. And I hate losing battles with the Sun. So smug up there, all fire-y and round.
A: Okay, let’s get back on track. It changes every season! Right now, I really love figs. And so does our daughter. They taste like custard and jam.
B: Good one! Jesus loved figs so much he killed a tree that didn’t have them. Mark 11:12-25. Harsh.
If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, Where/What Would It Be?
B: Well, to be obvious: an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet at a 24-hour establishment. But that’s probably like your first Genie wish being for infinity wishes. So if THAT’S disqualified - CHEGO! Pork Belly Bowl, extra greens. 3AM Meatballs. Whatever veg they’re doing. Sriracha Bar. Tres Leches Cake. And since it’s BYOB, a couple bottles of Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles.
A: My Mum’s beef sukha, which is a “dry” curry made with fresh-grated coconut and toasted spices. Also some really, really good spaghetti Bolognese… I don’t know from where, although I bet Jason Negroni makes a really good one. Finally, I’d have the Lake Street Creamery folks reprise their Don Draper Ice Cream.
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
A: One of my favourite memories is from our recent trip to Goa for my cousin’s wedding. At many of the resorts in Goa, the food is included in your stay, but it isn’t very good. This place was the exception. One afternoon, they served fresh baby mackerel, marinated in Rechado (which is a Goan specialty, a paste made of dried red chiles, vinegar, spices and a little sugar), then grilled on a griddle. I’ve never tasted fish so fresh. I must have had like 6 of them. Eating them there, just after a monsoon deluge, with the sea breeze swish-swishing their way through the palm trees, surrounded by family… that was pretty much perfect.
B: That fish WAS amazing. I feel like it’s easier for me to be negative than positive and when you just said swish-swish, all I could think about was my least favourite food experience: shabu-shabu (swish-swish). Anywhere.
A: But what’s your favourite.
B: Struggling to be positive here. The chef tasting menu at Providence.
A: Oh yeah.
B: (a) because I totally surprised you with it for your birthday. (b) wells fargo put a hold on my card because the bill was so outlandish. (c) we did the wine pairing (d) because I had my mouth’s mind blown at least 4 times throughout the evening.
A: That meal was worth every penny.
What Do You Both Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
A: Movies. We used to see EVERYTHING before the Boodle invasion. (Boodle is our nickname for our daughter).
B: Creating. Laughing together. Making her laugh.
A: Playing the ukelele and singing.
B: I love singing with you. EVEN when you give me the look like “THAT’s the counter-melody you’re going with? On the FIRST CHORUS?!?”
What’s Your Favorite Kitchen Soundtrack?
B: In 2014…
A: This American Life. Or Pop-Culture Happy Hour.
B: NPR Nerd. IN 2014, IN ORDER… my latest mix, War on Drugs, Sylvan Esso and tUnE-yArDs
Local artisanal treat of choice?
A: The first thing I thought of was the Coffee Crunch Cake at Valerie Confections. Part of the reason I love it so is that it had to overcome my skepticism. “How good could this cake be? Especially if there’s no chocolate involved?!”. But not only did it leap over my skeptical palate, it took it hostage. I am getting a slice of this cake this weekend to celebrate my birthday. A lot of bakeries can nail the dense, buttery cake… but this one is light yet moist, flavourful yet polite (ie. it doesn’t overpower your palate)… it’s covered in great big shards of coffee-flavoured honeycomb. It looks like something out of the Flinstones. Man, I love that cake. And I love that Valerie too.
B: It’s hard for me to think of anything past two days ago. It burns in my memory like the after-image of the sun on one’s eyes. The kouign amman at Superba Food and Bread that pastry Chef Lincoln Carson has devised was so artful, seemingly decadent but strangely light, that I am hard-pressed to recall anything else.
A: Yeah, I was going to say that too. That disc of barely caramelized sugar on the bottom of the pastry. It was sugar-ice.
B: Or top as it was served.
A: Yeah I can still feel it and taste it. Dang.
B: Let’s close our eyes and go back there now.
Aarti's New Cookbook Available for Pre-Order Now!
Aarti's new cookbook - “Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul” - releases September 23rd 2014 (Grand Central) and is available for preorder now.
Preordered copies are autographed and will also receive bonus most-requested recipes: dairy-free chai, gluten free chapati, chicken korma and a great green bean recipe that will work with nearly any veggie you find at the farmers market.
The Comedy Stylings of Brendan McNamara Available Now:
Brendan’s old-school, new-school comedy album, “The Big Tickle” is available via Amazon and iTunes. Visit TheBigTickle.com for a preview!
Connect with Aarti + Brendan: