When you think of brunch, do you think of sweet and savory Sunday mornings breezing into early afternoons in your living room? The smell of fresh coffee? Mimosas and Bloody Marys? Eggs Benedict and French toast? What about family and friends gathered around your kitchen as you grill the final strips of bacon? Brunch is not just a meal; it’s a national pastime enjoyed in our dining rooms, verandas and kitchens.
No one has more of an appreciation for the morning-meets-afternoon food ritual than Sarabeth Levine, the reigning “queen of brunch.” After all, the James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef has an entire book devoted to the topic: “Sarabeth’s Good Morning Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch, and Baking”. Her eponymous New York City restaurant has been a wildly popular weekend brunch spot for over 35 years, along with her four other Manhattan restaurants and Florida and Japan outposts.
We recently asked the acclaimed chef and restaurateur to share her secrets for mastering the art of the brunch. Refreshingly candid, Levine covers a lot of territory in our hour-long conversation — including how to make her magically fluffy scrambled eggs, how to put a sophisticated twist on standards like pancakes and what kind of brunch she would make for her late mom on Mother’s Day.
Previews Inside Out Why do you love brunch so much?
Sarabeth Levine When I was a kid, the weekend breakfast was a big event. I was one of five kids. My mother would make us French toast or hot cereal. She was not the best cook – but she was a good cook. When she came home from work, we’d have breakfast for dinner too. So, I always thought of breakfast as a time of being together as a family. It was also the first meal of the day and our first moments of the day together. Breakfast has always held special meaning for me. Even to this day, the morning is my time.
Previews Inside Out What are some easy ways to elevate the concept of breakfast or brunch at home?
Sarabeth Levine I’m a big believer in getting the basics down first. Chefs typically don’t think like I do. They are much more free-spirited. I’m a baker, and I’m incredibly precise. I can only be free-spirited once I’ve mastered the recipe. My motto is, play by the rules first, then play. Once you’re comfortable with a dish, have fun! Take the Basic Pancake Recipe in my book, for example, and throw some popcorn and blueberries on top.
Previews Inside Out Is it true that “the only thing better than brunch at one of Sarabeth’s restaurants is brunch in her home”? What does a brunch at your house typically look like?
Sarabeth Levine Yes! [Laughing] It can be unnerving, though, especially when all of the grandchildren are together. It usually involves my playing the role of a short order cook, since everyone has different tastes and times they get up in the morning. I usually give the early risers fruit snacks to tide them over until the last person gets up, then I will usually make pancakes and a side of eggs all at the same time.
When I have guests over for brunch, I love doing Gravlox. It’s the silkiest cured salmon you’ve ever eaten. I almost always have Eggs Benedict on my table. I have a poacher that does 16 eggs side by side. I make the English muffins the night before. I might put some juices on the table, or greet guests with a Crunchy No-Booze Bloody Mary, which is in my book. But how much more do you really need to put out on the table? I like to keep my brunches simple.
I don’t like to make a lot of different dishes. I make one dish as a focal point and some little side dishes. When it’s 11 in the morning, it can be heavy to mix a lot of different foods together. To me, less is more.
Previews Inside Out Speaking of less is more, do you have a twist on your famous Eggs Benedict?
Sarabeth Levine I am a purist when it comes to hollandaise sauce. But you can do almost anything with the rest of it. Add a crab cake, or put your poached egg on top of a burger or pork slider. You can put the egg on top of anything.
Previews Inside Out Which one of your recipes at your restaurant is fairly easy to adapt at home?
Sarabeth Levine There are quite a few recipes from the restaurant that are in the book, everything from French toast to Eggs Benedict.
Previews Inside Out Thinking beyond the mimosa… do you have a favorite cocktail that’s appropriate to drink before noon?
Sarabeth Levine Try the Four Flowers Mimosa. It’s a signature drink…
For the full story and for Sarabeth’s famous Eggs Benedict and Four Flowers Mimosa recipes, visit http://www.PreviewsInsideOut.com.
Photos courtesy of Quentin Bacon