Lazarus Lynch's Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul (out June 11th) starts with a spoiler: No, he's not from the south. The Jamaica, Queens-native—who got his start making dorm room cooking show videos on Youtube—was raised in a Guyanese-Southern household, growing up in the family business, a restaurant called Baby Sister's Soul Food (where his mother, after already working a nine-to-five as a secretary would pull double shifts as a sous chef alongside his father). Lynch's first-ever book is truly one of 2019's most joyful food-related texts. The photos by Anisha Sisodia, the food styling and Lynch's all-caps enthusiasm feels so fresh and needed. In an era in which there are so few black food critics and black chefs hired for positions at top restaurants, Lynch's radical joy lays out the map for the kinds of leaders we'd like to see more of in the New York dining scene. His go-to catchphrase is "make it gravy"; an ethos for the way that he lives his life outside the coloring book lines, not held down by conventions of how chefs should carry themselves, oozing with positivity at every turn. While the book is filled with recipes—pimento poblano corncakes, saltfish, or cornflake-crusted fried green tomatoes with chipotle ranch—we wanted to pick the Queens-born chef's brain for some of his favorite NYC spots.
Read on, below. This is one voice in the food scene you'll want to bookmark.
In your intro you talk about growing up in Southside Jamaica, Queens and going to the fish market on Jamaica Ave. Do you have any other favorite spots in Jamaica that you'd recommend to readers, particularly for ones who may have never been to that part of Queens?
If you’re ever in Jamaica, check out Sybil’s Bakery on Hillside Avenue. They really do Guyana justice. Backstory: my mother is Guyanese and used to work for a hospital right around the corner. So, growing up, we would stop by that bakery for authentic Guyanese pastries. I love to order their cheese rolls (which are flaky pastry sheets filled with cheese and mustard) or their pine tarts (more flaky pastry filled with a pineapple jelly-like filling). I also really like their saltfish and bake (stewed codfish in peppers, tomatoes and onions stuffed in a soft, fried bread). They also make fantastic roti. I once kindly harassed the chef for the roti recipe and was told that chefs’ secrets must never be shared. Clearly, I disagree. I was actually inspired to make my own versions of these delicious products and they made it to my cookbook.
I also really love Trinciti Roti Shop—a bit further out in South Ozone Park (they UberEats)! I learned about them while attending my Trinidadian friend’s home barbecue.
Where do you live in New York City, and what is your favorite part of your neighborhood to dine at?
So, I live in Jamaica, Queens—same place I grew up. But, I went to elementary school and junior high school in Forest Hills, Queens. If you’re ever there, check out Austin Street. It’s full of shops, bakeries, and local eateries. I really love Cabana, a Cuban Latino restaurant and bar; it's unbelievable but be prepared for a little wait. Martha’s Country Bakery is right across the street if you feel like having a nice dessert. Then, there is Tokyo Teriyaki. OMG, I have fond memories of going here after school for a $5 plate of teriyaki chicken, rice, vegetables and sushi. I don’t know if the prices are still the same, but it was truly a good deal for a lot of delicious food.
Also, Jackson Heights, Queens is amazing for its diverse food scene, particularly that of Asian and Spanish culture. I love Lhasa Fast Food. It’s a Tibetan spot located in the back of a jewelry shop - no lie - and like two people work there. It can maybe seat 10 people comfortably, although I’ve made many friends squeezing up close to them. They have incredible dumplings served in bamboo steamers, my favorite thenthuk, a chewy noodle soup in a bold beef broth, and the salted butter tea is delicious.
I also venture out to Brooklyn and love Llama Inn for drinks—and literally anything! The whole branzino in coconut curry sauce is a showstopper, and will literally make you drool at the sight and aroma of it. It sells out fast; once the fish is gone, it’s gone.
What restaurants are you most excited about in New York ? And what's the one spot you wish more people knew about and why?
I’m excited for Smør NYC in the LES. It’s new and dope AF. The head chef, Sebastian Perez is 26-years old running a down-to-earth, successful restaurant. The menu is inspired by Nordic cuisine. Order the hangover sandwich (whether or not you have a hangover). It’s the best umami combo and cure loaded with sliced roasted beef, pickles, crispy onions, braised cabbage, aioli and on and on. The everything bowl or curried herring toast with soft boiled egg, radish and apple are really good, too.
Did you go look to any restaurants' dishes in the city or any specialty markets when looking for inspiration with the book?
Not so much these days. I always find inspiration walking through a farmers market or Chelsea Market. The southern-inspired menu at Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn always serves up a surprise of interesting flavors definitely worth taking notes from.
I really appreciate the way you've developed such an exciting style. So often kitchens are these places of conformity and being made to feel invisible, especially with wardrobe, is par for the course. Where do you like to shop for clothing?
Well, I appreciate the compliment. I don’t really fit into the stereotypical box of what it means to be a chef let alone how to dress like one. I really love recycled clothing, particularly clothes from the 70’s. I thrift shop all the time with my friends and stylist. We like L Train, Buffalo Exchange, and smaller boutique shops like Flamingo thrift shop in LES. At the end of the day, I think you should be comfortable whatever you’re wearing. Clothes that you are comfortable in will always look great on you.
Do you see yourself ever opening a restaurant in NYC?
Well it’s interesting. Who knows, never say never, right? I don’t ever see myself opening a restaurant in the way most people think of a restaurant, though I’m a project guy so I could see myself redefining what a restaurant concept is and what it could be. I’ve imagined very untraditional ways to go about doing that, but nothing I’m seriously pursuing these days. As for now, I’ll keep writing my cookbooks and putting more style and soul into the world. Then, maybe one day, it will come. But again, it would be really different, and highly interactive.