“Living Bold and Cooking With Soul” Transcript
Amirah Kassem: Hi. I'm Amirah Kassem, and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe. You're the Bombe.
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, and I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Each week, we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food.
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Kerry Diamond: Now, to today's episode. Lazarus Lynch is one of the hottest young talents on the food scene today. He's a chef, but not in the traditional sense as he's not attached to a restaurant, but he does have a fabulous new cookbook that lays out his food philosophy, feelings and fabulousness. It's called Son of a Southern Chef, and it's one of the most vibrant cookbooks around. We met Lazarus through the Food and Finance High School, New York City's only culinary-focused public high school, and he's one of the school's most illustrious alums. Before we get to Lazarus, let's hear a word from our sponsor.
Kerry Diamond: Handsome Brook Farm believes that organic and pastured is the way to go when it comes to eggs. Pasture raised means better lives for hens, better lives for small farmers and better eggs for you. It's also better for the chefs who depend on rich, flavorful eggs. Handsome Brook Farms' own flock of amazing chefs, their Mother Hens, count on it. Soraya Kilgore is a mother hen.
Kerry Diamond: Soraya is the pastry chef and owner of Alter Restaurant and the MadLab Creamery in Miami where she serves up creamy, dreamy desserts. Want to whip up her Japanese cheesecake? Grab eight Handsome Brook Farm eggs, a cup of honey, some softened cream cheese, and a little bit of lime juice, and bake yourself a cake that's incredibly fluffy and wonderfully flavorful. You can find Chef Soraya's delicious egg-centric recipes at handsomebrookfarm.com, and you can find Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised organic eggs at Publix, Kroger, Sprouts Farmers Market, FreshDirect and many national food stores across the country. Enjoy my conversation with Lazarus Lynch.
Kerry Diamond: Son of a Southern Chef is the title you seized on back in college. It's the title of your book. It's been the theme under which you've operated for a few years. How did that name come to you?
Lazarus Lynch: I remember I was in college, and so I worked for this woman named Tammy Kresge, and she was in charge of health promotions on campus, and I got an on-campus job. Tammy was a food blogger, and she would talk to me about her blog, Organize Yourself Skinny. I remember going to Tammy and saying, "Tammy, I went to this great high school, had this great high school career," which no one ever says.
Lazarus Lynch: I had the best time in high school, so I said to Tammy, I said, "I don't know what to do now, because I feel like I've discovered something in high school, something valuable." I started blogging in high school. Instagram was very new for me, so it wasn't like a huge platform, but I just said, "I don't know. There's something else I think that there is to share, and I don't know what that is." She said, "Okay, meet me every Thursday. We'll have 30-minute just conversations about you and what you want to do," and she didn't have to do that.
Kerry Diamond: No, that's so generous.
Lazarus Lynch: That was so generous, and she would just literally school me step by step for how she did it, and she was like, "Tell me about you," and I started talking about my father, of course. I remember, probably our third session, it felt like therapy, but she was just like, "I'm hearing a lot about your father." She was like, "There's something there," and I thought, "Really? Is there something there?" and I remembered just going back to my dorm that evening and thinking about it a little bit, and I woke up the next day, Son of a Southern Chef. It was that clear.
Kerry Diamond: Let's go back and talk about your dad.
Lazarus Lynch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kerry Diamond: What was your dad's name?
Lazarus Lynch: My dad's name was Ray. Johnny was his real name, but his middle name was Ray, and so everyone called him Ray. Of course, I knew him as dad. Dad also had other interesting names because he had so many careers. He was the fish man. He was the carpet man. He was the okra guy. Depending on wherever he found himself in his career journey, he took on a different name.
Kerry Diamond: Reading about your dad in the cookbook, I was like, "Oh, he was an entrepreneur before that was really celebrated and before it was even called that," and we'll talk about how you lost your dad way too soon, but I was thinking he would love this time where in right now where the entrepreneur is so celebrated.
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, for sure. I mean, my father was a guy who just said, "I need to make money and I need to make it now, and I've got a child to feed." Maybe he was like 21 years old when he had his first son, so he just said, "I got to figure this out." My dad was always the kind of person that was just like, "What could I do with my hands? What could I create? What could I build?" and figure out the rest later, and I think I learned a little something from him because of that, but he just said, "I've got to feed my family," and growing up in Bessemer, Alabama, with a single mom and four brothers and sisters, he understood what poverty meant.
Lazarus Lynch: I mean, my father grew up eating... we call it government cheese, and on food stamps, I mean, literally, getting by. He didn't know what the finest of finest was until he really moved to New York and was surrounded by people in the church who were a little bit more well-off and community members, so my father's mantra was like, "I will never be broke again. I will never be poor. My family will never want for anything," and what that creates in a father, for a son anyway, my perspective, was a dad who cared more about making the money than he did with being home because that was his way of providing.
Lazarus Lynch: That was his way of saying, "I love you, I care about you," was to be working crazy hours and not being home, so, for a long time as a kid, I resented it. I thought, "This is crazy. Here we are, your kids, we come home after school, nobody's home, and we've got to figure it out." We've got to cook for ourselves. We've got to do everything for ourselves, but our parents were really just trying to provide, and they were doing the best they could to provide for us, so I think-
Kerry Diamond: It takes a while to really.
Lazarus Lynch: It takes a while.
Kerry Diamond: I was a latchkey kid and slightly resentful...
Lazarus Lynch: For you?
Kerry Diamond: ... about it.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah. Yeah, which is funny because no one ever talks to me about that, I mean, but I think that there's something so relatable about that, about parents who, "I need to work. I need to pay for this. I need to provide." We don't talk about it enough what that does to a child, but it also does create a mindset in the child potentially that that's the way to live life, and so what I'm doing today is a very different path than even my father could have imagined.
Lazarus Lynch: I'm not pushing 40, 60 crazy hours on back. I might sit on my computer for 40, 60 hours and write a book, and that's a totally different model, and so it's very interesting, but, yeah, he was a great entrepreneur, totally a guy of instinct. He had no formal training. He just learned how to cook from his mother, who was a great chef, who I never met, but heard a lot about her food. She was a hairstylist, beautician, housekeeper, literally had five jobs just to make ends meet, and so my dad learned a lot from her, and he also learned a lot from mentors of his. He had friends who were carpenters, who designed and painted, so my father took on a lot of the handyman skills from a lot of his friends and then just decided, "Let me turn all these things into a business," and many years later the restaurant business, which was the last business.
Kerry Diamond: You talked about having a little bit of resentment that your dad was working all the time. When did that start to change for you?
Lazarus Lynch: It started to change I would say I was in junior high school probably at the time. It's right around the time where your friends are not really your friends and everyone's figuring it out, "Where do you want to go to high school?" and I just remember I would come home after school, I would turn on Food Network, and I would watch Emeril Lagasse. That was like medicine for me. I mean, that was total nostalgia, so I would just sit and watch Emeril, and I thought, "Oh, my God, this looks so much fun."
Lazarus Lynch: My dad also owned a restaurant for probably two or three years in at that point, and I just remember thinking, "This is what I want to do." I want to be a chef like my father, and we started spending a lot of time together in the kitchen cooking and him talking to me about recipes. I'm telling him about a high school called Food and Finance that I really want to go to, and I think that that's what really started to connect us in a different way as a father and a son.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us about your dad's restaurant.
Lazarus Lynch: Baby Sister's Soul Food.
Kerry Diamond: I love the name.
Lazarus Lynch: My goodness.
Kerry Diamond: Who was the baby sister?
Lazarus Lynch: His mother. She wasn't the youngest, but she was referred to as the baby sister. She was younger, but not the youngest. He named it after her, and he wanted it to be a celebration of soul food, and he also wanted it to be a place where musicians could visit and come and play music and have classes, and so it was a real space for community. There were a lot of folks who came in who were artists, painters, and then just people who wanted to sit down and relax.
Lazarus Lynch: My dad had three locations over the years at different times. He was in rent-controlled places in New York, and there were times where he was like, "Okay, we need to move. We need to move," and so he would just get up and move. At one point, he had two businesses across the street from each other, and while was closing, the other one was still opening and surviving, and so he literally packed up everything from the one business, moved it across the street into the restaurant, and then he also set up pool tables at his restaurant because he wanted people to come and play pool, and all of this was like totally against the law, very against the law.
Lazarus Lynch: Anyway, he thought, "How could I create community?" That's what he did to the restaurant, so the menu was really basic. I mean, it was like fish and chips. I say in the book a lot of fried stuff. There was fried okra, fried broccoli, like who fries broccoli, salmon croquettes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, potato salad, coleslaw, and then my brother would make the banana pudding.
Lazarus Lynch: Every now and then I would help and prepare something, either a dessert of part of the entrée, but it was really just him and mom that were running this whole thing, so there were times when my father would run low on fish and mom would get on the bus, because they didn't have a car anymore. She would get on the bus and she would go to the fish market, and she would buy fish at 6:00 p.m., bring it back to the restaurant, clean it, prep it, and this is after working an eight-hour shift.
Kerry Diamond: Right, I was going to say your mom had a day job.
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, yeah, so she had another day job, and then they would come back and they would do that. I mean, talk about a hustle, but that was the restaurant. Friends loved to go just to hang out there and relax, and I think that's who my father was. He was a person who wanted you to feel as comfortable as you could possibly be. He wanted everyone to feel loved and, even if that cost him a couple more hours, a little bit more sweat and tears, he was willing to do it if that meant you being happy.
Kerry Diamond: Now, it's so interesting that you're in the food world now, but not connected to a restaurant, and I wonder if that's because you saw how hard it was for your dad and your mom.
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, I think for sure I was scarred, for sure, but it's interesting, when I first started studying culinary, I thought, "I want to be a restaurant chef. That's what I want to do," and I really wanted to do that for a long time.
Kerry Diamond: I think back then that was the only chef path.
Lazarus Lynch: Yes, that was all I knew, and it took people from Food Network coming to my high school and giving a talk about what it's like to do a demo and write books, it took a woman by the name of Ingrid Hoffmann, who had a show on Food Network called Simply Delicioso, to come to my high school and talk about her career for me to even begin to get a glimpse of what that could be. I mean, no one had ever said that to me, so I didn't dream that big. I just didn't dream bigger than being a restaurant chef, and through high school, I started to shift my career into writing and started a blog and started doing video.
Kerry Diamond: The whole world was changing...
Lazarus Lynch: The whole whole was changing.
Kerry Diamond: ... so, all of a sudden, all these avenues were opening up to people interested in food.
Lazarus Lynch: Yes. Yes. I think that, today, people still think, "You don't own a restaurant, so where do you cook?" and I tell people, "I cook at my house," and they go, "What do you mean? How does that work?" and then you have to have another conversation about how that works. Now, I just tell people, I'm like, "Yeah, I'm a creative. I dabble in... here or there in creative spaces," and now I can just say I'm an author because everyone gets that, but, still, people struggle with understanding that you can be a chef, that you can have an expertise in a thing and not express that through a traditional brick-and-mortar.
Kerry Diamond: You lost your dad to cancer in 2015, and you were away at college?
Lazarus Lynch: I was away at college. I just remember being at that time really confused. I didn't know what was going on at home. I was only hearing that dad was a little... getting a little weaker, he had a pain in his side, things that you hear, but I didn't quite understand what was going on until my mother called me and she said, "You have to come home."
Lazarus Lynch: Now, I planned to spend that break, that was like a J term break, winter break, December to January, I planned to stay in Buffalo, New York, and work at a cheese shop. I gave Jill my word, the owner. I said, "Jill, I'll be here," and my mother said, "You have to come home," so I came back and I saw my dad as weak as I've ever seen him. He was laying on a bed, and he couldn't do anything for himself. He couldn't walk. He could talk a little bit, but he wasn't really strong enough.
Lazarus Lynch: I just remember being really confused about how this all went downhill so fast and why no one told me anything. Now, I understand that they didn't tell me anything because they wanted me to be focused and concentrate and finish. This is now junior year of college, and dad passes away January 9th, and I remember we all went to the hospital that morning, and my dad just looked so at peace. I mean, it was like he had a wide smile on his face, but that was such a difficult time for me, and I just thought, "How do I go on?" I just started Son of a Southern Chef a year ago.
Kerry Diamond: I'll try not to cry. It makes me so sad that he didn't see the cookbook.
Lazarus Lynch: You know what, Kerry, I believe this in some interesting, spiritual, maybe woo-woo way that he's here and that he's with me.
Kerry Diamond: He's so present. I'll stop crying. He's so present in the book.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah. I remember sitting down with my father probably a year before that. This was right around the time Tammy and I were talking every day, or every Thursday, and I said, "You know what, Tammy, I'm going to go back home on the next break," I think it was like a spring break, "and talk to my dad, just have an interview with me," and I did that, and I have all this archive video footage of my father in a Google Drive today just talking with him about his life, and something about that time felt so sacred. It felt so special.
Lazarus Lynch: We did it at the restaurant, and so, at any given moment, anybody could have walked in. Not a soul walked in during these conversations. My friend, April, from college was with me. She filmed the whole thing, her and her cousin, Robert. They came to the restaurant and they filmed this whole thing, and my dad just talked about everything, and I said, "Dad, you know what, what's it like to be at this time in your life?" and he said these words to me. He said, "I'm really proud to be a dad, and I want Lazarus to take this to the next level."
Lazarus Lynch: When he said that, I remember getting goosebumps, and when he said those words, I just... I took them in. I said, "I don't know exactly what that means," and, today, sitting across from you, I understand what those words meant. I understand that taking it to the next level meant putting the words into a book, sharing that in a story and sharing the piece of love that he gave to us and that he brought to Jamaica, Queens, and that he brought to his customers, and now sharing that with thousands and thousands and thousand, one day, millions of people around the globe and kitchens around the globe.
Lazarus Lynch: Now, when people send me their five-year-old making my cupcakes, I just go, "Oh, my God, this is happening?" I think that's what he meant, and I think he knew it in a really interesting, foretelling way. He probably just didn't know exactly what that meant, but he was definitely on to something.
Kerry Diamond: Having read this, having talked to the folks at Food and Finance, I think a lot of people identified you as a future superstar, like it just was written in the stars for you whether you knew it back then or not, and I'm sure your father saw that.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah. It's-
Kerry Diamond: You weren't a normal kid.
Lazarus Lynch: I wasn't a normal kid, and I realized that very early that I didn't want to do what other kids wanted to do. I was always the artist, so I was in art school. Everyone thought I was going to go become a animation designer or something because that's what I really was doing, until food, and then I was in musical theater, and I was doing dance and I was singing and I was doing all these things.
Kerry Diamond: You did also study abroad.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I was reading the book and I'm like, "Wait, he went to Africa. He went somewhere else." I'm like when did he-
Lazarus Lynch: China.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, China, right.
Lazarus Lynch: South Korea. Oh, my goodness.
Kerry Diamond: I was like...
Lazarus Lynch: England.
Kerry Diamond: ... when did he squeeze all these study-abroad sessions in?
Lazarus Lynch: Wow. I don't know really. I don't know. I remember, with Rwanda, for example-
Kerry Diamond: You just drop them like that. You're like, "Oh, like Rwanda, for example." You just drop them in the book and it's so funny. You drop them in the head notes to the recipes and it's like, "Wait, it's another journey."
Lazarus Lynch: Another totally different journey. I do feel that the body... and this is how I've been able to understand my father's death, I think our bodies are... My friend explained it to me so interestingly. She's like, "Think about a balloon filled with beans. It can't fly. That's what the body is on this earth," and helium in the balloon is your spirit, and it can go anywhere, so she's like, "Even when that spirit leaves the balloon, the balloon might still stay on the ground, but that spirit is released into the air," and I thought, "What a great metaphor." That's what I felt for a long time about the world and about life.
Lazarus Lynch: I think it's helped that my mother was from Guyana, born and raised in a convent, when she was 13 years old, moved to England, and so I have family abroad naturally because of that, and she moved to New York, met my father, they were next-door neighbors, and started a family, but first of all, how gusty of her to do that? I always think like, "Mother, what were you thinking? You were 26 years old." I mean, I'm 25. I've been around. I've been to a couple of places, but to get up and move your whole life with no one, you don't know anybody, a new country-
Kerry Diamond: Right, and you weren't raised in a convent.
Lazarus Lynch: No. Exactly, and just think like, "What?" and she was like, "Oh, you just do it. I just wanted to do it," but I think about that was probably why it was easier for me to accept that the world is bigger than my own neighborhood. It's because of those things.
Kerry Diamond: I'll be right back with Laz after this break.
Jess Zeidman: Grab your notebooks, Bombesquad. We're going back to school this summer with a brand new radio show, Cherry Bombe University. Each week, we'll be offering crash courses taught by your favorite members of the Bombesquad to get you cooking, eating and thinking like the smart cookie you are. Thank you to Le Cordon Bleu for making this series possible. You can learn more about Le Cordon Bleu at cordonbleu.edu. See you in class.
Kerry Diamond: All right, let's talk about this magical high school you went to, the Food and Finance High School in Manhattan, big old building over in Hell's Kitchen. Do you want to explain to people what Food and Finance is?
Lazarus Lynch: Yes. It is a public high school, New York City public high school. It is known as a career technical education school, CTE, and it is the only culinary arts high school in the city. Now, there are other schools with programs, but this is the only high school that is 100% dedicated to culinary arts. I remember learning about it through a close friend, Ashley, who actually worked on the book with me, hi, Ashley, and she went to this great school and she was telling me all about it and all the recipes and all the classrooms, and I thought, "Oh, my God, this exists?"
Lazarus Lynch: It was right around the time I was in junior high school, probably like sixth or seventh grade, and I just... I had to figure out where I want to go to high school, which was a big question for kids, like, "Where do you want to go to high school?" I applied to the high school. I went to the orientation, and I just remember going like, "Wow, this is crazy. People are in chef uniforms and coats and holding knives, and this is part of the day? This is crazy," and I got accepted. There was no audition process or anything, no interview, no taking a test. It was a lottery.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember, the first day being there, I just was like, "This is amazing. This is cool," and I walked into the building. We had metal detectors because that's what we have here in New York, and I walked through the metal detectors, and I just saw these two chefs in the hallway talking, Chef Jeff and Chef Springer, and I said, "Hi. I'm Lazarus. Nice to meet you." They always remind me of the story because I was that kid who just went to everybody and introduced himself. I remember that day just looking at them and saying, "Wow, this is what I want to do. This is who I want to become one day. I want to become a chef," and so the high school, four years, my sophomore year, I remember doing a breakfast for a couple of people who were on the board of the high school, and one of the people there was Susan Stockton, who was the former vice president of Culinary Productions at Food Network.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember her being in the room, and I introduced myself to her. She gave me her card and she said, "If you ever want to stop by Food Network, let me know," and I was like, "Music to my ears. Are you kidding me?" You're telling me to come to Food Network and just hang out," so I was like, "Oh, my God, this is crazy." I remember getting her card, and I had no idea how to draft an email, so I spoke to one of my teachers and I said, "Susan Stockton gave me her card, and I want to go visit Food Network. Can you help me write an email to her?"
Lazarus Lynch: That was how I learned how to write an email and how to ask for something in an email, and I remember Susan very quickly responding to me, saying, "Of course, yes, please stop by when you're available," and I remember one day going by, and she took me on the set and Anne Burrell was there filming her Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I got this whole tour, and I was just like, "Oh, my God, this is amazing. This is where it all happens," and she said, "This is where we shoot Iron Chef." That's when Iron Chef was a thing. "Rachael Ray shoots here her 30-Minute Meals." I was like, "Oh, my God, this is the Food Network."
Kerry Diamond: It's like Disneyland for you.
Lazarus Lynch: It's like Disney. I remember, that summer I spoke to the same teacher and I said, "I want to make a video. I want to do a cooking video," and she made it happen for me, and she said, "Okay, I'll get the person to come and film it." I mean, this is crazy. We came in on a Saturday. I did all the grocery shopping. She gave me $40 and she said, "Go get all the groceries," I mean, talk about supportive.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember on a Saturday morning I was at Food and Finance High School. It was the summer before my junior year, and I made this video of a seared tuna steak, and, actually, on camera was the first time I ever seared tuna, and I was like, "I hope this works out," because we don't have any backup. Now, I know what backup means because I've now done this a thousand times, but we had no culinary producer. I mean, it was just me and the camera person and this teacher.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember that fall that semester I wrote Susan another email, and I said, "Susan, can I come back to Food Network? I want to show you something," and she said, "Of course, yeah, please." I go to Susan's office, and she's like, "What's up?" and I say, "I want to show you something," and I pull out this CD. Okay, I'm dating myself here. I pulled out a CD, a DVD of this cooking video, which was like 10 minutes long. I gave it Susan and like, "Watch it."
Lazarus Lynch: Now, first of all, Susan was really... Who does this, right? A vice president at Food Network Culinary Productions invites a student to her office. I mean, who does that? She invited me. She watched the video. She gets three into the video and she pauses it, and I'm thinking, "Oh, my God. What's about to happen?" She picks up her phone and she says, "Hi. Are you in your office?" and the person I believe says, "Yeah." She says, "Oh, can you come up for a second?" She says, "Hold on one second." She leaves the office, and I'm sitting in there for about five minutes.
Kerry Diamond: You're a high school kid. You're just sitting...
Lazarus Lynch: I'm a high school kid.
Kerry Diamond: ... there, like, "What's going on?"
Lazarus Lynch: I'm in my junior year, I'm thinking, "What is going on. What have I gotten myself into?" and who comes walking in the door? Bob Tuschman. Now, for folks who don't know who Bob Tuschman is, Bob Tuschman was the vice president of programming for Food Network. He was on the show Next Food Network Star. He was one of the judges. He's the guy with the white hair. I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, I know him from the show. What's he doing here?" I had no idea what his role was or anything. He comes in. Susan plays it from the beginning. We get two minutes in. He says, "Okay, stop it," so I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, what is about to happen?"
Lazarus Lynch: Bob looked at me and said, "Susan never calls me for anything. She never calls me for anything, let alone to come up to her office, so, when she called me, I was just like, 'What's wrong? Something must be wrong,'" and he said, "You have got it." He said, "You have got it," and he said, "We want to work with you." He said, "But you're too young," and he said, "We don't have anything right now for young people," so he said, "My advice to you is to go to college, learn something, get a degree and maybe come back in a few years, and let's talk." I thought, "That's great, and that sucks." Like, oh, my goodness, you want to work me, but not until another 10 years. That was probably the best advice he could have given me.
Lazarus Lynch: Now, having gone to college, and I think most people who've gone to college feel this way, it's like, "What was that all for?" and I could have save myself all this money, and life probably would have still turned out great, but I think the essence of he was saying was go and live life. Experience the world. Learn some lessons. Get some experience under your belt, and then, when you come back and you're ready to do a show, you'll more under your belt. You'll be more grounded, so, many years later, who comes knocking on my door? Food Network, to host a show and then to host a second show.
Lazarus Lynch: The market changed significantly since that time, since the time I was in college. A lot of things were linear. Now, things are digital, so they were presenting me an opportunity to host a couple of digital shows, and I thought, "Oh, my goodness, this is amazing," but I think the lesson in all of this is to be able to trust your ideas and to be able to put those ideas in front of people who will support and believe in you. I'm so glad that I was supported by teachers at Food and Finance, mentors at Food and Finance, mentors from Food Network who just saw a kid and believed in him. I mean, I think that's just so amazing.
Kerry Diamond: All right, let's talk about this beautiful cookbook. This is such a great book. First off, it's a heavy book. This isn't just some little cookbook somebody put out.
Lazarus Lynch: I know. I held it the other day, and I was just like, "Oh, my God."
Kerry Diamond: That's why you're in such good shape.
Lazarus Lynch: This came out of me.
Kerry Diamond: That's why your arms look like yours.
Lazarus Lynch: It's a big baby. Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: Son of a Southern Chef, Cook with Soul. How did you get a cookbook deal?
Lazarus Lynch: How did that happen?
Kerry Diamond: I mean, so many people in our world want a cookbook one day. They're curious about the process.
Lazarus Lynch: I think I've wanted to do it for a long time, and I would even date myself back to wanting to do a cookbook since high school. I wanted to do it for high school students, and I just thought, "I should write some recipes." I had a blog, and so I had experienced writing recipes, worked at Food Network, and so... as an intern and so understood what it meant to write a recipe from start to finish, but a book was a far-out goal for me.
Lazarus Lynch: When I graduated in 2016, which was just like yesterday, I just remember thinking, "What do I want to do?" I know I don't want to work a day job. I've done that before, and so I don't want to do that. It felt like the right next thing for me, but it also felt like this thing I had no access to. I didn't know how to break into the book world, the publishing world.
Lazarus Lynch: I had a mentor, Ellie Krieger, who I love, and I remember telling her one day, I think it was the summer, and I said, "Oh, Ellie, you know what, I think I want to write a book," and she said, "Oh, really?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "If you want to do it, I can introduce you to my agent," and she introduced me to her agent, Jane Dystel.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember, right before being introduced to Jane, there were two other agents who came knocking on my door, and they had seen something I did on Food Network, they saw a show and they saw this, and they said, "Are you interested in writing a book?" and I was like, "The universe is speaking to me. Of course, I'm ready to write a book," and I just felt inwardly they're not the right people to work with. There ain't anything wrong with them. I just felt I shouldn't work with them, so, when I met Jane, she is... and she'll tell you herself. She's sort of like Judge Judy meets Joan Rivers, I mean, just the best person on the planet, and I said, "Jane, I think I want to write a book."
Lazarus Lynch: Right before that meeting, I was on the Today Show. It was my first time on the Today Show, and that's even a crazy story, and I made this fried chicken sandwich, and one of the hosts was just like, "This is the best fried chicken I've ever had." A black girl, okay, said that to me, so I was like, "A huge compliment," and Jane said, "I saw you on the show. I knew you were ready," and then the first question she said to me is, "Do you want to write it or do you want someone else to write it?"
Lazarus Lynch: I thought, "I want to write the book." She was like, "If you want to write it, we'll talk about this. If you don't want to write it, we'll talk about that," and I had no idea that there's such a thing as ghostwriters, but, anyway-
Kerry Diamond: Or coauthors these days. Right. Right.
Lazarus Lynch: Or coauthors, so that was end of 2016. I didn't see a book deal until a year from graduating, so it was 2017, May, that I saw a book deal.
Kerry Diamond: Did you have to write a proposal?
Lazarus Lynch: I had to write a proposal, it's about 50 pages long, about what this book is about, why are you qualified to write it. I mean, answering all these questions is like, oh, my God, I have to... and we shopped it out to about 12 publishers, and I remember it was a really hard thing because here am, the new kid on the block, and no one... A lot of people had not heard of me in the publishing world. You felt like a hard sell. We got back the letters from publishers, and my agent sent me all the letters, and that's basically sitting on Facebook and having your life torn apart because that's what it feels like. I mean publishers were...
Kerry Diamond: That wasn't twelve-way bidding war.
Lazarus Lynch: ... like, "He's so young." No. It was, "He's so young. We're not sure he's ready. We've tried something like this before and it wasn't successful. Southern cookbooks are not really in right now." I mean everything-
Kerry Diamond: I actually thought you were going to tell me it was a twelve-way bidding war.
Lazarus Lynch: I mean, no, not at all, and this is the part of the story I like to tell because I want to encourage people out there with a dream. Anyway, we finally got two offers, and I took the offer to work with Random House, and I feel like that was the right decision for me, but what a journey, what an experience that was, and then, two years into that, writing the book, doing all the recipe testing and then trying to make my deadline without having any consequence, and so, yeah, it was literally just like banding together a community.
Lazarus Lynch: My incredible creative partner, best friend, photographer, Anisha Sisodia, did all the photography, and we had meetings upon meetings upon meetings upon meetings at hotels, at lobbies, at coffee shops about what the book would be, what it would feel like, and I remember telling her, "I don't want this to feel like a traditional cookbook. I don't want it to feel like a normal cookbook. I want it to be vibrant and bold," and I think we accomplished that.
Kerry Diamond: I would say mission accomplished.
Lazarus Lynch: Yeah. Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: How do you describe what Lazarus Lynch food is?
Lazarus Lynch: That's an interesting question, Kerry. It's funny because I think there's a range of it. I would say though, if I were to give it a couple of words, it's fun, vibrant, soulful, bold. It's all of those things, and it could be a green smoothie or it could be my dad's mac and cheese. It's got a story, which embodies the whole word of soul. There's a feeling of appreciation and community, and I think that this book is really celebratory recipes to share with your family and friends, get-togethers, holidays, comfort food. That's what this first book is all about.
Kerry Diamond: You always want somebody to read the cookbook and read the head notes and read the recipes all the way through, but I really did enjoy reading your head notes and just getting into your head a little and understanding why you came up with these recipes, and so many family influences. Your dad's coleslaw, because you let it sit for a day...
Lazarus Lynch: I let it sit.
Kerry Diamond: ... and so it gets better.
Lazarus Lynch: It does get better. It's funny, because I looked at the time on that the other day, and it's like 24 hours or 26 hours to make coleslaw, but that's just something that I learned being at the restaurant, that the first batch was good, but the next day batch was great. It was like perfection.
Kerry Diamond: Is there a little pickle juice in it?
Lazarus Lynch: There's a little pickle juice.
Kerry Diamond: Am I remembering that correctly?
Lazarus Lynch: Mm-hmm (affirmative), a little bit of that. There's a lot of these little notes on how to enhance flavor with just using what you got.
Kerry Diamond: Your dad's mac and cheese, I know there's a little secret ingredient, evaporated milk.
Lazarus Lynch: Yes. He didn't do the heavy cream or the milk. He did the evaporated milk, and I honestly think that's because that's what his mother could afford, that 69-cent can of evaporated milk.
Kerry Diamond: Is there one recipe in here that really would just light up your heart if people made and posted to Instagram?
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, my God. Oh, there's so many. For some reason I'm always drawn back to the dessert section. I'm so proud of the Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls. It's the back cover of the book. Those are just dynamite, ridiculously... You can bite your fingers off eating it.
Kerry Diamond: All right, so, now, we're going to talk about the aesthetics. Anisha, who you mentioned earlier, is your creative director. I love that you have a creative director. The book does not look like anything else. I mean, there are so many, I'm sorry, cookbook world, but so many boring cookbooks out there, and you can tell when somebody gets a deal and they just phone it in, and the publisher doesn't care, and the author either doesn't care or doesn't know that they could push for more. I think that's sometimes what a lot of people don't realize, but you clearly pushed for more, and it comes through, and the photo shoots are great. Did she do all these photo collages?
Lazarus Lynch: She did every photo collage. She did every photo. It's interesting. I remember, when I first got the deal, I was presented with a few names of photographers, and I interviewed everybody. I went out to lunch with people, I mean, best in the business, and then it came down to scheduling and rates, and I thought, "I've got to make something work here," and it just wasn't working.
Lazarus Lynch: I remember there was a point where I said to my editor, Lucia Watson, I said, "I'm having issues with the photographer." I said, "But I work with someone who I think would be great for the book," and she said, "Oh, sure, fantastic. Yes, of course. Has she ever done a book before?" and I said, "No." "Has she shot food before?" I said, "She shot a little bit of food." I said, "But she's more than capable," and they just let me go.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, that's crazy because the publishers like who they like.
Lazarus Lynch: They like who they like. They have their relationships. I thought, "I've never written a cookbook before. She's never shot a book before, so you're taking a risk here either way," but so... I'm so grateful though. I mean, I was told by everybody who's ever done a book, "It's not going to be what you want. It's going to be what they want. You're going to get a lot of pushback," and that was totally not my experience.
Lazarus Lynch: However, the beautiful cover that we're looking at right now was the first cover, it was sort of an accident, it was like, "We have this picture," and we said, "We guess this could be a cover," but we weren't seriously thinking it would be the cover, and the publisher loved it. My editor loved it. The design team loved it, and Anisha and I were just like, "That's not great at all. We could do much better than that. We can do so much better than that."
Lazarus Lynch: We said, "Okay, we're going to do another shoot and we're going to show them we can do better," and we did. We did another day. We did three different shoots. We sent those to the publisher, and the publisher said, "No. This is the cover." They're like, "This is the cover," and I'm like, "My eyes are closed. You can't see me through the soul of my eyes." Anyway, it grew on us. It's certainly grew on me, and I don't think there could be a more...
Kerry Diamond: Oh, it's an epic-
Lazarus Lynch: ... a better cover.
Kerry Diamond: It's an epic cover. Yeah, it's so heard with the covers. It's like our cover was such a struggle.
Lazarus Lynch: I love your cover though.
Kerry Diamond: I love our cover, too, but it was a journey. The whole rest of the cookbook I feel like was easier than the cover, but it's such a process.
Lazarus Lynch: It's such a process.
Kerry Diamond: All right, next question, because we're trying to talk about this more on Radio Cherry Bombe, how people really make a living, so how do you make money?
Lazarus Lynch: You know what, I ask myself that a lot, Kerry.
Kerry Diamond: You're young, which helps.
Lazarus Lynch: I'm young, which helps. I still live at home with my family, which helps a great deal. Primarily, it's through the projects that I do, so, right now, it's the book. It's the shows that I've done with Food Network. It's sponsored content, which I'm doing less and less of actually these days.
Kerry Diamond: Because?
Lazarus Lynch: Because I'm getting clearer about what I truly want to do. It's almost like a privilege to even be able to say that, but I'm just getting really focused on what brings me joy, and even down to the projects that I'm working on, the shows that I'm doing, I'm getting really specific and intentional.
Kerry Diamond: Any big dreams you have that you want to put out into the universe?
Lazarus Lynch: What's bigger than a book?
Kerry Diamond: What's bigger than a book? Yeah.
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, gosh, I mean, there are tons of things. I don't see it anymore as big dreams. I want to do so much. I see myself running a foundation one day. I see myself with this new show that I'm very excited about. It has no partner. Hello, if anyone's listening. This is a new show.
Kerry Diamond: Can you tell us about it?
Lazarus Lynch: I will say I'm a musician. I sing and I make music, and I'm also a creative and a chef. There's no show that really embodies that right now, and I think what people want to know how to do and they want to see me do is cook. They want to see me cook, so it's essentially a cooking show, and that's all I'm going to say about it right now.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Lazarus Lynch: It's really-
Kerry Diamond: You're shopping it right now?
Lazarus Lynch: It's really fun. No.
Kerry Diamond: No?
Lazarus Lynch: No. I'm putting it out there into the universe. I'm not afraid of losing it because what's mine is mine, but it's one of those things where we're getting ready to shop it. It needs a partner, but I also want it to be the right partner.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Lazarus Lynch: There's shows. There's an album I'm working on. There's more singles, more music. There's book number two, number three that's in the works. There's films. There's short films that I want to produce, that I want to act in, that I want to star in. There are things I want to write, so as long as I have breath in my body and the willingness to create and chase my dream, then that's what I'm going to do.
Kerry Diamond: All right, we're going to do a little speed round, and then we're going to let you go. Song that makes you smile?
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, my God, oh, this Earth, Wind & Fire song, I just played it, Star.
Kerry Diamond: Food you would never eat?
Lazarus Lynch: Cottage cheese. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it with a capital H.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen tool?
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, a whisk.
Kerry Diamond: Most treasured cookbook that you did not write?
Lazarus Lynch: Chrissy Teigen anything.
Kerry Diamond: Dream vacation destination?
Lazarus Lynch: Bermuda.
Kerry Diamond: What's the oldest thing in your fridge?
Lazarus Lynch: Oh, my God, probably some cheese from a year ago. Lord, have mercy.
Kerry Diamond: If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be?
Lazarus Lynch: Maybe Bobby Flay. He's a really cool guy. I've known Bobby for a long time. He's known me since I was in high school, since I was probably 14, and now he wrote in my book, which is a huge honor. He wrote right in the cover. Because he's a real person, and I feel like he I can talk to him about anything other than food, and he would be just as easily to connect with about that, and he'd probably also help make something really delicious.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Lazarus for sitting down with me, and don't forget to pick up a copy of his new book, Son of a Southern Chef, and be sure to follow his fabulous Instagram. Don't forget the new issue of Cherry Bombe is out right now. You can get it at some of our favorite places like Kitchen Arts & Letters in Manhattan and Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised organic eggs, for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. You folks are egg-cellent. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered and produced by Jess Zeidman, and our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala.
Kerry Diamond: Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the Bombe.
When Harry Met Sally CLip: I'll have what she's having.
Eliza Loehr: Hi. My name is Eliza Loehr, and I'm the executive director at Food Education Fund. Do you want to know who I think is the Bombe? Erin Fairbanks. Erin is one of the co-founders of Women in Hospitality United, the former executive director of Heritage Radio Network and a true force in the culinary industry making the industry better for women, for people of color, and a more diverse and equitable place.