Andy Baraghani

Interview by
Evan Moffitt
Photography by
James Emmerman


Chef Andy Baraghani brings refined taste and faggy sensibility to the kitchen tables of America. In 2015, he became the resident hunk for cooking portal Bon Appétit. Between the release of his book, 'The Cook You Want to Be' and winning the James Beard Award for it, Andy sits down for pastrami and sleaze at New York's third best Jewish Deli. 

Evan: Happy Friday, Andy. Since we’re in a Jewish deli I guess I should say ‘Good Shabbos.’ Why did you pick this place?
Andy: Second Avenue Deli has the best pastrami in New York, in my opinion. Some people might not agree. It feels old school, not just the space, but the clientele too… It just feels right. And as soon as you sit down, you get a plate of vinegary coleslaw and pickles.
Oh, so this just appeared? I was like, ‘Wow, he’s ordered for me.’
No. But I often end up having to order for people. I do have suggestions, but feel free to like…choose your own adventure.
Are you Jewish?
I’m not Jewish, but everybody thinks I am.
We can’t all be perfect. (laughs)
But I love Jewish food, and my closest friends are Jewish and I grew up around Jewish culture in New York.
So, you grew up in New York?
I’m from California originally. The Bay Area.
I went to the recent launch party for your book, ‘The Cook You Want to Be’, which was fun. The dancefloor was giving, and I saw like twelve people come out of a bathroom stall.
That was fun! It’s my first book, first book tour and I wanted to do events that weren’t so traditional. And I wanted a dance party because I love music.
When did you start cooking? Was food a big part of your family?
No one in my family works in the food world. I grew up first-generation American. My parents came to the States in the late 70s, before the Iranian Revolution. And they were very middle class, so pretty much all of our meals were at home. I fell in love with Persian flavors at a very young age. By the time I was 16 I knew I wanted to work in a restaurant and did so for about seven years, in California, Paris, New York, and then left to work in food media.
Are certain recipes of yours versions of dishes your mom used to make?
I’d never describe myself as a recipe developer who develops Iranian recipes, but I’ve definitely developed a lot of Iranian recipes. The goal for me is to treat the cuisine with a lot of respect, and try to preserve and retain the look, the flavors, but not just for an Iranian audience. I have no interest in writing a recipe exactly the way my mother cooked it, because she’s already done an incredible job.
You have some Persian classics in the cookbook, like kuku sabzi. There are also a lot of salads – the book is very vegetable heavy and that fresh ingredient-forward approach feels like such a California vibe.
Definitely. I don’t think I’ll ever remove meat or seafood from my diet, but vegetables are definitely what I crave the most. My food isn’t confined to a single cuisine. It’s more of this idea of being really curious and bringing together ingredients from different regions and all different cuisines from around the world.
Your first job was at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. What was that experience like? I hear Alice Waters loves the gays.
She loves the gays, that’s for sure! It was the best introduction to a professional kitchen I ever could’ve imagined. And it only brought me deeper appreciation for great ingredients and techniques and a respect for oneself and others in the kitchen. I was just a teenager and addicted to learning. I was a sponge.
You didn’t walk over to Steamworks after your shift, then?
No, but I love that you know there’s a Steamworks in the neighborhood.
We’re just getting to know each other, but I am a sauna afficionado. I’m going to São Paulo next week, and Chilli Pepper I cannot recommend highly enough. They have a live ticker on the website that tells you how many guys are in there.
What a time-saver!
Talking about time-savers… Why you gotta come for my garlic press?
Oh, well…it’s a general feeling towards certain tools. If a garlic press makes you use garlic more, use the garlic press. But in general, in my opinion, again, these “extras” almost cloud your judgment and get in your way and kind of remove the joy of cooking. Maybe you don’t want your fingers to smell like garlic. Right? I get that.

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Andy's first Condé Nast approved recipe was for gourmet mozzarella sticks.

I don’t mind the smell, it just gets sticky.
And you know, if you have garlicky fingers, you can’t finger anybody. That’s an irritant.
Are you a crusher? A mincer?
I am a whole, a crushed, a sliced and a grated…
So many options!
Yeah. But generally not a mincer.
I spent more than a year without a permanent address, and even now, it’s like, do I really need to buy a stand mixer? But then I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to start baking!’ So, I bought Claire Saffitz’s book, ‘Dessert Person’.
We love Claire.
But try making a flourless chocolate cake without a stand mixer. It’s like jacking someone off who just won’t cum.
Tell me about it. My forearm has been sore for almost a week now. I made sure none of my recipes called for a stand mixer in my book, because I don’t want to make people have all these expensive items.
I appreciate that. Is that why you called it ‘The Cook You Want to Be’? Like, it’s within our reach?
What do you think?
Well, ‘The Cook You Want To Be’ is not so far from “The Cook You Want to Fuck”.
Oh! Great title for this piece.
I’ll take it up with my editor.
I’m very versatile. The original title was slightly different, ‘The Cook I Want to Be’, then right about halfway through writing, I’m like, ‘You know, this book is not about me, it’s about bringing the reader in.’ My goal is to empower the home cook. Once at a book signing someone said that it could easily have been called “The Cook You Want to Sleep With”. I was deeply flattered by this and…
Did you get his number?
I don’t believe so…
Waiter: Are you guys ready? I can give you a couple of minutes.
No, sure, okay. Is it possible to do, like, half a pastrami and…soup?
Waiter: Matzo ball?
Yes, great. Thank you.
I’ll do the onion and mushroom omelet, light butter though.
Waiter: We’re kosher, we don’t use butter.
Oh right, perfect.
Waiter: So when they cook it, you want them to leave it a little dry?
Not browned. Don’t brown the eggs.
Waiter: On the side?
Lettuce and tomatoes – I’m trying to be lean.
So you have a husband, @mrpollock. The Instagram handle is really giving me dom energy. How long have you been together?
We met when we both worked at Condé Nast together. I was at Bon Appétit, he was at Architectural Digest.
How editorial.
(Food arrives, and waiter pours broth over the matzo ball)
Showmanship! I’m going straight for the starch.
This is your first time, you should be getting the hits.
Are you guys open?
We are not.
Reader, be advised – I don’t know a lot of gay couples, especially in New York, who are closed.
I definitely think it’s a rarity. As someone who has had sex with a lot of people, I won’t give a number but…what’s a lot?
I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
Come on, no one actually knows their number.
I know my number, at least within a margin of 15 or so. Is that weird?
No it’s not. I just don’t know how.
I told myself I didn’t want to forget, so I used to write down names, but then that stopped being possible, so it just became individual descriptors.
I used to write notes about men that I slept with that were memorable. It’s in Google Docs somewhere and hasn’t been updated in years.
That’s very methodical.
It started in Notes. I remember one description: ‘Guy looks like a lot of men who are attracted to me, and like many Americans he was deeply broken inside.’ (laughs) I don’t know what was going through my head when I wrote that, because I was probably 19.
So these were psychological profiles. Mine were like, “Top”, with a date. (laughs)
Mine are little reads like, “Purple snakeskin boots”.
A memorable detail. What about threesomes with Mr. Pollock?
Have we had cameos? Yes.
Any recent highlights?
Pretty recent. (laughs) Yeah… There aren’t too many repeats, I should say. But there are a couple, and they satisfy us both in different ways…

I'm eating ass and then I'm eating a chicory salad with some shaved salted cheese and citrus.

What satisfies you?
I’m definitely intense in and out of the bedroom. Very decisive. Specifically, like with work, I know what I like and what I dislike. And I feel confident about that. And in the bedroom, it’s pretty much the same. I lost my virginity when I was 16, but I’ve been sexually active since I was like 13. I definitely started young. And I think I’m a very sexual person. I don’t hide it.
Tell me more about pre-exclusive, party-boy Andy.
Curiosity is a word that applies to so many different aspects of my life. With cooking just like with sex, you can try something and if you don’t like that ingredient, or you don’t like that position or fetish, you take a step back and do it again. Or you try something new. Maybe when I was younger, I had this bigger fear of staying stagnant and like not evolving, not growing. I don’t necessarily have that fear now, because I think it’s just very intrinsic to my identity as a New Yorker and as a gay man. It’s like, I constantly want to be evolving.
What’s your current evolutionary trajectory?
With sex I very much enjoy being extremely versatile. I think in past relationships, not in all, I definitely preferred being on top, but this relationship is good all around.
Waiter: Do you want some toast?
Rye. I’ve tried many fetishes and I’ll happily continue practicing them, but I just want piggy dom/sub sex. I’m classic like that. I’ve been told that I give off that vibe.
People think you give off a piggy vibe?
Maybe it’s because I have dark hair, dark features. I’m intense. Maybe I don’t blink enough. Have I put a hand on someone’s throat before? Yes.
And food sex? I don’t mean the ‘American Pie’ variety, or that poor peach from ‘Call Me By Your Name’, but like, a chocolate-syrup-dick situation.
No. I don’t fuck with that. Different loves. Some people want to combine them, I fully support that, but…
Sex in the kitchen?
Sex in the kitchen is different. You’re talking about bringing in a food element into the act, and I’m not interested in that. I want ass, I want dick, I want pits, I want spit, I want hole. I want hair. I want biting. I want fingers. I want it all. But I don’t need salt and pepper and ketchup and mayonnaise and mustard in my fucking…
Or garlic fingers. You don’t have to shit where you eat, but you can eat ass in the kitchen.
Most of the time I’m eating ass and then I have a steak afterwards.
Okay, so a classic, red-blooded American male.
I meant to say, I’m eating ass and then I’m eating a chicory salad with some kind of shaved, salted cheese and citrus. That’s more on brand for me.
Do you ever cook together, you and Keith?
I’m definitely the one doing the cooking, but he helps and preps. He loves to, like, chop.
Not mince.
And flash me in the kitchen. Sometimes we get horny and we take a break. I mean, I have never been such a top with anybody else. What do you think of the pastrami?
It’s very good and not like, super fatty. I love how thin it is relative to Katz’s Deli.
You’re right…

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What’s next for you?
I had a very, very, very good surprise two weeks ago. The book got nominated for a James Beard Award. I was totally caught off guard. So excited for that. I’ll start up my next book soonish and go back on video. I do love video.
Cam boy.
It’ll be an open chat room. (laughs) This may come as a surprise, but I’d love to expand into the design world, like interiors and tabletops. And more sex with Mr. Pollock.
So…are you coming for Yotam Ottolenghi?
No! It’s funny, it’s like, this only gets asked of women and queer people. No one says this for straight men. Just because Ottolenghi is also gay.
He mentions his Irish husband anytime he includes butter in a recipe.
That’s so random! (laughs) I love that he subtly incorporates his gay agenda in his cookbooks. I feel like I’m maybe more overt in referencing drag and Alanis Morissette and Diana Ross.
“Gay Persian boy” is in the first line.
That was very, very intentional. And I made sure I wrote about how persimmons taste like cum. I love persimmons.
Have you ever done the cum diet? Or has someone eaten certain foods to make their cum taste better for you?
I have not. I mean, I do believe if you are a drinker and a smoker and you eat a lot of red meat, like, your cum probably doesn’t taste that great.
If you’re on a diet of asparagus and mephedrone.
Oh, God no. But generally, I feel like I could count on maybe one hand, maybe two hands how many loads I’ve had that didn’t taste great. Not many.
I had a boyfriend in college who asked me if I noticed anything, and told me he had been eating a huge plate of pineapple every day for two weeks, and it was making his lips chapped.
But, like, where did he get this idea from? Did you tell him his load stinks?
No. I feel like he read it somewhere.
Did he taste his own cum and go, ‘This doesn’t taste right?’ You’ve done that, right?
I must have when I was a teenager.
Wow! So, you’re saying you’ve never, as an adult, gotten too tired to wipe yourself off and ate your own cum? (laughs)
You are a lot less piggy than I thought.
Don’t try me!
For the record, I have fully made Evan nervous.
I am NOT nervous.
But yeah, that’s what’s next. I’m gonna go back to video. And I’ll start on my next book.
You say in your book that you became an encyclopedia of ingredients. What are the essential ingredients for an Andy Baraghani? Persimmon, apparently.
Loads of persimmon. A big tub of yogurt. A fistful of herbs. Lots of alliums for flavor.
You wanna make the boys cry.
I was gonna say lamb, because I’m not for everybody, but maybe some orange blossom water. I don’t use a lot of floral ingredients in my food, but a little bit ensures a strong flavor. That doesn’t make a complete dish, but it’s part of an Andy Baraghani.
Yum. You were getting me close.
I edged you.

Originally published in BUTT 33