Mark Andrew Gravel, Independent Cook, Designer and Author of Kill the Recipe
Mark's shoot couldn't have come at a better time. Without ever intending to, we realized we had featured only women here on Pantry Confidential since our first post a little more than a year ago (A year! Already!). It's high time we mix things up, wouldn't you say? And Mark couldn't be a better inaugural male subject - passionate about food, art and the wholly sensory experiences derived from each. His first book, Kill the Recipe, is an homage to beans and cooking locally, sensibly and economically. We totally fell in love with his pared down style, which is fully extended to his minimal cooking aesthetic. A laid-back man with an appreciation for beautiful art, delicious food and cleanliness... did we mention he's single?
Read on to find out the biggest misconception about beans and the best joint for dub reggae beats in Greenpoint - plus, a giveaway!
Hi Mark! Please tell us what you do and a bit about your culinary/design background.
I cook and design. I’m lucky because these are two of my passions, and I’m able to do both for work. I’m originally from Winston-Salem, N.C., and I came to New York in 2005 for the Food Studies program at NYU. Prior to that, I studied Culinary Arts in Charleston, S.C. While I was at NYU, the Food Studies program was still pretty young so there was a lot of room to individualize your study, which gave me the freedom to combine my design interests with my cooking background. While I was finishing school, I started Good Farm, an art and agriculture blog that showcased and celebrated the agrarian avant-garde, which are the forward thinking farmers, cooks, eaters, educators, activists, and artists reclaiming our land, our communities and our health. Since then, I’ve transitioned Good Farm to a foraging project that draws on a network of place-based producers to source local food for a variety of food businesses and events.
During this time, I also put together a collage art food zine with some friends called Food + Sex, which visually explored how desire shapes our food environment. I was living in San Francisco while working on Food + Sex and when I first landed in San Francisco, I wound up cooking with Chris Kronner and Danny Bowien at a temporary restaurant called Good Evening Thursday in the Mission neighborhood. I was really enjoying cooking in this alternative environment, so I wound up doing some of my own projects at my friend’s space called Gravel & Gold (the name is a coincidence!) At Gravel & Gold, I hosted bean-based dinners and daytime pop-ups, which eventually became known as Bean-Ins. While at a friend’s dinner, I met an artist named Natasha Wheat and she invited me to collaborate with her and Sarah Magrish Cline, a designer, to host a daylong Bean-In at California College of the Arts. For me, this was the pinnacle of Bean-In as well as the conclusion. After San Francisco, I moved back to New York and did a few more pop-ups then took a break and moved back to North Carolina to work on Kill the Recipe. As of now, Kill the Recipe is out, I’m back in New York and I’m currently working on a social cooking app.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style and aesthetic is minimalist because I believe that keeping it simple is really important. As for my cooking, it’s definitely bean-rich. I like to think of meat as more of a complement to a dish than the focus. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t eat a lot of beans growing up, but once I discovered how satisfying good beans could be I was hooked.
What is your favorite bean and how do you like to prepare it?
I really love heirloom cowpeas. They’re a staple of traditional Lowcountry cooking and an essential ingredient in classic Hoppin’ John. Most Hoppin’ John made today is made with black-eyed peas, and it’s just not the same. My favorite way to make cowpeas is by simmering them with onion, garlic, bay leaves and a little bit of butter. It’s so satisfying and the leftover broth is amazing.
What are the biggest challenges you've encountered while spreading the bean gospel?
The main misconception is that beans cause digestive problems. It’s actually not a misconception because most beans aren’t cooked properly, and by properly I mean they aren’t cooked long enough. I like to compare beans to BBQ. Beans are full of complex starches and sugars like most cuts used for BBQ are full of tough connective tissues. Like the connective tissues, the starches and sugars need time to break down and become more digestible. If you cook beans long enough this happens and the digestive problems associated with the magical fruit cease to exist. Beans are rad when they’re made right.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat and enjoy a night out?
I love eating at Mission Chinese. They have a surprising amount of legumes incorporated into their menu, which I love. Other than that, I haven’t been eating out much these days. I do, however, enjoy hanging at Nights and Weekends near my house in Greenpoint. They always have the best dub reggae records playing, which also happens to be my favorite thing to cook to.
What are your favorite kitchen utensils?
My mom’s old All-Clad LTDs; they’re well-worn and beautiful.
Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
Restaurant supply stores.
Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?
Olive oil, coarse salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, bay leaves, a few vinegars, garlic and onions. These are generally the only things in my pantry. :)
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
Food Sex Art: Starving Artists Cookbook (currently out of print).
Cowpea, Cauliflower and Spinach Soup with Green Chorizo
Soak 2 cups of dried Carolina Plantation Cowpeas or Sea Island Red Peas overnight in well-salted water at room temperature. Drain before using.
In a pot, add soaked, drained peas, a small diced onion, a clove of garlic, a few bay leaves, a small piece of butter and cover with water by 1 inch. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the peas for about 30 minutes or until tender.
When the peas are tender, add 4 cups of shaved, raw cauliflower and 4 cups of steamed, chopped spinach to the pot. Add more water to cover the ingredients and season with salt, black pepper, and a few splashes of vinegar (any type is fine). Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes.
While soup is simmering, warm a saute pan over high heat and sear sausage* until the skin is browned (poke a few small holes in the skin of the sausage to prevent bursting before adding it to the pan.)
Reduce heat to finish cooking the sausage, then remove from the pan and slice.
To finish the soup, adjust salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste and ladle into a bowl. Add sliced sausage and serve.
*Substitute regular chorizo or andouille if you can't find green chorizo. Here we used The Meat Hook's amazing Toluca sausage filled with serranos, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and herbs.
Thanks, Mark! This soup was so delicious, we re-created it at home the same night! For your chance to win a copy of Kill the Recipe and a bag of these gorgeous Carolina Plantation Cowpeas, please leave us a comment sharing your favorite bean recipe. You have until next Friday, December 14, at 11:59pm/EST. Winner will be chosen at random - good luck!
*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.