Born and raised in New York City, Lazarus Lynch grew up watching the Food Network in its early days and has since gone on to win “Chopped” twice and host several Food Network shows ("Chopped U" and "Comfort Nation").
For his first cookbook, “Son of a Southern Chef” (out now), he pays tribute to his late restaurateur father, Johnny Ray Lynch.
amNewYork spoke with Lynch, 25, about his debut book, soul food approach and father’s influence (which, while a great impact, hasn’t inspired the chef to pursue his own restaurant).
When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
I was drawn to cooking from a very young [age]. I remember being 6 years old and while other kids were playing basketball, I would be sitting and smelling rosemary planted in the school garden. Then when I was 10, my dad decided to open a restaurant and I was very curious about what he was doing and what he was making.
Did your dad teach you how to cook?
I learned a lot from my dad, but I also attended the Food and Finance High School on West 50th Street. I was in the fifth graduating class there in 2012 and I’ve stayed involved with the school. It’s such a great program and I’m very proud to be their first grad to publish a cookbook.
What was your dad’s restaurant like?
It was a soul food place called Baby Sister’s Soul Food, in Queens. My dad was known as the “fish guy” in the neighborhood because he had the best fried fish and best fried okra. He mostly served fish and chips with Southern sides like mac-and-cheese, candied yams and collard greens. It was also popular because he would also invite musicians to come in and play.
What types of recipes are in the book?
There’s a little bit of everything, from neo soul to classic Guyanese bake and salt fish. It’s very much the food I grew up with in Jamaica, Queens, like jerk chicken with mango chutney and brown chicken stew. I’ve inherited a lot of these recipes and given them my own spin, but I’ve also developed my own.
How do you define soul food?
Some would say it’s Southern food prepared by black chefs, but for me, soul food is what makes you think of home. It’s comforting, it’s fun to eat and it’s food you want to share with family, friends and loved ones. It’s passed down through generations, through word-of-mouth, through pots and pans. There’s a secret and science to soul food that really resonates with me.
Do you have a favorite recipe?
I’m always in love with the sweet potato pecan cinnamon rolls with bourbon glaze. They’re really quite good — and kind of addictive. They smell like when you walk past Cinnabon in the mall, but they’re so much better. They’re a celebration of sweet potato, which is a real Southern staple.
For a summer-ready recipe, look no further than Lynch’s grilled peach, cucumber and tomato salad. “What’s special about it is the ingredients are ordinary, but when they come together, it’s pure magic,” Lynch writes. “It’s the simple things that make me happy: a syrupy summer peach, a crisp cucumber and a juicy, ripe tomato. Can’t get enough!”
Grilled peach, cucumber and tomato salad
Serves four to six
- 2 very ripe peaches, pitted and quartered
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 English cucumber, sliced on an angle (about 1 cup)
- 8 oz. tricolor cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup torn fresh basil or mint leaves, or a mix
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.
2. Rub the peaches with the oil. Grill the peaches on their two cut sides, turning occasionally, until grill marks appear, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Transfer the peaches to a large bowl and toss with the cucumber, tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Excerpt from “Son of a Southern Chef” by Lazarus Lynch. Published by Avery.