Chef Jonathan Bardzik Talks Humble Beginnings, Favorite Dishes and His Yummy Husband

Chef Jonathan Bardzik is one tasty dish... there's no denying that. Outside of his good looks, he also happens to be an mastermind in the kitchen with his superb cooking abilities that should be tasted by each and every person in this world. I've been fortunate enough to try some of his stellar plates, and let's just say that I felt stuffed in all the right ways (I'll stop these annoying culinary puns now).

He has also become one of the most sought after LGBTQ chefs in the United States, booking gig after gig while penning not one, not two but three different cookbooks that are filled with wonderful recipes for you to try yourself. Consider him a much younger, hotter, and bearish version of Julia Child. In other words... grab that glass of red wine with a side of furry goodness (once again, I'll stop the puns).

The D.C. native sat down with me at Instinct to discuss how he got into the culinary world, his deliciously hot husband, favorite dishes, and so much more. Take a look.

What inspired you to want to get into the culinary world?

Seven years ago I was looking for my next big adventure in life. I was a successful marketing executive, living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC with my amazing husband of two years, Jason. I asked the question, “What’s next?” and it turned out to be this. What started with giving cooking demonstrations with the seasonal ingredients that I found at historic Eastern Market has turned into a full time career as a storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author. I spend my life speaking and cooking in front of audiences, whether live or on screen.

On a deeper level I would answer “Joy.” I believe that life can and should be well lived and that almost all of us can achieve that each day by preparing a simple meal, setting a table, and sharing it with the people we love – even, and maybe most importantly – when that is a table for one. I was inspired to share that joy with my audiences.

Do you remember what your first dish was that you perfectly executed?

Perfection happens so rarely, especially for me. My favorite thing to cook is what I haven’t cooked yet. I love playing with new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques.

However, I once cooked a perfect Baked Alaska for Christmas dinner. It was my third try. The first time the menu was too aggressive and I ended up serving dinner at 11:30 at night. Everyone was asleep by the time dessert came out. The second time I set the table on fire while pouring flaming, cherry brandy over the top. The third time was my husband’s first Christmas with my family. I was determined to recreate that disastrously late dinner and serve it promptly at 7:30. I was successful, giving my family plenty of time to tell Jason other embarrassing stories about me.

Do you find that it’s hard for someone with an LGBTQ background to thrive in this environment?

I think there are so many challenges to success whether you are a black, lesbian, Muslim or grow up with financial disadvantages. I applaud everyone who gets up each day and fights to achieve success. I believe we have a responsibility to lift each other up when we can. Individually, I think we achieve the most when we focus on the challenges we can directly influence through our careful thought and bold action.

As a gay man this work has been challenging. When I started cooking in front of live audiences 7 years ago I was faced, each week, with the prospect of coming out simply by telling stories of my life at home and the meals I shared each day with my husband. Gay marriage was a hot and controversial topic, particularly in the local environment here. I asked myself if in these stories Jason should be my called roommate, my partner or my husband.

I came to the realization that being a great storyteller requires speaking truth directly from the heart. Worrying about what to call Jason would keep me from doing that. So every single time I stand in front of an audience I come out through the stories I tell. There are days when it’s scary. However, there isn’t one moment that I am not proud: proud of my husband, proud of the amazing LGBTQ people in my life, and proud of the person I have become because of my experiences as a gay man.

You’ve put out several cookbooks, done a ton of demonstrations and some television appearances over your career so far. What has been your favorite moment and why?

Without a doubt it was when I shared the layout for my first book with my parents. The opening and closing stories form a bit of a love letter to them. By the time we got through it we were all crying. I was so proud to honor them in that way.

But I get more than one, right?

There are the moments you geek out about – my first demo, my first TV appearance, opening the first box with my first cookbook, cooking at National Geographic, at USDA, in the US Senate offices, my first recipe in the Washington Post or the video story about me on USA Today.

But my favorite moments – and they happen often – are when my husband tells me how proud he is and how much faith he has in me. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy and he gives me strength, patience and love.

Do you have a favorite dish to cook during the cold fall season?

I love making soups. They capture so much of what I love and teach about cooking. Making soup starts with a simple set of techniques and practices – preparing stock, layering flavors, seasoning to taste. From there it is infinitely variable allowing one to explore and create diving into the ingredients and cuisines that are inspiring you at the moment.

I love celebrating rich, heirloom pumpkins with thick, creamy soups. I love brothy soups that start with chicken stock and are filled with whatever turns me on at the farm market over the weekend whether it’s fresh spinach, broccoli, new potatoes or turnips and celery root.

You can spend hours slowly simmering them but I can throw together a quick, Tuesday night soup in 20-30 minutes and have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day or serve a tableful of friends. A few years ago, at my Dad’s suggestion, I began making soup as soon as I arrived home for a family gathering. On the first night, when everyone arrived at different times, everyone could grab a bowl of the soup on their own schedule rather than trying to get everyone to sit together at the table. We all hang in the kitchen with the crowd growing as each new carful arrives.

Tell us about your relationship with Jason. How did you guys meet and is he ever your sous-chef?

Watching my parents over my life I have realized that, while they are amazing individuals, in finding each other they became a greater whole. I have found that in Jason. He is the great joy and strength of my life.

We met at a Washington Nationals baseball game that a mutual friend had invited us to. I thought he was hot from the moment he walked up to me on the street so we all could walk over. I didn’t get his phone number that night but we bumped into each other about a month and a half later at Bear Happy Hour here in DC and the rest is history. He still makes my heart flutter a bit when he walks into the room.

When I talked to Jason about starting weekly cooking demonstrations at Eastern Market he gave me full support. That first week he came out with me to help set up, wash dishes, and talk to friends who visited while I was talking to the crowd. Despite this being my passion and having his own full time job, Jason was there with me every weekend for the first two years.

At home I do most of the cooking but when I really exhausted and need a night off he’s always reliable for a perfect grilled cheese and some cuddling on the couch.

What do you have coming up in your career that is worth mentioning?

Things never seem to slow down. I’m working on a new book, I’ve got more requests for farm market cooking demonstrations and private teaching dinners than there are weekends in the year and I’m also working on developing my own TV series with an LGBT production company.

In the immediate future I’m so excited for Thanksgiving. I spend the next two weekends serving up fresh, seasonal Thanksgiving side dishes at four different farm markets in the DC area. I host a Thanksgiving helpline each year on my Facebook page (facebook.com/Jonathan.Bardzik) answering questions for 48 hours straight and I’m on TV both Thanksgiving morning and the day after. Two appearances on two networks in two days is pretty cool!

Biggest goals moving forward?

My biggest goal is to see people experience more joy in their lives: in the kitchen, shopping with the farmers and producers at their local farm markets and around the table with the people they love.

I would love to do that by seeing a significant growth in the number of people I reach through Instagram (@JonathanBardzik) and Facebook (facebook.com/jonathan.bardzik). I would love to do it through more keynote speaking and teambuilding work at conferences and corporate events. I would also love the opportunity to share this joy with the LGBTQ community at more runs, events and media appearances.

The big moment, of course, will be watching that first episode of my TV series when it airs on TV. I promise you’ll be the first to know when it’s going to happen.

The good news is that no matter where my career takes me each and every day is a good one – even when I have to sit down and do the book-keeping! I love my work and feel truly blessed that I get to spend my life pursuing it.

For more information on Chef Jonathan Bardzik, please check out his official website

One on One With Chef Extraordinaire Jonathan Bardzik!

Gay, handsome and can cook? Sign us up! Jonathan Bardzik has become one of the hottest chefs in and out of the Washington D.C. area, as his farm to table type of cuisine has lit up farmers markets, private gatherings, and even on the shelves at your local bookstore. 

He has developed a wonderful career for himself where he earns his coins by making other people happy and full. And who doesn't like that? He also is the author of three incredible cookbooks:  Simple Summer, Seasons to Taste, and Fresh and Magical Vinaigrettes, all of which are chock full of delicious recipes that you can make for your own friends, family or that special someone all year round.

What's even better about Jonathan is that he tells a story with his food. I've been apart of these types of events that he has hoted that have been nothing short of magical where he invites you into his table and gives you more than what is on the plate. It's a "culinary boner" if you will, as he is able to turn you on in so many ways when it comes to his cooking that you will have no choice but to leave a little sweaty and with a smile on your face.

Jonathan sat down with me at Instinct to discuss his rise in the culinary scene, including his inspirations, his major love affair with his sexy partner and how that began, and where he sees his booming career going in the future. Check it out. 

What got you into the culinary world in the first place?

I love cooking. And I love sharing the magic and joy of cooking with other people. So that’s why I started cooking seriously in my early 20’s. It took me almost 20 more years to figure out how to turn that passion into a career and where I fit in the culinary world as a storyteller, cook, keynote speaker and author.

Did you have any major inspirations growing up that helped shape you into the chef that you are today?

I know everyone says Mom, but it’s true.  Her greatest joy in life was being a mother and a homemaker. We didn’t have much money when I was young, so she gardened to grow most of our produce, Dad had chickens for fresh eggs and meat and Mom baked all the bread I ate until I was at least four years-old.

My first employer after college, Fred Dabney, was also a major influence. He did all the cooking at home and cooked well. I lived with he and his wife for a few months and we’d get to the house from work at 8 or 9 at night and he’d cook these amazing meals. I think it was my first example of someone cooking just because they loved to with no expectation that – as a mother or wife – that they had to.

Kathy Bugbee, the mother of my best friend Sandy, was the first person who demonstrated the importance of technique. I could follow these complex, sexy, foodie recipes, but she would throw a roast in the oven without looking at a recipe. I was in awe of just knowing how to cook something like that, and it’s all about technique.

How would you describe the foodie scene in Washington D.C. where you currently live?

D.C.’s food scene is a joy! This city has grown so much during the 15 years I’ve been here. In addition to the rich culinary history of the black community that has called this city home for generations, there is such an amazing community of restaurateurs and producers making everything from charcuterie to gin. When I travel home to western Mass, which also has a pretty amazing food and farming culture, I realize just how much access I have to cuts of meat, cheeses and so many other ingredients. This is a great place to cook and eat.

Do you find it harder for gay chefs to find their footing in the culinary industry?

I’ve never been a restaurant chef. My sense of that world is that it has been heavily male driven, like so many professions, and being gay, a woman, a person of color, have all presented challenges, but as our workforce changes more broadly I think it becomes easier – not easy – but easier.

For me, my early question was would my audiences accept me as a gay man talking about my husband and my life at home. The answer has been an unequivocal welcoming “yes.”

You've been with your partner Jason for many years now. Do you have a favorite dish that you made him that still brings back some incredible memories?

On our first anniversary I was in the middle of a ten-day business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, working 14-18 hour days. I sent a text message at about 10pm wishing him a happy anniversary. I never sent flowers and I returned home without a gift. Every year now I make up for that by making pan con tomate y jamón – Spanish tomato bread with ham, which was a favorite of Jason’s when we spent our honeymoon in Spain. I use $150 per pound jamón Ibérico de bellota – because that’s what you do every year when you forget your first anniversary. It’s a treat for us both.

What has been your proudest culinary moment to date?

Gosh, I have new ones all the time: catering a wedding for 150 on a farm without a kitchen, cooking at National Geographic and USDA, nailing a perfect Hollandaise sauce… My proudest might be the day my Mom and Dad looked through the PDF of my first book with me. It was truly a love letter to them and their marriage. We were all crying by the end.

Any chefs you are dying to work with?

So many! Every time I eat in a restaurant or watch an episode of the Mind of the Chef I think, “I would love to spend a couple hours, days, weeks in the kitchen or the office learning from them about cooking or business.” Local chef and restaurateur, Aaron Silverman of Michelin-starred Rose’s Luxury fame would be a pleasure to spend a few hours talking with how he develops plates and took the risk to open such unique and uniquely priced venues. Though not a chef, I would love to talk with Martha Stewart about personal branding and creating joy for others through food and entertaining.

Ultimately, what is your biggest goal in your culinary career and are you hopeful that it will come to fruition?

I would be proud to follow in the footsteps of people like Julia Child and Martha Stewart who have fundamentally changed America’s relationship with food. Specifically, I believe that life can and should be lived well, and that living well is within reach – across many economic levels - each and every day by preparing a simple meal, setting a table and sharing it with those you love, even – and maybe especially – when that is a table for one.

We broadly see food and cooking from perspectives of fear and competition. Learning is wonderful and rewarding, but we don’t need to be chefs at home, we just need to have fun! And food should stop being looked at as lethal or medicating – we’re all looking for the next miracle or life-threatening ingredient. Real food, whole ingredients, enjoyed in a balanced diet with moderation is healthy. The rest just needs to be delicious.

For more information on Jonathan Bardzik, please check out his official website here.