By Stefanos Chen
This is the fifth of our five-part “What’s for Dinner?” feature series about Brooklyn meals.
There’s always something new cooking at Jenn de la Vega’s BedStuy apartment/publicity company—homemade mustard ferments in the fridge; a crockpot of vegetable broth simmers on the kitchen counter; and in the living room, a batch of new bookings are pending approval.
Such is the life of a freelance publicist and full-time foodie. De la Vega is a founding member of Mushpot Records, an independent music label and public relations company headquartered in her living room. She is also a classically trained chef with an impeccable taste for cheese. But on this evening, for no particular reason, she’s serving breakfast for dinner.
“I don’t operate by standard ‘breakfast, lunch, dinner’ practices,” she says. “Whatever strikes me, I’ll eat it when I want to.”
She takes the same approach to other aspects of life. In 2006, she graduated from the University of California, Davis, where she studied English Literature and Exercise Biology. But by the end of the year she decided to leave her home state of California and join a radio publicity firm in New York. The job lasted two years before she was once again ready for a change, and so in 2008 she entered a program at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan—where she studied Spanish tapas. The course led to a position as assistant chef at home/made BKLYN, a wine bar in Red Hook. This too, would pass, however, when “music beckoned” the 25-year-old back to the independent music scene that first drew her to the East Coast.
“I like to call it career ADD,” she said, as she smeared olive oil on a bowl of cut red potatoes. The sleeves of her black cardigan are rolled up to her elbows and her plastic glasses droop slightly down her nose as she turns the contents of the bowl. She had been working at the Brooklyn eatery for more than a year when a musician friend asked her if she’d like to join his band as a manager for their national tour. She accepted the offer, quit her job, and shifted her focus back to music publicity—this time for her own company, Mushpot Records. The name refers to the inner circle where “tagged” players must sit during the children’s game duck-duck-goose. Mushpot started as a weekly radio show that she co-hosted in college, but became a fully-fledged business soon after the move to New York.
Four years and multiple jobs, classes and internships later, de la Vega is finding ways to balance her two passions under one roof. While periodically scanning her inbox for new messages, she shifts between rooms to check on dinner. On the menu this evening are roasted breakfast potatoes served with a seasoned mustard glaze and hard cooked eggs a la Alton Brown, the brainy Food Network host that brings science to bear on culinary craft. By rigging a makeshift double boiler out of a wok and steel colander, she recreates the technique Brown uses on an episode of his show “Good Eats.” This way they won’t smell like they’ve been hard-boiled, she says, as she perches the eggs atop the colander. Like Brown, she has a keen interest in molecular gastronomy—the science of food. “I try to cook something everyday,” she says. “Or at least I fall asleep reading a cookbook.”
Running a freelance business from home is demanding, but de la Vega keeps up by staying connected. In addition to the Mushpot website, she runs a blog that combines both of her favorite things in life called BLT:IDM, or Bacon Lettuce Tomato:Intelligent Dance Music. Along with her four roommates, she also keeps a running blog of goings-on around the house titled Everyday Slumber Party. “I have, like, seven to-do lists,” she says as she browses through an index of notes. A list labelled “life” consists of four items: get health insurance; get your contacts fixed; fix your teeth; pay bills.
Back in California, her family still has its reservations about the move. “My mom is always saying I can come home and not pay rent and do what I’m doing over there,” she says after setting the table. The potatoes cook for 45 minutes before she pulls them from the oven, all golden brown and redolent with herbs. She then peels the eggs and sets them on large decorative spoons. “But Brooklyn has its perks. New York is like the media center of…everything, really.”
She serves the potatoes family-style in a large ceramic bowl and transfers the eggs, spoon by spoon, to a small table located directly between her computer desk (the office) and the kitchen. At the far end of the table is a stack of magazines and a mail caddy lined with paper supplies and official-looking letters. A small electronic keyboard and a cookbook titled “Please Don’t Feed the Bears” gets pushed to the back of the table as the plates are set. The potatoes are aromatic and tender with a punchy hint of tanginess from the mustard. The scientifically cooked eggs, true to form, are soft and nearly odorless, just as Alton Brown intended. Between bites, Jenn pulls up the tiny keyboard and improvises a song by one of the bands she works with. In addition to her job as a publicist, she says she’ll be playing a show in the coming weeks.
She clears the table and sets the dishes in the sink before asking one of her roommates if they’ll be joining her at a nearby bar this evening. In the last few days, she’s been feverishly preparing for a major three-day concert known as Blip Festival and will be meeting some friends at the club. “Long term plans, huh,” she says aloud as she ponders the question. She isn’t sure what, precisely, the future holds for her, but has plenty of input as to where she’d like to be. “I wanna have this building of awesome. I want it to be a restaurant, a radio station, or like a recording studio, office, rooftop garden–” she says before catching herself mid-sentence. “But those are dreams, dreams. One step at a time.”