An Interview with Michael Chernak,
What made you fall in love with Food?
I fell in love with cooking when I was 13. I use to whip up breakfast every Sunday morning and brag that I made the best scrambled eggs. Bringing my family together every Sunday prepared me for the tough week ahead. Having that time around the table made me feel loved; It got me through all of the bullying I experienced in school as a gay kid.
I fell in love again with cooking when I started dating my ex in Syracuse New York. He was a pagan hippie and vegetarian who used food in a very intentional way. I then decided to be a vegetarian. Not only was this a healthy decision but it was a political one. We had the privilege to buy ingredients from local businesses with the same ethics and morals. We supported Co-Ops, farmer’s markets and local gardeners when we had the chance. Cooking was a very important aspect of our relationship and I still carry that with me today.
Tell us about your cooking series? How did you arrive to this idea? What inspired you to create collection of queer focused kitchen stories?
Home is a queer cooking video series. Home is inclusive. Home is about real people and real food. It’s about coming together, taking care of each other and sharing our stories. It seeks to create honest, human and loving images of queer people through something we all do everyday. Food brings people together; it’s personal and creates intimacy.
Food always played an important role when connecting with my family, friends and partners. Sharing a meal is a gateway to conversation and intimacy. It’s also a kind gesture of caring for one another.
I studied experimental film in college with a focus on the representation of queer people and minorities in the media. I’ve screened most queer cinema and television shows. Not until recently, queer narratives have been negative - including death, despair and deviancy. Not only are our narratives dismissive, they also leave out many voices in our community that tend to go unheard. Representation of queer people has been very one dimensional.
I found inspiration from these negative representations. I decided to create inclusive, true, honest and multi-dimensional images of queer people through a video series of food, cooking and queer experiences.
Do you and your partner cook a lot? If so, how does that enhances your relationship?
I cook almost every day for my husband. He is vegetarian and most of the time when we try new restaurants the vegetarian or vegan options are boring. I can’t emphasize enough that there are other creative and tastier options than a mushroom burger. So, I experiment with creating my meaty childhood favorite recipes and turning them into vegetarian options. My husband tells me all the time how much he appreciates my cooking and how my dishes are better than most restaurants he’s been to. We take a lot of time with food day to day and when we are traveling around London and Europe. Food is a mutual interest that we share and explore.
How does cooking directly translate to love?
Cooking isn’t an easy thing. You have to take time out to go shopping, to cook, clean etc. I think taking time out to create a dish for someone you care about shows how much you care. I feel so much love when someone shares their meal with me. I get very emotional when people take the time out do this. Whenever someone I know is sad or needs company I will cook for them and make sure they have a good meal, leftovers for the week so they have time for themselves to come back together. With all the terrible things that are happening in the world, cooking gives me a sense of control in my life. It shows you can express love in many ways.
How do you feel cooking and relationships merge - platonic and romantic?
Many of the queer people I’ve documented for Home Queer Cooking talk about how cooking is an act of care and love. However, food and cooking isn’t always an easy or positive topic. Whether if cooking is a gateway to intimacy or if food is a struggle due to body image or eating disorders, there are many ways that our experiences and relationships merge due to cooking. I think that’s the beautiful part about getting to know people through food. We all have different experiences and relationships and sometimes sitting down at the dinner table to talk about all the things that are going on in the world today brings us together.
What is your most loving memory of food?
My husband’s family has a farmhouse from 1832 in North East Pennsylvania. He’s taken care of the house for almost 15 years now and this is where we first met. The house is old and some of the appliances break or don’t work and it’s an ongoing process to restore this beautiful home. So, to say the least it’s a bit of a struggle to cook for each other there but we try and try every time. I can’t say there is just one loving memory here but the collection of memories of struggling to cook and take care of each other in the old farmhouse. I remember cooking breakfast for the first time for him, boxed pancake mix, scrambled eggs, veggie bacon with iced coffee and OJ, and eating on the porch watching the tractors go by and the cows across the pasture grazing. I remember cooking dishes for Thanksgiving at the farmhouse to take to my parents’ house in Binghamton. I remember cold nights in November before we closed the house for the winter making hot chocolate with whiskey and cuddling on the old couches watching films on the projector with the gas heater on blast. Sometimes the appliances would break while we cooked, sometimes we had to run out to get a toaster oven or a hot plate to cook, but somehow we always managed to sit down and have a meal while preserving and taking care of this old farmhouse.
Vegan "Chicken" & Biscuits
4 Tablespoons Dairy Free Butter (Or regular unsalted butter)
1/4 Cup Plain/All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Soy Milk (Or any dairy free milk you prefer or Whole Milk)
1 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons "Better Than Bouillon, No Chicken Base Stock" or any veggie stock you have.
1 Tablespoon Sage
1 Tablespoon Rosemary
1 Teaspoon Sriracha
1 Pack of Quorn Vegan "Chicken" Pieces
Black Pepper and Salt to Taste
1 Red Onion
5 Garlic Cloves
3 Medium Carrots
3 Celery Stalks
1/2 head of Broccoli
2 Ears of Corn
2 Tablespoons of Dairy Free Butter
2 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons of COLD dairy free butter, cubed (Or unsalted butter)
3/4 Cup Soy Milk (Or any dairy free milk you prefer or Whole Milk)
Place a stock pot on medium heat. Melt butter and add Flour.
Cook the flour and butter for about 4 minutes.
Slowly add the soy milk, little by little, stirring with a whisk assuring no clumps. Wait till the mixture thickens before adding more milk. You will shock the mixture and lose the thickness in the gravy if you add it too fast.
Once all the milk is added and the mixture begins to thicken, add the 2 Tablespoons "Better Than Bouillon, No Chicken Base Stock" to 1 cup of warm water and dissolve.
Add the water and stock to the gravy.
Add the sage, rosemary, Sriracha, black pepper and salt.
Add the vegan chicken pieces.
Bring to a boil, then bring down to low heat. Let simmer for 10 minutes
In another pot, Melt butter. Add Red Onion and cook till translucent.
Add Garlic, cook for two minutes.
Add Carrots, Celery, Broccoli and Corn and cook for 8 minutes.
Place dry ingredients in a bowl.
Add cubed vegan butter and mix together with a pastry blender or fork till the butter and flour looks like "meal" or until butter looks like small pebbles. Its important to use cold butter for the biscuits.
Add Soy Milk.
Gently knead together, keeping the dough cold, till the dough is formed in a slightly sticky ball.
First, place the veggies in a cast iron pan. Then pour the gravy and chicken mixture on top mixing together. Leave room in the pan so the mixture doesn't over flow in the oven.
Form two-three inch sized patties from the biscuit dough and place on top of the mixture.
Brush soy milk or vegan butter on top of the biscuits.
Add herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper on top of the biscuit.
Bake at 450 Degrees F for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.