As a professional chef, television host, social media influencer, cookbook author, and singer-songwriter, Lazarus Lynch doesn’t cease to amaze people with his multitude of talents. Lynch’s long list of accomplishments doesn’t disappoint either. The New York native is a two-time Chopped Champions winner, host of Chopped U, Snapchat’s first cooking show, and creator of several YouTube food series.
Inspired by his father’s love for food, his critically acclaimed debut cookbook, Son of a Southern Chef: Cook With Soul, was released in 2019. Lynch’s most recent career venture is his debut album Sanctuary, streaming on all platforms by the beginning of September, which explores his connection with the church, queerness, and his childhood.
In Subvrt Magazine’s interview with Lazarus Lynch, we had the chance to talk to the multi-hyphenate just after he had cooked and devoured a delicious southern-style brunch of grits, eggs, tuna cakes (very similar to salmon croquettes), collard greens, cabbage, and broccoli. Yum! Lazarus talked to us about his soon-to-be-released album, passion for food, and family legacy.
Subvrt: I was scrolling through your Instagram and I noticed that the “Black Queer Anthem” was on Spotify’s “New Music Friday” playlist, which is a pretty big career-changing opportunity since it usually has about 3.5 million U.S. listeners. So, how do you feel about your music having this type of exposure and that possible impact on the Black queer community and even beyond that?
Lazarus Lynch: Well, I’m really really honored, first of all, to be part of the culture and the community. As an artist, I always feel that my job is to express and ask questions and put things out. What I hope is that people will listen and ask themselves questions and feel something and maybe be a little uncomfortable. I think as an artist, primarily, my intention lies in being truthful, being honest in my expression. So, when the world sort of responds to that and it’s part of a very small curated playlist that Spotify curates, it’s an honor to be part of it. I felt really good. Really proud of myself.
I first want to say that I really loved the song and noticed that, after looking at the music video as well, you could just see the community and union between the people in the video. I think that your music being exposed on such a big platform only enhances that feeling for people that were represented. Congratulations.
Right! Well, thank you! I heard a lot of Black queer folks tell me ‘We need more of this. We need more representation like this. We need more content like this. We need more unadulterated, not give-a-fuck kind of Black queer expression.’ So, I think that’s what this song does and did. What the music video really did. I will be honest with you, I was not planning on doing a music video for this.
No, I wasn’t. I wanted to, but creatively I was just a little burnt out and I was working on a lot of projects. I just lost steam for this and as much as I wanted to do it I was like, some things just won’t get done. You can’t have it all.
But then I reached out to a cinematographer—his name is Vincent Jay Walker—I sent him the music. He listened to it and hours later he sent me a 14-page deck and he was like, “This is my vision for this” and I said, “Vincent if you tell me where to show up and tell me what time to be there, I will be there.” But I was like, “I cannot produce.”
Vincent helped from casting to helping get all the people together. The dancers I was able to hire through a friend. Everything just worked out really beautifully. I told him at the end of the shoot, “Vincent, you have no idea what you did,” and he was like, “No, you have no idea what you did!”
It was the bringing of minds and hearts together. All these different Black queer folks from around the country who had just moved to L.A. and were living here and everyone is in their twenties. It was just so beautiful that at the end of the shoot we had a round circle where we just talked about our experiences growing up as Black queer kids. We were just encouraging each other—it was so beautiful and it was definitely more than just another shoot. It felt like a spiritual exchange. It felt like everybody was thereby intention, by design. That’s what I love that music does and food also does, which are crossovers in my artist mediums. It is the community part, it brings people together.
I totally agree with that. That kind of connects to my next question. What can you suggest for people who had to cook for themselves all through quarantine, since going out to eat was not available, and need inspiration in the kitchen again? A lot of people may not have had a community around them to know how or what to cook, so do you have any suggestions for people who want to widen their horizons with cooking?
Well, I will say first of all that whatever you buy at a restaurant you can make at home. It probably is going to be a lot better. The quality, the flavor — because it’s going to be yours. I think of cooking as an expression; it’s like style, it’s like fashion, it’s like what you wear, it’s an expression of who you are. So, it can be whatever you want it to be as long as it feels true to you.
I cook a lot these days at home and eat out very little. What I’m finding is that I can make the same stuff that I order at a restaurant and I have leftovers. If anything, if saving money is a part of the inspiration mood board then put that on the board because you will save money.
I also think that people can go to my cookbook for inspiration, there’s the generous plug. You can read my book. I have tons of recipes there. I have recipes that can be made into vegan options, all kinds of vegetable options, desserts, appetizers, drink recipes. The name of the book is Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul. You can order it anywhere you order books. I think that’s a good place for people to get inspired.
I was actually going to ask you about your cookbook. In Son of a Southern Chef, I know a lot of recipes are, of course, Southern-inspired but what is your favorite cuisine to experiment with outside of Southern food?
Asian cuisine is like saying, Black people. It’s not a monolith. Asian cuisine I’m very inspired by that because I lived in China for a few months when I was in high school. I lived in Beijing and every day I was eating authentic real Chinese food and versions of Chinese food that I’ve never tasted before. I’m always dependent. I think in some form or fashion in my pantry I have spices that are East Asian. I have things like soy, sriracha, and sesame on hand.
I just moved into my new place so I’m still buying things, but in my New York apartment I always had tons of Asian-inspired ingredients available to me. Sometimes I just want to bump up the acid, bump up the salt, or bump up the umami. Just having certain things on hand like mushroom salt, for example, helps do that.
I really love Italian food. I love pasta. I think Italian food is some of the simplest food to make and comforting food to make but it does require a little bit of technique and a little bit of paying attention. I’ve been wanting to make focaccia for the last week and it’s still waiting on me to make. I love pasta and love making Italian recipes. In my early days in culinary school, a lot of my instructors studied in Italy so a lot of what I learned about Italian culture came through those early days of learning how to mise en place and how to cut different vegetables to make an Italian soup. I kind of go back to Italian and Asian.
Those are actually my two favorite cuisines! I love everything that comprises Asian and Italian food. Asian food feels easy to me because you don’t need seasonings. It’s all about the sauces and broths. It’s so good. I love it so much.
I’m putting this into the soul food category because it’s similar and different, but Caribbean food is a part of it too. My mother is Guyanese, born and raised in Guyana so we grew up eating saltfish and dumplings. We had a lot of Trinidadian folks in the community so I was eating doubles and roti. Caribbean food is also what I go to just to comfort me and to play around with.
I love infusing: like let’s do some jerk mango or jerk cauliflower or some kind of vegetable curry. These are spices and flavors I grew up on that are constantly evolving in new ways as I cook today. It’s always interesting living in Los Angeles — I’m still trying to find the grocery stores that have stuff. Today we went to look for grits and there were no grits, just instant grits. It’s an adjustment and it’s cool to live here and see how people shop and how people think about ingredients. It’s nothing like New York in terms of availability.
I wanted to take a pause on the food and talk about your music again. I was looking at your press kit for your new album “Sanctuary”. In the description for the album and the songs that you wrote, you say that when you were trying to figure out your queer identity you felt you had to hide it in church spaces, even though you loved being within the church. So, do you think now that you can embrace your queerness and religious self and that it’s more intertwining? If you do feel that way, how do you think your younger self would feel about your album “Sanctuary”?
Thank you for that question. What I will say is that the church as we know it, the African American church, Black queer people have always been in those congregations and communities. That’s really what church is. It is a community.
We used to say growing up that church is a hospital because it’s a lot of different people. Everybody is looking for help, everybody just needs compassion. My struggle was seeing myself as part of this community that also preached against me. When I radicalized and liberated myself from that theology and really was able to embrace the fact that God loves me and God made no mistakes in creating the person that I am—who I am is beautiful and special and worthy—that’s when everything started to make sense to me.
I don’t know if my younger self, to be honest with you, would be able to embrace this album fully because I was so wrapped in the dogma of religion that I was totally missing out on a relationship with God. It was not even a part of the story.
I would hope that if my younger self heard this album that it would open up space within me to ask questions and open me up to a point where I felt free enough to ask questions and to say okay, who I am is special and this is not a sin and this is not an abomination. To embrace that level of freedom now feels so good, but there’s still so much work to do. I hope that through the project that not just queer people in the church space, but queer people in all different facets of life can begin to. Or whoever you are — you don’t have to be queer.
One of the songs is “My Life Can Be Whatever I Want It To Be”. It says whatever you know your purpose is in life, why you’re here on the planet, you need to tap into that. That’s really the heart and spirit of the album.
You’re a professional chef, you are an influencer on multiple social media platforms, you are also a cookbook author and, of course, now you are a very popular music artist. What made you venture into creating music when you already have all these other talents already under your belt? With you venturing into music, can you tell me a little bit about some of your music inspirations right now?
Yes! I love that question. I started out growing up singing at home and singing with my family and singing in church. I don’t know life without music. My dad would play the Commodores and I would be on the drums. I got my first drum set when I was about 7/8 years old. I was in drum class. I have played djembe since I was about 9.
Also, growing up in church — my grandmother, who I didn’t know, was a choir director and she raised my dad and his brothers and sisters to be a group. They were a quartet little group singing all the time. So my dad sort of passed down that musicality, that musical legacy to me and my siblings. I was very active in church as a part of the singing group or part of the musician’s team. So, food actually emerged much later.
I’ve always loved food but to pursue it professionally — I was in high school at the time when I thought, oh, I can be a chef! My dad had just opened up his restaurant. What was cool was that my dad had a restaurant with a stage so he would have open mic nights and have bands come and play. So, it [music] was just always around. It wasn’t until 2016 that I really started to pay attention to the music side of me. I was like, I can put something out. I can release something. I didn’t really know where to start.
I was at a show one day and this guy was performing and I went up to him at the end of it and said, “You were really good.” He said thanks and asked “Do you do music?” and I was like “Yeah, I do but I’m looking to find a producer or someone to help me put songs out.” I didn’t know anything about anything. All I knew was that I could write music and that I could sing. He said “Come through. Come through to the studio.” That was really the beginning of my journey of sharing my music. By building a tribe in New York of producer friends and musician friends. I just started independently putting my music out.
So, early inspirations, everyone from Al Green, Patti Labelle, Chaka Khan. Prince was always around but I didn’t know how to appreciate Prince as a child. I really didn’t get it but Prince was always around. Then a lot of gospel, a lot of gospel. My dad listened to a lot of old town Southern Baptist gospel, like Blind Boys of Alabama. We grew up on Shirley Cesar, the Clark Sisters, Kirk Franklin, sort of more modern gospel. Even people like Cher, who you wouldn’t expect, but my dad loved Cher and we would blast Cher and I would get on the drums and play Cher. Of course, Stevie Wonder.
I actually got the opportunity to meet Stevie.
Really?! How did that go?
It was at JFK airport in New York. It was 6 o’clock in the morning and [I had] flew in from L.A. He was there and I had the opportunity to speak with him. It was very low key like no one knew he was there or paid attention which I was very grateful for. He is definitely one of my music heroes and someone that I constantly listen to and reference as an artist.
That’s amazing. You have your own cookbook, you’re a guest on numerous cooking shows and you have multiple YouTube food series. What do you think you want your next step in the food world to be with all on your resume? Do you eventually see your music and food talents merging together in a future project?
I want to say that I don’t think about it enough. I never thought about it. I’m very spirit-led and I’m also a man of intuition. Whatever feels right to do. I’m in a really good space in my heart and my mind where work is really not the thing that I think about every day in that way. I kind of think more about getting through the day, what do I want to experience today.
I certainly want to work on another cookbook. I’ve been sort of working a little bit on it for the past two years here and there just getting inspired. I’m moved by spirit. I’m moved by inspiration. I’m moved by travel and life and the more I grow, the more I see the world and learn new things. I sort of get inspired by that. I don’t really have a game plan. I do know that by 30 I will be in a really good place to retire but — that’s all I know.
Interview by Chapelle J
Feature Photo: Tanisha Moreno
Body Photos: Vincent J. Walker @vincent.j.walker