What Do Chefs Eat for Breakfast?

From espresso to grab-and-go

Photography by Lucy Garrett

Anthony Bourdain once outlined a day in “The Life”—that is, the life of a cook—in an eponymous chapter of Kitchen Confidential. It’s a day dictated by the ticking clock. Every minute before, during, and after service counts, from the first cigarette to the last (if you’re Bourdain, at least).

For people whose livelihoods depend on the happiness of others, taking care sometimes gets pushed to the back burner.

As kitchen culture shifts to the contemporary mainstream, the rumble and toil of The Life is soaking in the spotlight. But as the industry changes and Lifers look for more sustainable habits, the days spent not working are becoming ever more important to longevity in restaurant work.

For these Memphis Lifers, the day-off morning routine is the lynchpin to self-care. 

Emily LaForce, River Oaks Restaurant

Emily LaForce’s way into The Life was one of many detours, but she was always destined for it. Several legs of hitchhiking and train-hopping took her across the country to a hippie festival in Montana and a pot farm in Northern California before she returned to Memphis in 2013 to take cooking seriously. Today, she’s the chef de cuisine of River Oaks Restaurant in East Memphis, where she’s been for over six years.

If she’s not on the pass or the line, she’s probably starting her morning drinking espresso with milk. She’ll settle for drip if she has to. Milk only, no sugar.

“I just wake up, drink coffee, eat something light—like yogurt or granola with berries or a protein shake—’cause if I eat something big I’m just gonna feel sluggish all day.”

Emily’s weekend is Sunday and Monday, but she prefers the former.

“I like Sunday because it’s the only day my wife and I are both off work,” she says. “We call it Flat Sunday, where we don’t do anything and just lay around like slugs and watch movies.”

On Monday mornings, Emily’s probably painting. She calls it her side hustle, but it’s more than that.

“Painting is literally the complete opposite of the kitchen,” says Emily. “It’s just nice, calm. I can listen to music, not just hear screaming and banging.”

[Editor’s note: Emily is no longer working at River Oaks Grill}

(Kinfolk photo by Chip Chockley)

Jimmy Gentry, The Lobbyist

Jimmy Gentry, owner and executive chef of The Lobbyist, is making up for lost time by trying to slow down. During the last 14 years, he hardly traveled at all, being spread like butter across his schedule and business ventures. Now he and his partner, Alia Hogan, are jumping in the car with their dogs first thing in the morning, every chance they get.

“The only thing I get in the morning is one—maybe two—venti coffees,” says Jimmy. “I drink one of them within the first 30 or 40 minutes I’m up.”

He drinks black Americanos, but only over a little ice.

“Unless it’s, like, seriously piss-cold outside, I cannot do hot coffee,” Jimmy says. “I don’t even understand it because I can’t drink it fast enough.”

Once on the road, and dangerously caffeinated, Jimmy and Alia are on the quest for gas station gourmet—specifically the baked goods.

“Any trashy gas station that looks like it has food—definitely making a stop,” says Jimmy.

“Anybody that actually takes the time to make a biscuit? I’m stopping for a biscuit. Good or bad, I think it’s like the hallmark of what we ought to eat.”

Jimmy’s favorite biscuits are the ones Cole Jeanes (chef de cuisine at Jimmy’s now closed P.O. Press Public House and Provisions) makes. Cole is on the brink of opening his breakfast concept Kinfolk in Harbor Town.

“I still think he makes the best biscuits in the city. By far,” says Jimmy.

But if he’s out of town and has to sit down for breakfast, he’s going big.

“Biscuits. If I have to eat a plate, I’m getting the biscuits on the side because we just have to have ’em,” says Jimmy. “Side of sausage. Side of bacon. Three eggs, sunny side up. And, even though I know they’re the worst grits in the world, I’m still gonna order those watered-down instant Quaker grits. I’m gonna have to hit them with one or two pats of butter, a ton of pepper and definitely some salt.”

(Photo of Sunrise Memphis by Madeleine O’Toole)

Manuel Martinez, Maciel’s Tortas & Tacos

Maciel’s Tortas & Tacos is a Memphian-Mexican staple, and Manuel Martinez is busy trying to open his third location—set to open later this year on Summer Avenue. Business is booming for Manuel, but he makes sure to give all of his employees Sundays off.

“I feel like having that day off that everybody can share helps a lot,” he says. “Where everybody can sit at the table, everybody can go to church, everybody can be in the same room together.”

On Sunday mornings, Manuel takes his coffee with milk and sugar. He’s probably at Dim Sum King or Sunrise Memphis for brunch with his family. He gives a shout-out to the 3 Amigos Tacos at Sunrise.

“It’s kinda funny that I like the [Sunrise Memphis] tacos. But they’re really good tacos,”  he says.

If the Martinez family is staying in, Manuel still loves to cook, even if it’s laborious. His wife is happiest with shrimp cocktail and chargrilled oysters on the table.

Andrew Adams, Acre

Andrew Adams has known since he was a kid that he was destined for fire and knives, but he probably didn’t know he’d be counting macros somewhere down the line.

Thing is, at 44, Andrew feels great—way better than he did when he was younger. He went from pizza and twelve-packs of beer to journaling everything he eats.

On his days off, on Sundays, Andrew is all about the French omelet. They’re a big part of his life.

He waxes poetic about omelet technique for a while. Getting the jammy layers. The monochromatic yellow skin on the outside. Packing the last bit of raw egg into the last crevice before starting the folds in the pan. He’s rarely got time for this fuss, but when he does, it’s a religious experience. It’s got to be perfect. 

But Andrew will take his eggs scrambled, sunny side up, or poached if he has to, preferably with some overnight oats and black coffee. As long as he can spend the rest of the day with his wife, Emily, and get an ice bath in here and there.

“Three days a week, I try to hit an ice bath in the morning,” he says.

“Wait,” I say. “So you fill a bathtub with ice and get in it?”

Andrew plunges 10 minutes at a time—the work of a dedicated man. He says it’s the only effective medicine for the kitchen aches.

Eric Vernon, The Bar-B-Q Shop

Eric Vernon loves what he does, but he also loves his days off.

“For someone who’s in the restaurant business, when they wake up in the morning and don’t have to be at work, it’s like the best day ever for that person,” he says. “Anybody in the industry will tell you that.”

First thing’s first: Eric’s queuing up one of his favorite shows: either Star Trek, Power, or something Marvel-related. Anything that is rooted in the everyday is out of the question.

“Basically, I’m gonna watch something that takes me so far away from reality,” he says.

Once that’s taken care of, he’s jonesing for some sustenance, something that he doesn’t usually have time to cook. Breakfast sandwich, it is.

At this point, he’s a veteran with a formula. Two or three scrambled eggs, sliced sharp cheddar, maple bacon, homemade preserves, white or wheat bread. Maybe tomato or avocado if he’s feeling crazy.

“I have worked hard to do what I do, but in my personal life—people who know me—I strive to make a good breakfast sandwich,” he says.

Coffee? Not his thing. He prefers hot chocolate and a caffeine pill if he needs it.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy,” he says. “I’m literally putting the caffeine straight in my blood.”

I ask Eric how he finds the time to take care of himself. He says he’s still working on it.

“Every person in my life who loves me has said, ‘Do better at taking care of you,’” he says. “It’s a work in progress for me. Those moments I explained to you about taking 30 minutes to cook an egg sandwich—I value that time because it’s the start of me doing things that I love to do, no matter what.”

Maybe Eric’s earnestness is a lesson to the rest of us in the industry who have become accustomed to endless toil, forsaking our own well-being for the sake of others. Maybe it’s a signal to listen to our bodies and our loved ones begging for us to slow down. To show ourselves grace. To treat our hearts and minds and stomachs to the same relentless hospitality that we show everyone but ourselves. To find a seat at the table. To take a day off—or maybe two.

Joshua Carlucci is a food writer and professional cook from rural Central California. He is a Memphis transplant by way of New Orleans and New York City. He has a BA in English from UC Berkeley, a culinary diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Memphis .@joshuadcarlucci

Lucy Garrett is a British photographer based in Memphis. Her visual storytelling focuses on human rights, social justice, and environmental issues. She moved from London to Memphis for love, following her wife, but quickly fell in love with Memphis, sourdough baking, and her dog Juniper. @lucygarrett.co