Jean Grae is a modern day superhero. Growing up in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan with her jazz musician parents, Grae first forged a reputation on the hip-hop scene in the mid-’90s before broadening her artistic powers. A snapshot of Jean's latest creative missions include Goodnight Courtney, an animated digital read-along story book about "the lovable character that nobody loves," the That's Not How You Do That series of endearingly sarcastic instructional albums for adults, and TIMTATIONS, an audio book of her reading erotic Tim Kaine fan fiction that was inspired by her performance of the sultry ruse at a comedy show.
Despite maintaining a hectic schedule, Jean still takes the time to rustle up a couple of home cooked meals every day. She documents the results on her Instagram account under the handle JeannieGrigio, complete with excellent captions introducing such foodstuffs as "potato things" and a "dessert version of brunch." Jean also recorded a song for Marvel's upcoming Black Panther comic book revival (written by Ta-Nehisi Coates), so it seemed appropriate to chat to her about superhero breakfasts—a prompt that led her to open up about her deep-seated issues with egg whites, a cheap champagne home brunch hack, and her own grand granola dreams.
Extra Crispy: Congratulations on the Black Panther song.
Jean Grae: Thank you so much.
This is the bit where I ask you what superheroes eat for breakfast.
So what would Black Panther eat for breakfast?
I feel like he would be extremely healthy. As much as I'd want to hang out with Black Panther, I feel like there's a lot of egg whites involved, and not that I don't like egg whites, but I feel like he might eat an unhealthy amount of egg whites, at least for me. So many egg whites and a lot of spinach.
This doesn't sound like the most enticing breakfast.
It doesn't. It really doesn't, but I want him to be strong. He'd be the kind of person where you're like, "Oh, hey, do you want to go to brunch?" But Black Panther might ask for a lot of substitutions and he would take forever to order.
As a comic book fan, do you remember any scenes where you’d see superheroes sitting down and starting every day with a specific breakfast?
Hmm, there’s not really a lot of them on Black Panther's breakfast—although I'd actually read the shit out of that. I think with breakfast it's the same kinda way where you don't really see Superman taking a shit. I mean I know Wolverine pounds drinks, so that's good and that sounds like someone I'd hang out with.
Do you host many brunches at home?
I really, really enjoy making brunches and I like to do big skillets of things, like a huge thing of sweet potato hash and then baked eggs and maybe some tiny pancakes, maybe blueberry. I really like lemon rosemary pancakes ’cause you get sweet and savory and those are fantastic. But sometimes I just want to be like, “Let's go somewhere and drink for four hours straight and then I won't have to wash plates.”
Do your home brunches involve much drinking?
Yes. One of the tips that New Yorkers know is you can always get a bunch of cheap champagne which is pretty much the same thing they're giving you in the restaurant anyway. Our go-to thing sounds like a joke but it's like we can get 90 bottles of Andre for like $20! It's fine and we're all definitely gonna get headaches and be sick afterwards but it's going to be worth it. And when I go out for brunch, I just ask them to bring the entire pitcher so they don't have to keep coming to the table.
How do the wait staff react to that?
It depends on the place. A lot of people get really excited about it and are like, "I need to hang out with you!" I'm like, "You know, you can come and sit down, whatever, as long as we get our food." I just want to make the brunch as efficient for us as the customer and for them as the waiters as well.
What sort of brunch dishes are you cooking at the moment?
I've been trying to get super protein meals in, so I've been doing a lot of black beans with eggs. It reminds me of being a kid and my mom would make amazing chili and there would be leftovers for the next day and she would always make chili omelettes and they were so amazing, so I've been kinda doing a twist on that and they're lovely for breakfast. I use a few cumin seeds, a little bit of cilantro and sour cream—they’re really, really good.
Do you make the beans from scratch or cheat with canned beans?
Sometimes I do the beans from scratch... It just takes so long, and if I do it, then you've got to do it like once a week and then you know you've got a good supply there. But I am not anti-canned black beans. I do cook them for a while with some onion and garlic and olive oil and kinda let them simmer down and get the flavor in them.
You mentioned not liking Black Panther’s preference for egg whites earlier. What’s your issue with them?
It’s because I know I'm missing something! Because I cook myself, I feel a little bit said when I throw the yolks away. So if I'm gonna do an egg white omelette and I'm using two eggs, I'll use one yolk—I at least want to feel a little bit of that richness in there ’cause otherwise it just feels a little too strict for me.
If you were out at brunch and someone requested egg whites, would you ever ask if you could have the extra yolks yourself?
Oh, I would definitely like an omelette with just eight egg yolks. I am going to try that because I am known to make ridiculous orders at restaurants sometimes. If it's not anything that's going to completely put someone out or completely destroy a meal, I want to try something else.
What’s the most annoying thing someone could do when you’re out for brunch?
Take too long with the substitutions.
That seems to really annoy you.
It does. It's that and people who decide to wash their hands right when the food comes to the table. It's like we all knew we were going to brunch, you knew you wanted to wash your hands, you could have done that when we got in here, and now we all have to wait. It's a real old school thing, but whether I'm at home or in a restaurant, when someone puts the food on the table, you eat. You don't go and do something else, you don't go take a phone call—you sit down and eat.
What’s your take on people who line up for hours to get into a brunch place?
No, I'm not waiting. I am not waiting.
Why do you think people are willing to wait so long for brunch?
I think it's just the idea of things being exclusive. But I'm like, seriously, especially for brunch, it's eggs! You can go somewhere else. I won't wait for brunch.
On a day-to-day basis, what’s your go-to breakfast?
I've been really into just the black bean egg omelet and I've been into avocados a lot, like just half an avocado with the omelet, sliced, with sea salt and lemon and olive oil.
Do you spend a lot of time making your breakfasts?
I don't rush meals. I normally do at least two meals a day, cooking at home. I can take my time, especially if I'm cooking for my boyfriend and I know we're going to be eating at the same time. A lot of times if it's just me, I will definitely eat things a little more messy that I wouldn't serve anyone else!
Have you ever spent a lot of time making something for your boyfriend that he really didn’t like?
How did it make you feel?
Terrible! That was a very therapist question. It's really bad. And then I have to recover and then I have to make these avenge-myself breakfasts for the rest of the week, like now I've got to make some fuckin' bread tomorrow and really step it up because this was not okay. Lately, I've been very angry that my sea salt grinder has been broken and I haven't had time to get a new one, so I have over-salted things a few times in the past couple of weeks. My boyfriend's brother was over and he was watching me cook and I was being super careful with it and he said something that made me really laugh: "What's the amount of sea salt a year that you think gets thrown into the sink? Like while people are cooking." I was like, "A generous amount!"
Do you ever find when you're drinking while you're cooking...
...you end up over-spicing and over-salting things?
Oh! I don't know, I generally cook with a lot of spices and apparently lately a lot of fuckin' salt, but, yeah, I kinda have to have a candle and a glass of something while I'm cooking.
What's in the glass?
That is definitely going to be a mimosa—but the orange juice or the orange-pineapple is only there for slight coloring. It's not a true mimosa. I generally just want to get to the true point of the mimosa which is the champagne.
What sort of music soundtracks your home brunches?
When I was very young my mom had this radio that she got from WBGO, the jazz station, and it was on top of the fridge. It was a tiny little radio and it only picked up that station, so every morning that was kinda on and I realized how much of a comfort it is to me. So WBGO stays on in the house all the time.
Finally, if you could invent a Jean Grae cereal, what would it be?
I really like granola. I want granola. I just bought some really shitty granola like two weeks ago and it was a Kashi granola and it was terrible, it just had no sweetness at all, and I tried to have it with vanilla almond milk and that didn't fuckin' help. So it would be a granola that has almonds and pecans and cranberries in it.
Have you ever tried to make your own granola?
I have thought about it and have not done that. Thank you, now you have given me another thing I'm like, "Oh, I haven't done that yet." I will have to do that this week.
When I tried I found the granola turns very quickly from golden brown to burnt.
Ah, so it's something you have to really monitor. Thank you, I will not do that.