“He’ll cook nice meals for us all the time… I cook for us too, but nothing crazy fancy” Britt Maren coyly admits over coffee. The three of us have gathered early this morning at The Fat Radish – Britt, boyfriend and chef Derek Orrell and I. We are sitting in the recently opened breakfast bar situated at the front of the restaurant, enjoying a much needed caffeine boost courtesy of Derek’s aromatic lattes. “We have great coffee.” Derek proclaims as he hands me my cup. Britt adds, “He’ll come home some days and say- I have perfected my latte!” “When we first got the coffee machine they made a guy train each of us-the company sent someone out.” He explains. But long before this proper training, Derek was learning how to become a true barista. “When I was 14 years old I got my first job. My mom used to be an administrative director of a church-It was a big church so they had a café. I was walking around one day-I pretty much lived there at the time, and one of my mom’s friends told me to come over. She said “do you want to work? I need workers.” So I was making bagel sandwiches, and they had a coffee machine, so I started learning on that. I have to admit, I make a pretty good latte these days.”
Beyond lattes, Britt has deemed her boyfriend the culinary expert in the relationship, and rightly so as he has elevated his passion for cooking into a career as a chef at The Fat Radish. While he attended culinary school, the chef is mostly self taught, learning from greats such as Andrew Carmellini through his navigation of the restaurant scene in New York. But she too has a few tricks up her sleeve. She whips out her blackberry to show me some of her specialties. Most of the photos are of baked goods. “I love to bake-I’m more of a sweets person.” she admits. She is adamant about photographing the dishes she and Derek prepare. “She likes to take pictures” Derek says “When something looks nice I say “don’t mess it up!” she adds. As she scrolls through her phone she describes each photo-Homemade banana pudding, cupcakes, chocolate chip tahini cookies and her famous carrot cake which she has two recipes for, one being vegan. “My favorite thing is probably carrot cake, and I make a really good one! Both of my best friends were vegan growing up, so I was around vegan food a lot.” While she continues to make the vegan version for her best friend on birthdays and dinner dates at the couples apartment, Derek politely expresses he prefers the “naughty” alternative. “The vegan cake is super duper moist-delicious! It’s just the frosting I can’t grow to love. The texture is so different because she uses vegan cream cheese-and well, it’s made of tofu!” He smirks. Britt doesn’t mind accommodating for both parties. “When I make the vegan cream cheese frosting he’s like eh eh-make the real cream cheese frosting! So Sometimes I will make the cake vegan and put the real cream cheese frosting on top.”
Working at The Fat Radish, Derek has also learned a great deal about vegan and vegetarian cooking. So when Britt’s friend comes over for a meal he takes it as a challenge, finding ways to make delicious dishes that do not use meat or dairy. “That’s what is great about the restaurant-it has taught me a lot because they are focused primarily around vegetables.” Dishes at The Fat Radish such as celery root pot pie put a fresh spin on dishes as they are inventive with how they use their vegetables and present their ingredients. Ironically, both Britt and Derek come from the South and are accustomed to eating a lot of meat. While Britt has toned down her intake, Derek and Britt’s family still indulge. “I’m from Texas and we’re big meat eaters, but when I cook for myself I rarely prepare it. On the other hand, Derek loves meat. In that sense, he and my mom are on the same page.” he confirms this statement with a smile “Her mom and I are on the same page.”
You could say that if it wasn’t for a chance meeting between Derek and Britt’s parents, the handsome couple may not have ended up together. The two were both modeling with an agency based out of Spain before Derek decided to pursue a career in the food industry. One day when Britt was meeting with her casting agent, Derek was in the waiting room seated next to her father. They got to talking and it was Britt’s father who encouraged the two of them to meet. It wasn’t hard for Derek to comply. “When I saw her for the first time, I was smitten”. Now the two have been together for a few years, and although they are tied to demanding schedules , both have agreed upon a routine when it comes to the days they get to spend together.
Almost every single day I have off, we like to walk around and get outside because it’s like our one day together.” Derek explains “She is good for me in that way because normally I would just sit inside! On a typical day Britt says “I wake up early and have breakfast. He sleeps in a bit. He is not a big breakfast person so around 1:00pm he is like “I’m starving we gotta go find food” she tries her best to imitate a man’s voice. “We go to this little place called Cheeps Pita Creations. We get $2.00 hummus pitas with all of the vegetables and salad toppings”. Derek corrects her -“She gets a hummus pita and I get a shwarma. You walk away and you have only spent $6.00!” Other activities on days off include rock climbing at Chelsea Piers-or as Britt explains “I like laying out on the sun deck while he rock climbs” or walking along the water with their puggle Zeus.
When they don’t get to spend days together, Britt tends to visit the chef at the restaurant’s new breakfast bar which boasts goodies like Spinach Kale muffins with Humboldt goat cheese-“the muffin is bright green!” Britt playfully points out. Other delights include homemade muesli, granola bars and little Cheese toasties. “You can add homemade pickled vegetables- cauliflower, Green beans…” For the sweet tooths, they do an artisanal take on the Twix bar Made with English shortbread topped with salted dark chocolate and caramel. To top it off, they offer a great selection of fresh squeezed juices.
“When I first started here and nothing was open yet, the chef owner gave me money and said go to the market and get anything you can juice! So I got anything you can think of, squash, herbs, fruits, all different types of onions. I come back to the restaurant at the end of the day and I juice all of this and I have like 40 quarts – I was like a mad scientist!” Britt adds, “One day he was meeting me at my agency to help me carry clothes back to my apartment that were too heavy for me to lug on my own, and he brought this huge container of juice that he had been making all day. He poured all the bookers little cups and asked them what they thought. They loved it!” Now, the finalized concoctions are available every morning starting at 8:00am in the front of the Lower East Side eatery.
Today, we have finished off an impressive portion of savory and sweet morning goodies, and a healthy serving of green juice. As I leave the restaurant the couple continues to nibble on the breakfast bar treats while dotting over Blackberry photos of their pup Zeus.
Britt & Derek’s Favorites:
Gottino-Brunch served everyday!
Try their Steamed Scrambled eggs
Cheeps Pita Creations