The Grub Street Diet

Food Artist Jennifer Rubell Loves Rhubarb, Hates Breakfast

Mario Batali didn't make her <a href=Eataly's first vegetable butcher for nothing." width="400" height="400" style="width:100%;height:auto;" fetchPriority="high" >
Mario Batali didn’t make her Eataly’s first vegetable butcher for nothing. Photo: Melissa Hom

Food-installation artist Jennifer Rubell’s Old-Fashioned project is a beast: It’s an 8-by-60-foot wall studded with 1,521 doughnuts, which means that whenever she installs it — as she did at last weekend’s Let Them Eat LACMA festival in Los Angeles — she has to scout a local shop that can handle the massive order. “To produce 1,600 doughnuts, it’s not going to be your cute, local place,” Rubell says. (She ended up going with Yum Yum, an L.A. chain.) It’s a good thing that she is, as her friend and frequent collaborator Mario Batali (who appointed her to be Eataly’s first “vegetable butcher”) once pointed out, a “professional eater.” “I didn’t know at the time what he meant by that,” she says. “But now reading what I ate this week, I understand!” Read through the litany in this week’s New York Diet.

Friday, November 5
For breakfast, I had a red-quinoa salad at Le Pain Quotidien, and a decaf coffee with milk. Caffeine makes me totally crazy. The amount of caffeine in decaf is enough. It gives me a little something. And I’m always cold, so I like a hot coffee, but I can’t drink caffeinated coffee. It makes me really jittery. I can’t think straight. Then later I had a half of a health-grain bagel from Murray’s.

I had a taste of strawberry pudding that I made for my daughter’s birthday party in her class. She’s five and her name’s Stevie. She’s so cute. She loves strawberries, and she loves pudding. She thought it was funny that she was having pudding for her birthday. And then I had a decaf Earl Grey with milk.

I always have dinner at home with Stevie when she’s with me, and then I’ll often go out to another dinner after. So for my first dinner I had a tofu, mushroom, and kale stir-fry, brown rice with chickpea miso, and some seasoned seaweed. I very strongly believe that children want options. If you can give them the option of kale, or artichoke, or carrots, or broccoli, they’ll be excited by those options. Then I went to my friend [food stylist] Allison Attenborough’s house for dinner with like ten people. I had shrimp salad with toasted coconut, pomello, lime, and palm sugar that was unbelievable. Then she made this root-vegetable stew in this kind of sweet soy braise used for beef, from some David Chang recipe, but she did it with turnips and daikon and whatever, and brown rice, and it was delicious. And for dessert, a rhubarb and berry crumble with vanilla ice cream. Fuck, I love rhubarb. It’s so good. We had some rose Champagne before the meal and Riesling with the meal.

Saturday, November 6
I had bacon and dry rye toast, and a decaf coffee with milk at the Viand at 61st and Madison. Then I had some cotton candy while setting up for Padded Cell at the Performa Red Party. It’s essentially a wooden box, eight-by-sixteen feet, and the entire interior is padded with 1,600 cones of cotton candy. So I had some of the cotton candy, which I love. Pink, of course. That project was happening on 37th Street, far west, and I went to this place Manganaro. Oh my God, it’s unbelievable. It’s like a really old Italian place. I stopped off there for lunch and had this chicken-cutlet salad, which was really at the intersection of Italian-American culture and supposed health culture. It had marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, stuffed pepperoncini, marinated mushrooms, marinated zucchini, and I think there was some romaine lettuce with a balsamic vinaigrette or something. I went with this NYU student who was writing about me for her class, and she had one of the aroncini, the rice balls. Actually she wasn’t going to have anything, but it’s three dollars to just sit there, so I was like, come on! Get something! Then for a little pick-me-up, I had one of those Ito En bottled teas, the green white tea.

Then at the Red Party, the food that was served was a grand borscht, which was a borscht and then on the side some roasted cauliflower, braised short ribs, duck confit, some kind of horseradish cream, a raw carrot salad … I had all of that. Oh, there was also parsnip pancakes. And I drank Champagne all night.

Sunday, November 7
The next day I went to L.A. So in the morning, I had a berry scone at JFK, which was disgusting. It was the worst. There’s almost no breakfast food that I like. For me, the flavors are just not interesting enough. I love sour and acid notes in my food, and for whatever reason, those are generally fairly absent from all breakfast foods, and I think that’s because people think you need to eat things that are gentle on your stomach waking up, or whatever the reason. When I’m home, I’ll have leftover vegetables or a salad. Then I also had a decaf coffee with half and half. The place where I got the coffee, there was no food there that I possibly could think of eating, so I got the half and half thinking that would be my breakfast. I wanted the extra calories. Then I stumbled on the berry scone and I thought, Well, I’m going to be on a five-and-a-half-hour flight, so I ought to eat something. It tasted like nothing, like sugared cardboard. Of course, I ate the whole thing.

I got to LACMA around nine-thirty and immediately ate one of the doughnuts that had just arrived to be installed. Then I had a Greek-salad wrap from the truck outside of LACMA around two when I was about to pass out. Not the kind of thing I normally eat. It’s very typical of a day when I’m installing something, where it’s just like, I need to eat so that I’m not all messed up, but I really just have no focus on food whatsoever and eat the closest thing. Then I had a decaf coffee with milk as a little pick-me-up.

One of the artists there did this little tabletop volcano mountain of what looked like shit, but was actually fudge, and I had a piece of that. Then I took some of the people who helped me to this place around the corner called BLD for a drink and had a glass of Carménère and a bite of really good chopped-vegetable salad there. It was like edamame … I honestly don’t remember, I was so tired. Then I went to Osteria Mozza and had this amazing crostini with mozzarella, artichoke, pine nuts, and raisins. It wasn’t really mozzarella, it was a cross between ricotta and mozzarella that was fantastic. I had this spicy Calabrian pasta with white anchovies and chilies, and an unbelievable, totally phenomenal mixed-greens salad on the side. Being in L.A. and eating those greens they grow there, there was nothing about the dressing that was amazing, it was just the greens. Oh, and then I had this ribolita, which was genius, amazing. I think it’s kale and potatoes or something. It was like a brick of ribolita, and I think it’s normally more of a stew. It reminded me of fried grits, not that it has that texture at all, but kind of that stewy thing that’s made into a patty and then browned. I don’t know if that’s a new way of doing it or if that’s a classic way. I didn’t order it, Mario [Batali] sent it out. He knows me well enough now not to send out 10,000 things, because as you can already see, I eat too many things! Then I had a glass of Morellino, a red Italian wine. Then I went to LAX and got on the plane and went home.

Monday, November 8
Still not having slept, I arrived home around nine. I had some raw cashews, which is something I eat when I’m hungry that’s not going to make me too full to eat more later, just so I won’t fall over. Then later I went to my favorite local Indian place, Tiffin Wallah, for a buffet lunch. There, I had spinach and chickpeas; some white rice; some yellow dal; potatoes and eggplant; this thin, salty, soupy thing, I forget what it’s called. It’s spicy, slightly tomato-y, slightly sour. They serve it to you when you have dosas. I had raita with that, and the owner sent me a mango lassi, so I had a sip of that.

I’m by no means a vegetarian, but meat is in some ways the least interesting food for me. I have a lot of little meals each day, and for me to sit down with eight ounces of meat, let alone sixteen ounces or whatever size a regular steak is, for me to go through all of that is just boring. I’m not getting anything on bite twenty that I wasn’t getting on bite one or two or three, whereas with vegetables actually there’s much more textural variety. At the beginning of the week, I’ll buy two pieces of meat for me and Stevie. Put together they’re not one pound and they’ll last us the whole week, just a taste of meat with whatever. Then for dinner that night I had brown rice, steamed cauliflower, some chickpea miso, and a bite of this thing bohemian steak, which is a certain cut of meat. That’s all I had. I just had dinner with my daughter and loved it.

Tuesday, November 9
I had raw cashews and some herbal chai tea. Then I went to Morandi with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates and had a decaf Americano in a teacup, so it’s even weaker than a regular Americano. I like that kind of Dunkin’ Donuts–strength coffee, super-weak. So I had that with milk. Then I had an egg white frittata with spinach, roasted peppers, and mozzarella. Then I had lunch at Balthazar. I had a few bites of chicken paillard salad, a lobster bisque. I had a chocolate pot de crème and some bread and butter. The chocolate pot de crème, that really was great.

Then for dinner at home, I had shaved-fennel-and-kohlrabi salad, some sautéed broccoli, chicken with cumin and coriander, some Maple Hill yogurt. Then I went to for a cocktail event that Sophie McNally invited me to to raise money for Edible Schoolyard. I had a shrimp summer roll, and a few of these bar chips that have like, seven-spice, five-spice, ten spice — I think it’s seven-spice — and I had this thing called the seven-spice sour, which is a certain kind of cocktail. Then I had them make me a Gibson with yuzu juice. I felt like trying it because somebody ordered a Gibson next to me, and then there was yuzu in the seven-spice sour, and the seven-spice sour was so well-balanced and delicious that I thought, Oh, let me combine the two. Less successful than the seven-spice sour.

Wednesday, November 10
I had Maple Hill creamery yogurt in the morning, plain. I just love the taste of yogurt, and any flavoring to me, I can’t taste the yogurt well enough. I love the full, sour … I just love it. And then I had a few raw cashews. Then for breakfast — that was my pre-breakfast — I went to Eat on 81st and Madison, and I had the avocado-and-endive salad, lentil salad, and some raisin-nut bread with butter and raspberry jam, and a decaf coffee with milk.

I went to Má Pêche the night before, so I had lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar. I kind of get an idea in my head and I can’t shake it. I had a tamale with chicken and salsa verde and some ginger-scallion noodles. And then I had a little snack of one of those stone-ground chocolate bars, although I actually like the round ones better.

Then for dinner I went to Balaboosta. I had some Lebanese red wine, and the pizza with carrot purée, hummus with pita, grilled octopus, a quinoa salad, some seviche, pickles, probably six other things. I look at my life as having very few meals left. However many thousands of meals that is, it’s a finite number, and I don’t want to waste any of it on something that’s not teaching me, something that’s not inspiring me in any way.

Food Artist Jennifer Rubell Loves Rhubarb, Hates Breakfast