the grub street diet

Actor Toby Leonard Moore Always Has Vegemite on Hand

“Yep, I’m Australian.”

Toby Leonard Moore at the Crown Rooftop at 50 Bowery. Photo: M. Cooper
Toby Leonard Moore at the Crown Rooftop at 50 Bowery. Photo: M. Cooper

Anyone who watched Toby Leonard Moore tear into a sandwich on Showtime’s Billions will not be surprised to learn that, before he became an actor, Moore cooked professionally in his native Australia. “My mom used to say when I was a kid, ‘I love cooking for you,’” he recounts. “And I would say, ‘I love eating for you.’” That love hasn’t changed, as he still goes on burger quests in L.A. and bagel hunts in New York, all while making sure to return to the food he loved growing up. Read about it all in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, April 4
Started my day with green eggs and ham, a staple brekkie of mine. Whisked two organic eggs with a dash of milk and a teaspoon of pesto and cooked it low and slow. I took out house-smoked ham from the Meat Hook, and toasted some sourdough and had it with seeded mustard and a crack of black pepper. Mum always does leg ham with seeded mustard on Christmas morning, so this reminds me of home. Then I went to the gym.

I had an interview for Billions at 44th and Fifth, and that is way too close to 46th and Sixth — the spot where my favorite food truck in the city is located: Biryani Cart — to ignore. I was performing in a play for Roundabout some eight years ago when I found this Vendy Award–winning truck. The Indian flavors are astonishing and the bread, oh my God, the bread. I don’t know how much butter has been kneaded through that dough, and I don’t want to know. What can I say? It’s a “sometimes food.” Sadly, the prices have gone up since then. You used to get two king kati rolls for 6 bucks … now it’s 7 bucks. Bloody inflation.

My wife, Michelle, mentioned a hankering for fish and chips. I wasn’t going to fight that! Although, being from the nautical town of Hobart, Tasmania — which has the best fish and chips on the planet (quick shout-out to Fish Frenzy’s beer-battered trevalla) — we’d found ourselves underwhelmed in the past. Until we found Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.

To drink, Michelle had cava and I had muscadet. We went for the porgy fish and chips, but were ambushed by tantalizing specials. Here’s what else we ate: a dozen Chef Creek oysters (from Vancouver Island, British Columbia); coho salmon on sourdough with nori butter, tartar sauce, mint, chive, parsley, dill, and trout roe; a fish burger; and catfish-scallop linguine with garlic, chili, oregano, breadcrumbs, fish stock, and butter. That last dish wasn’t reinventing the wheel, but it was delicious. We finished the scallops, but the pasta itself was so good we took it home to “doctor” it at a later date.

I also mentioned to the chef that whatever was in the frier smelled great. It turned out that he was cooking wings for the staff, but he brought one over to us too, tossed in Old Bay. BONUS WING! Score!

Friday, April 5
Breakfast was a smoothie with blueberries, mango, spinach, banana, pea protein, apple, Siggi’s vanilla yogurt, and a bunch of ice.

I skipped lunch, because that was a big smoothie AND I knew what was coming up: A Billions watch-a-thon advance screening party.

It was a brilliant night, and I ate light because I was told that a portion of the evening was a “tasting challenge.” Kelly AuCoin, who plays “Dollar” Bill Stern, and I were tasked with tasting both cheap and very expensive versions of the same thing and trying to pick which was which. There was a whisper about a $1 burger and a $1,000 burger, so I wanted to leave room for that.

However, it quickly became apparent that we would be tasting morsels rather than meals. We had Italian black truffle cheese, $325 cognac, French chocolate, Iberico ham, Black Gold caviar, Champagne, and all of their cheap counterparts. I’m pleased to report that we had a 100 percent success rate! (As an ex-chef, it would have been really embarrassing to fail.)

There was also an ortolan experience (not real ortolan of course!) made from foie gras–stuffed quail with armagnac and gold leaf. Blackjack and poker tables were also set up at the venue; I worked as a croupier years ago, so that was a blast to be able to deal again. But to be honest, Michelle and I were still starving after it was over so we may or may not have popped into our favorite fried-chicken place, Sweet Chick. Excellent seasoning, very well drained. I also love their shrimp and grits.

Saturday, April 6
Slept in, so breakfast was kind of lunch or vice versa.

We made pancit. My mother-in-law, Rustica, makes the best version; Michelle comes from a big Filipino-Australian family and if this noodle dish isn’t on the table at any family gathering, something’s not right. If you haven’t tried it before, do yourself a favor. It’s rice noodles with chicken thigh, shrimp, cabbage, carrot, bell pepper, onion, crispy fried garlic, sliced hard-boiled egg, soy, and calamansi juice. Then I went to the gym, because there was a whole lot of meat coming up.

We went to dinner at Kafana. When I first moved to New York I lived in the East Village. I had about 600 bucks in the bank, lived in a closet-sized apartment, and I remember I once lived off a single 40-piece chicken McNuggets for three days because the deal was so cheap that I determined I couldn’t cook a cheaper meal than what they were charging. Anyway, Kafana restaurant was like a second home to me during that time. Honestly mate, I’ve been there 50 or 60 times. Maybe more. My first summer in New York, we lived there. They looked after us like family.

We started with gibanica, a traditional phyllo pastry pie with feta. Then lepinja, bread served with a warm, creamy cheese spread and prosciutto; the
sopska salad with cucumber, tomato, onion, and feta; and ćevapi, traditional grilled, minced meat that’s like little skinless sausages. The seasoning and juiciness is to die for. I also ordered the lamb and spinach stew and Michelle had the whole grilled branzino served with extra-virgin olive oil–dressed potatoes and spinach. Both were exquisite. You can throw a dart at this menu and not go wrong, but we ordered our nostalgic favorites.

Sunday, April 7
Breakfast was a classic smoked-fish bagel from Frankel’s: nova salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, dill, and capers. Frankel’s is an institution. We are so lucky to have them in our neighborhood.

I don’t think I’d had a bagel until I moved to New York. That texture is something I’d never experienced before, it was not a thing where I grew up. Now, a chewy bagel with cream cheese, capers, and onions — I’m done.

I only had an apple for lunch, because again I know what was coming…

Homemade meat pie. This is easily the food I miss most from Australia. When I land in Tasmania, usually between the airport and my parents’, I’ll stop in for a pie at Banjo’s Bakehouse, because it means I’m home. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good one in this city, so when we feel like it, we’ve got to put in the work. Okay, to be honest, Michelle did all the work on this one. She made it with chuck steak, onion, garlic, beef stock, red wine, and paprika, using both store-bought puff pastry and handmade short crust pastry. It’s a take on a recipe from Nagi at RecipeTin Eats, which is probably our favorite online cooking resource. It was super time-consuming and finicky, but oh-so worth it. We ate our pies while watching the latest episode, which turned out to be a little tricky while I live-tweeted.

Monday, April 8
For breakfast, I had ham-and-cheese toastie. I made it with smoked ham, Catamount Hills cheese, baby spinach, dijon, and Kewpie mayonnaise on sourdough. Perfect. Then off to the gym.

For lunch, we made this dish called doria. When I was an exchange student to Japan at 15 years old, this was one of my absolute favorite things that my host mother used to cook. I’ve been “lucky in food” because my Mum, Okaasan, and wife are all astonishingly talented cooks. I’m reluctant to call this dish “fusion” because it doesn’t really fuse two cuisines. It originated in Japan, but it really is more of a European dish at heart.

We steamed some rice, chopped a handful of parsley and a teaspoon of butter, then mixed it together. That was the base, which went into an oven-safe bowl (because we were going to bake this sucker in a minute!) sitting about one inch high. Then we fried off diced chicken thigh, sliced cremini mushrooms, chopped onion and garlic, and fine-cut broccoli. To that, we added cream and chicken stock and simmered. This gorgeous creamy sauce sat atop our rice, and we covered it with a nice sharp shredded cheddar and baked it until the cheese was crispy and golden brown. DORIA. You’re welcome.

Dinner was at the Poke Lab. I was late to board the poke train. For a few reasons.

One: I adore sashimi and I wondered (ignorantly) why people would want to ruin salmon by putting it with sweet fruit.

Two: the first time I tried it was on camera and it was scripted that my bowl had pineapple in it so that Paul Giamatti could taunt my character about it. Pineapple and tuna? Not for me, thanks. My brain cannot process sweet and savory at the same time.

And three: as I said, I adore sashimi, but not at 5 in the morning and that was when we shot that scene.

Put all those things together and I decided that poke was not my bag. But I was so wrong. Michelle ordered a bowl a couple of months ago and I couldn’t stop myself from picking at it. Eventually I was cut off and forced to order my own bowl immediately. God bless Grubhub. Here’s my poke bowl order: zucchini noodles, double salmon, shrimp, kale, edamame, scallion, seaweed salad, masago, whole-kernel corn, oshinko, cucumber, broccoli, radish sprouts, sesame seeds, onion crisps, furikake, kizami nori, macadamia nuts, umami shoyu sauce, fresh ponzu sauce, and yuzu-ponzu sauce.

Tuesday, April 9.
Vegemite on toast. Yep, I’m Australian and, yep, I always have a jar of Vegemite in the house. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that will do the trick.

If you’ve yet to try it, you will need an Australian’s supervision. You can’t slather it like peanut butter; it’s just a smattering. Growing up, my Mum had this imagery for it: It was as if Tinkerbell had vegemite on the soles of her shoes and ran across the bread. And sometimes, you might want a little extra, which is how the phrase, “Do you want Tinkerbell or Tinkerbell in gum boots?” originated in my house as an idiom for wanting a little more. Slather the butter, then smatter the Vegemite.

For lunch, I had what I call Mum’s Epic Caesar. I don’t order Caesar salads at restaurants because I was spoiled by Mum’s recipe as a child. It’s sliced chicken (yes, of course it’s thigh meat — gimme that flavor!), sliced bacon, poached egg, avocado, toasted hazelnuts, chopped romaine lettuce, shaved parmesan, anchovies (chopped finely! I can’t stand seeing a whole anchovy filet on top of my salad — what am I supposed to do with that! Stir it through!), and Cardini’s Caesar salad dressing. It’s the best. And here’s the real trick in my family: the croutons. Cheap, soft bread rolls make the best croutons. Sourdough and the like is great, but you don’t want something that dense that’s going to cut the roof of your mouth once its hardened in the oven. Dice them thick, chuck them in a plastic bag then pour in extra-virgin olive oil and garlic powder and shake, then whack them on a baking tray and in the oven. Decadence.

Dinner was at Misi, my favorite pasta restaurant in New York. (I adore its sister restaurant Lilia, too.) All their pasta is handmade daily and the menu is simple, rustic, and honest. To start, we had an antipasti with braised butter bean, tuscan kale, bacon, and parmigiano. Plus a couple of Bellini Fizzes, which consisted of peach, Aperol, lemon, egg white, and prosecco.

Then for the pasta! A gorgeously hearty strangozzi with pork sugo, nutmeg, and parmigiano. But the next dish blew our minds. It was a spinach and mascarpone filled tortelli with brown butter and ricotta salata. A fine balance between delicate and decadent; texturally they’re almost like soup dumplings and literally bursting with flavor.

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Actor Toby Leonard Moore’s Grub Street Diet