the grub street diet

Janelle James Grew Up in Her Dad’s Restaurant

“I’ve made meatballs on an assembly line in my house, you know what I mean?”

Janelle James is enjoying the last days of soup season. Illustration: Lyne Lucien
Janelle James is enjoying the last days of soup season. Illustration: Lyne Lucien

Comedian Janelle James knows how to win over an audience, and in her first big TV role, the longtime stand-up has been charming viewers as Ava Coleman, the inept villain on Abbott Elementary, which has been celebrated for “reviving the TV mockumentary.” Set in an underfunded Philadelphia public school, the show has drawn big audiences and resonated with many teachers, who — during a time when they have found themselves at the center of a culture war — say they see their own struggles in the series. This week, she is home in New York and indulging in the final days of soup season, a truly joyous time of year.

Tuesday, March 1
For breakfast, I had scrambled eggs and kale. When I make breakfast for myself, it’s always this. It’s like that repeat meal that everyone has. It’s easy, and it makes me feel like I ate something that’s good for me. I’m like, Okay, I got that out of the way. I ate kale — top of the morning. It’s all downhill from here if I want to.

Midday, I made chicken soup that I had for dinner and the next day as well. I thought I was getting sick. I just automatically make chicken soup if I feel like something’s coming on. And I like soup, so I get kind of excited when I’m like, Oh, is that a sniffle? And then I’m like, Yes! I’m making chicken soup.

It’s so funny because this was not a soup-heavy week. Usually, if it’s winter and I’m in a cold place, it’s soup time all the time. My friend has a joke: She calls me in the winter, I say hello, and she says, “How many soups you got going?”

I’m a Christmas bitch. I love Christmas; I love decorations; I love a fireplace; I love food. So that’s really — if I’m somewhere cold and it’s Christmastime, I’m doing soup. I sound like I’m 97 years old. I’m deep into it. Chicken soup, tortellini soup. I love tortilla soup, Italian-wedding soup, minestrone, lasagna soup — anything. It’s something to look forward to when it’s cold. I love soup and humidifiers; that’s my thing. I like it steamy in the house but only during the winter. I don’t do it in the summer, only when it’s soup season. If it gets below 60, I’m ready for soup. It happens in L.A., too, sometimes.

If you want it to be meat-based, you want the stock to be good, so you want to start it out with real meat and not bouillon or some shit like that. Like if the soup portion of it isn’t good, then what’s the point? So that, and I get fresh herbs and shit. You can just buy a thing that says soup herbs, and they’re all together. This takes all the guesswork out of it. No excuse for using dried shit. Those are the two most important components. And then once you’ve got that, you can throw anything in there and it’s good. That’s what’s so amazing about soup: You get the base right and then you throw whatever the fuck is in your fridge, and it’s a meal.

I used to cook with my dad. He had a restaurant, and, I mean, that almost makes me hate it because I’ve been cooking for so long. I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. I’ve made meatballs on an assembly line in my house, you know what I mean? Maybe the soup part is like, Oh, here’s a quick thing I could make — and get the fuck out of the kitchen for once. Maybe that’s where it came from.

Wednesday, March 2
For lunch, I had an Italian sandwich at Marlow & Daughters. There’s, like, salami and peppers and cheese. I love that place. It’s so old-timey. I feel like I’m in “Rapunzel.” That’s what it feels like — like I’m in a little Disney butcher shop. And everything looks so good, looks so fresh. It’s a whole scene. I love it. I’m trying to eat less meat, and if I do, then it really has to be worth it, so I like getting it from places like Marlow.

I was over there to get my nails done at a place right next door. I go there every time I get my nails done. I feel like getting your nails done is so boring. I just sit there thinking about food the whole time, and that’s why I end up finding spots next to my nail places. I come out ravenous. You’re, like, sitting, staring at someone playing with your hands for an hour, you know?

For dinner, I had chicken-soup leftovers. Leftovers last me two to three days. It depends if my kid eats it or if somebody else eats it too. But if it’s just me — because I will make soup for myself — then two to three days.

Soup is always good as leftovers. The first day, you don’t let it cool down — you eat it, it’s all hot, you burn your mouth. You don’t really taste it. The second day, that’s the soup.

You can’t do leftover fried foods, unfortunately, even with the air fryer. You gotta eat it immediately. Or goopy dairy things — I don’t trust it. Those gotta go. You only need one day of a chowder anyway. You don’t eat chowder two days in a row, so might as well toss it.

Thursday, March 3
Eggs and kale for breakfast and a homemade chicken, lentil, sweet-potato, and kale stew for dinner.

That recipe is one of those recipes where you Google what you have and recipes will just come up. And I found that recipe by doing that. I was like, Oh, I have lentils. I have sweet potatoes. I have kale. And that came up. I love it. I make it very often. No, this is, like, a set recipe for me, but it’s just good.

For people reading this: Just Google those things — chicken, lentil, kale stew — and it comes up. I think it’s the first Google result.

Friday, March 4
I had leftovers for lunch. I went to my friend’s house for dinner, and we ordered from Myrtle Thai. It’s consistently good Thai-food delivery. I got crab fried rice.

In New York, it seems so much easier to get whatever you’re feeling at the time, whereas L.A. is more specific to where you live. It’s I can get whatever the fuck I’m feeling like versus What’s around me? I mean, I guess you could get it driven to you in L.A. as well, but it just feels more immediate in New York, where, depending on what you want, you just walk outside and get whatever it is.

Saturday, March 5
I had a smoothie from Brooklyn Blend with mango and agave. I also had their salmon sandwich, which has a piece of salmon on this really good turmeric bread, with lettuce, onion, and chipotle sauce.

I hadn’t eaten there in forever, but a couple weeks back, my friend was visiting me, and he was on his way to my house. He was like, “I’m at Brooklyn Blend. Do you want anything?” And I said, “Get me whatever you got.” And that’s how it’s become one of my repeat meals lately. You know when you eat something and you’re like, Oh, this is good — and then you keep eating it until you’re tired of it? That’s what this was.

My friend lives in L.A. — that’s what it is. When he came, he was like, “I want smoothies.” I was wondering if it’s, like, after you live out there for a while, smoothies are just in you. I was kind of eye roll–y about it, like, Okay, fine, get me a smoothie, and it ended up being really good.

For dinner, I had the lentil soup at Olive Tree Cafe. I think it was, like, midnight or some shit. The Olive Tree is the restaurant attached to the Comedy Cellar, and I had shows there. Comedians get a discount at that restaurant, so we all eat there. Even when we don’t have shows, we all show up. The lentil soup is what I get if I’m eating after midnight. I mean, all the food there is good, which is what makes it distinct from a lot of comedy clubs. They actually have a real restaurant attached, but that’s my “Don’t eat too much too late or you’ll have nightmares” meal.

After I got home, I had a Chocolove chocolate-pretzel chocolate bar. I had already forgotten what kind of set I had. It was either really great or really bad, and that’s what I like doing. The chocolate is all fancy. This is how I make myself feel better for eating it. It’s like, Oh, locally sourced? Oh, a portion of it goes toward deaf children? Whatever the fuck I need to tell myself about making me feel better about eating a whole chocolate bar at three in the morning. Oh, this one says it’s gluten free? I didn’t even know chocolate came in gluten form.

I love sweets. I’m a sugar addict. It’s a battle between life and death, good and evil. The hardest battle I’ve ever fought. I keep going back.

Sunday, March 6
I had waffles at Kellogg’s Diner with cheddar scrambled eggs. I was gonna get pancakes, but my friend that was with me said, “No, bitch. Get the waffles.” And so I did. I’m easily persuadable. I’m like, Whatever you say. Give me the carbs in all forms in all shapes.

I’m a real season-based person, so in the winter, my favorite meal of the day is probably dinner — some heavy shit that you can just slump over and fall asleep after. In the warmer months, it’s probably breakfast. It’s like I said: I just like food, period.

For my after-midnight dinner, I had a Caesar salad with grilled chicken at the Comedy Cellar. I usually eat after going up. Before shows, I’m late — I’m arriving and I’m flustered anyway — so I don’t have time to eat. Caesar salad is a good base to put other things on, and it’s one of the things that I, surprisingly, did not know could be super, super-delicious. I think I’ve always been eating Olive Garden–level Caesar salads and then I had a really good one and I was like, Oh, oooh, this is what it’s all about. This is why this salad is everywhere. That was a recent discovery: really good Caesar salads.

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Comedian Janelle James’s Grub Street Diet