The actress Nazanin Mandi was not overjoyed when her husband, the Grammy-winning singer Miguel, decided to turn their kitchen into a makeshift music studio. There was equipment everywhere, and not a lot of space left to, you know, cook. The de facto redesign, Miguel explains, came about after he decided to start intermittent fasting. “That means skipping breakfast, and breakfast happens to be my favorite meal of the day.” So to distract himself, “I said, ‘Instead of doing breakfast for breakfast, I’ll do beats for breakfast.’ It was sort of a way to stay creative every day, and also give myself something else to do while I was in the kitchen.”
So after making Mandi a cup of coffee (“to kind of ease the blow” of taking over the kitchen, he explains), the singer would get to work cooking up a beat. He’d use any sounds around the house — the garbage truck groaning to a stop outside, the cat jumping onto the counter — to build the base of a song.
Though Miguel’s intent was not to turn this morning routine into something bigger, his beat-making sessions were the seed of what would later grow into Beats for Breakfast, a Facebook Watch show the singer launched in mid-April with his friend, the chef Jeremy Fall. In each of the eight episodes, all around five minutes long and charmingly simple, Fall cooks a dish while Miguel stands behind his computer, building a beat inspired by — and designed to complement — the dish.
In one episode, Fall cooks shakshuka on one side of the kitchen. “How do you go about adding spice to your beat?” he asks Miguel, who responds by likening his creative process to that of building the flavors in a dish. But for the most part, the chef and singer stand quietly side by side, Fall focused on his pans as Miguel adds drums and guitar loops on his computer. “We both realized that our processes were kind of similar in terms of how we approach our crafts,” Fall says of how he and Miguel first came to this collaboration. “I really resonated with how [Miguel] kind of layers on top of a base layer. And that’s how I think of food as well.”
Creating a show that revolved around breakfast food was an easy decision: Both Miguel and Fall are breakfast-for-dinner people. For Miguel though, food hasn’t always been a source of inspiration or joy. “My relationship with food growing up was survival, to be honest with you,” he says. “It was just because, you know, we didn’t come up with a lot of money. And so I just made do. My favorite memories with food were around special occasions with family. Anytime I got to be with family, that meant food was going to be a little more of an enjoyable experience. And for me it has a sort of nostalgic value, and also a cultural value.” One of his grandmothers made sopes and enchiladas for special occasions, along with a mac and cheese fortified with salty crumbles of cotija. The other made fried chicken like no other: “She had a very special skillet that she would use specifically for fried chicken,” Miguel says.
The dishes that he and Fall create are mostly a tribute to Los Angeles. “Miguel and I grew up not far from each other in LA, so I think some of the dishes are love letters to the city,” says Fall. One of those dishes is a decadent pile of French toast, a recipe that the two shared with Eater. The bread is coated in cinnamon sugar to evoke the flavors of a warm, spiced churro. As for the cognac-spiked maple syrup, “Miguel and I both like drinking and any excuse to drink,” Fall explains.
This show, with its five-minute segments and rough measurements, will probably not, as Fall admits, turn a novice cook into a top chef. Nor will it give up-and-coming producers that much insight into how Miguel makes music. But really, that’s beside the point. Each snippet draws throughlines and similarities between the creative processes of a cook and a musician, something that can be as valuable and fascinating as a great recipe. “Every artist has a process,” Miguel says. “And the more you’re able to be around other creative people, you can exchange processes, and this will help you in your own creativity. That was the reason why this idea was so worth exploring.”
Churro French Toast with Horchata Ice Cream
For the horchata ice cream (makes 3 cups):
1 cup horchata, or 1 cup sweetened rice milk plus 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
1⁄2 cup sugar
For the French toast:
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1⁄2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
8 (1⁄2- to 1-inch thick) slices challah
1⁄2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Fresh mint (optional)
Make the ice cream:
Step 1: Pour the horchata and cream into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the sticky seeds. Add the seeds and the scraped vanilla pod to the saucepan. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat.
Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Slowly add the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly.
Step 3: Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan frequently with a rubber spatula, until the mixture has thickened (an instant-read thermometer will register 170 degrees). This will take 20 to 30 minutes; go slowly and be careful not to boil the mixture or the ice cream base will curdle.
Step 4: Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding the solids. Refrigerate until completely cool.
Step 5: Churn the ice cream base in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Make the French toast:
Step 1: Put 1⁄4 cup of the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Stir and set aside.
Step 2: Put the remaining sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt and whisk to combine. Zest the orange over the milk mixture, reserving the orange for another use.
Step 3: Combine the maple syrup and brandy in a small bowl. Set aside.
Step 4: Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan or griddle over medium heat. Dip 4 challah slices in the egg mixture and add them to the pan. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side until golden brown, 2 minutes more.
Step 5: While the French toast is still hot, turn the slices in the sugar mixture in the pie plate to coat on both sides. Transfer to dinner plates and cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining butter and challah.
Step 6: Drizzle the French toast with the maple syrup mixture and serve with a scoop of horchata ice cream on top. Garnish with mint leaves, if desired.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning