We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Is Served,” she asks colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on.
This month’s installment: When chefs are off duty, what do they make? For brothers Nakul and Arjun Mahendro, proprietors of Los Angeles restaurants Badmaash and Burgers 99, it’s the breakfast they enjoyed with their extended family growing up. Here’s Nakul with all the hyper-specific details.
Markham breakfast. It’s always Markham breakfast. I grew up in a joint-family home in Markham, Ontario, Canada. It was me, my brother, my parents, my dad’s brother, his wife, and their kids, who we consider our own brother and sister. Plus my paternal grandparents, all in one small house.
On weekends, normally Sunday when everyone was home, we would have a big breakfast that was mostly classic American diner fare, with our twists. The table only sat four of us at once, so we’d spill over into the living room or grab plastic chairs or whatever to squeeze in.
We’d have baked beans that we’d do a little extra. Saute some chopped onions, salt, pepper, maybe some cumin, Thai green chiles, and green onion. Then we’d add the can of baked beans. Baked beans with a little Indian oomph. It takes your can to the next level.
There would be frozen corn, popped in the microwave, finished with butter, salt, and pepper. A spread of jams, and orange marmalade. I couldn’t stand orange marmalade growing up; still don’t like the stuff. Of course, ketchup. Indians love ketchup on everything. For the longest time, up until like 10 years ago, ketchup was just known as “sauce” in India. Also orange juice, milk, cereal, sausages, bacon, the whole nine. Eggs and buttered toast.
The absolute most important thing that our father, who’s also the chef at our restaurants, was drilling into our heads when we were kids is that everything has to hit the plate at the same time, even in a small home with 10 people. It was madness. So the order of operations is to start with your beans. They can be ready and hold temp nicely. Pull your butter out the night before. It doesn’t really have to go in the fridge. Have your mise en place ready, then put your toast down, then the eggs last.
For omelettes, we make them the Indian way, sometimes called the masala omelet or railway omelet because it’s served in train stations. Super high heat, butter, oil; saute chopped onion, tomato, Thai green chile, turmeric, cayenne pepper. Add beaten eggs, fold, add butter, and blast with heat [under a broiler] to get crispy brown edges.
For the scrambled eggs, we’d make what my mom called “rumble rumble” and what I call “marbled.” In a pan with oil and butter, you crack whole eggs, add salt and pepper and wait until the whites are cooked nearly all the way, then you add more butter and gently break the whites and crack the yolks. Take them off the heat when the yolks are still a little soft.
I’m an omelet guy or fried egg guy — at least right now. Bhaiya, my older bro, says it’s not a fried egg unless it has a crispy browned edge around it. To make the fried egg, it’s oil, a good amount of butter and an egg, over high heat. Let it go. Definitely have a cover for your pan, a plate or lid, so you can get the top of the white slightly cooked. The members of my family have this beautiful ability to eat a breakfast with sunny side up eggs without getting any yolk on the plate. It’s all about enjoying the yolk first with your toast.
Nowadays, my brother and I eat Markham breakfast for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and very often late at night. After a couple of really long days at Burgers 99 or the office, if we’re there alone at midnight, we’ll make Markham breakfast.
For a smaller crew, the nonnegotiable elements are the baked beans and toast. It’s that bite of beans with buttered toast that takes us back to Markham. There’s always leftover beans and so much joy the next day when you microwave more beans.
Recently we had a family reunion. Sixteen of us under one roof in Lake Tahoe. Because we had a few birthdays, my brother asked what meals we wanted. The answer was Markham breakfast. It was insanely special to have Markham breakfast with everyone again, with the added bonus of family from Delhi and our kids now, too. My son, he’s 4 1/2, he loves to cook eggs. I don’t know if it was passed down to him genetically. My mom just taught him her way for cracking eggs: Hold the egg over a bowl, tap it a few times with the fork, and that way you save yourself from having egg whites on your counter.
A lot of people who aren’t in the food industry think that chefs or people who work in restaurants have this bar that’s set so high. From what I know of being in this business literally my entire life, we enjoy the simple things. The food that’s going to take us back to our childhood, our mother’s embrace. I would bet every chef enjoys an egg. It’s simple and tiny — eggs and toast — but we take it very seriously.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes.
Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and raised between Colombia, the Netherlands, and the U.S. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.