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Amidst the tumultuous tremors that one withstands during the Wonder Years (I’m referring to college, to clarify), the lost-and-found cycle of the soul beats almost rhythmically. Losing touch with oneself is inevitable, but the glory of self peace, an “aha!” moment, or the-finding-of-your-niche makes the havoc (almost) worth it.
A wise man once said, “the key to one’s heart is through their stomach.”
This past week, I was fortunate enough to explore the hearts of three food-devotees that oscillate here in the Boogie Down, navigating the world of academia, jobs, clubs, relationships and $4 Four Lokos at the corner bodega no different from you and me. However, they have found their passion in the kitchen, expressing themselves best through the artwork they craft upon a plate, in a skillet, a mason jar, and are most satisfied when their lick of sauce off a spatula confirms perfection. Tastebud talent, if you will. Senior Amanda Holtzer and Juniors and roommates Bentley Brown & Jake Madsen epitomize just what it means to be a foodie.
The unmistakable SoulCycle bag that rests on her denim-encased shoulder catches the breeze of an unseasonably chilly day on Eddie’s. Juggling life with a loaded Journalism course schedule, an internship with Redbook, a relationship and bustling friendships, all while maintaining a band of loyal 3,000 followers on her colorful clean-eats Instagram (@Nourishedbody_SoothedSoul) Amanda epitomizes the regimen that Fordham students prescribe themselves to keep as busy as possible. As exhausting as it is, she’s learned that it’s been the hustle and bustle of both Fordham’s campus and New York City – pardon our cliches – that has taught her the value of respecting her body and soul, the temple that keeps her passionate, motivated and present; this is why she took to Instagram, deciding it was crucial she document and share her philosophy for the world (good eats = good spirit). Her handle speaks to how “food isn’t just good for you physically, but it is good for the soul,” aiding her to channel her energy into a life that isn’t centered around losing weight, but rather loving her body and loving the fuel she provides for it.
Amanda’s followers are fans of her fruit-filled oatmeal bowls, topped with the most perfect spoonful of a variety of almond butter (the scoops would make the JIF Marketing team green with envy). Her colorful doses of kale + protein shakes are often held above her equally colorful gym sneaks, logging her post-workout shake for the world to envy, and applaud. Her stir fried veggies and chicken, often with sweet potato fries as sidekicks, are her signature dinnertime creation — all crafted in the walls of her Campbell abode.
“After a hard time sophomore year, I relied totally on myself to pull myself out of it. I learned that you must learn to love yourself and take care of yourself. It was hard, but i did it. I learned to take care of myself in healthy ways. I found joy in taking care of my mind AND body, and that’s where my love for fitness and healthy eating started to grow.”
Humming the tune of Jack Johnson’s ‘Banana Pancakes,’ Amanda admits, “I love that song” with a giggle, confirming that if she had to pick one song to soundtrack her life, that would absolutely be it. It best describes her many faces at a Fordham student, food blogger, friend, daughter and girlfriend.
“Fordham is the place I found myself. I transferred here from a different school, I was lost. Fordham taught me that no matter where you are in life, you will find people who love and accept you for who you are.”
A healthy body and mind extend beyond the contents of a chia-seed-banana-protein powder mason jar (posed perfectly in a palm with painted nails, as MetroNorth whizzes by #workinggirl), Amanda wholeheartedly preaches that Julia Child indeed said it best:
“The best people are the ones that love to eat.”
Now, enter Bentley + Jake:
Reggae music blares, steam emerges from the sprawling kitchen, worldly spices reside between bowls of marinating meats, knives, and their counterpart cutting boards, and heaps of butter dominate the scene.
Resident Lorillard celebrities in their own right, junior roommates Bentley Brown and Jake Madsen, have collaboratively become the chefs-you-need-to-know. Madsen, often identified by his membership with the Ramblers, and Brown, for his membership in ASILI and for carrying on his infamous artist father’s work (plug: @frederickjbrownart on Insta), have melded their love and need for kitchen creativity into an identity that is now a passion. Jake, a Midwesterner, and Bentley, a native Arizonian, hail from wildly opposite flavor disciplines, but it’s this juxtaposition that has sparked their newly iconic (and delicious) magic.
As a former #GluttonousGal, I was delighted to divert my food-infused writing from reviewing monstrous main dishes and delectable desserts, to the very people who make them.
How did you two learn how to cook?
Jake: I was part of a child labor force at a very young age, and Liam Neeson didn’t come save me so….. *laughs* I am the oldest of all my cousins, and my mom was the oldest of all her sisters– her family is very German and makes a lot of food. Growing up with a giant family, I was always helping out. But also, I developed a really bad allergy to gluten, soy, eggs and dairy my freshman year at Fordham. It was awful — I couldn’t eat anything on campus. So, I got my own apartment and didn’t have a meal plan and just cooked all my meals. I set a personal goal for myself, that on Wednesdays, I would always make something new, which leads me to the now, with a repertoire of recipes to choose from.
Bentley: I learned by observing. It started when i was six or seven because i was a picky eater. I was like ‘alright, ill just make my own eggs….’ Then I just started doing my own things. When I was 10, I made my own steak…..with its own brandy sauce…. (laughs). My mom always made these staple meals, but I learned to build off them. Oh also! I worked for a chef… this was important too…. for big, fancy dinner parties at these big fancy houses or whatever, and from that, I learned how to manage a kitchen and clean after myself…. very important. So yeah, observation.
Jake: Yeah, and in middle school, I was caught stealing my parent’s brandy…… it was for an experimental bananas foster.
Watching them sprinkle, flip, taste, smell, slice, chop and sauté was miraculously mesmerizing. Beyond curious, and realizing it was the second most important question, I asked what they were making themselves for dinner.
Before they could answer, they looked at me as if I had seven heads, laughing:
“You really think you’re gonna come here and interview us about food and think you’re not joining our table???????”
Needless to say, the Caribbean-inspired coq au vin (chicken, slow cooked in a red wine reduction), yucca, shiitake mushrooms and carrots, topped with mango and leftover easter ham, all glazed in a homemade jerk sauce (Jamaican chili peppers, mango, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, ketchup and fresh lime zest)…….. was absurdly phenomenal, creatively refreshing and food-coma inducing. I was grinning, not at all ashamed to be helping myself to seconds.
Jake and Bentley pride themselves in creating an atmosphere conducive to a communal meal. Whether it be a backyard birthday party, a snowy Sunday evening, the entire Ramblers force dropping in before practice, or a band of homework procrastinators, snacks are served. “Whenever people are here, they are eating,” said Jake, “it’s our thing.” Bentley nodded in agreement, “I love cooking when people are here, but more so, I love cooking for people.”
As we sat there, hoot-and-hollerin’ over the best brunches Harlem has to offer (Bentley’s favorite nook of a neighborhood because of his stint working at the Studio Museum)((highly recommends Freddy’s Soul Caribbean on 119th)), I asked them their favorite spot on Arthur to curb carb cravings, and their reply was, again, poignantly perfect, insightful:
Jake: The neighborhood around here – that isn’t Italian – is Dominican.
Bentley: There’s a whole other side to the Fordham community here – the Dominicans; We love them, they’re our neighbors. Thats something else I want to get out in this interview, too, actually — a lot of the students are afraid of the locals — they call them locals. They’re nice people. they’re inviting, they’re good people, they’re as interested in Fordham students as we are in them, a lot of people could learn a lot. I sure have.
Jake: Not everyone is the big bad wolf out there. Here, everyone’s real proud to be Italian…. and I’m not Italian at all. In NYC, you can go everywhere and eat whatever kind of food you want.
A beautiful response delivered seconds before beautiful course round two: dessert. Bananas foster over vanilla ice cream, topped with (and may I add, heavily) rum-infused blueberries. Hi, how are ya?
The femme fatale in me began to weasel its way out as I sat on the couch, lapping up the last of my banana bowl, eyeing their whitewashed cabinets with more envy by the minute.
Their kitchen, the physical cusp of their culinary creativity, is built as one long counter, with a fridge and stovetop oven sandwiching a toaster, microwave and sink, leaving little counter space.
On “are there too many cooks in the kitchen?” Jake smiled,
“That’s the thing about living with Bentley, we both love to cook. We’ve very symbiotic, so if he’s on the phone or I have go, I can pick up and take over. Synergy. We’ve taught each other a lot. And we make sure to give each other honest critiques, because in the end we’re both cleaning it up.”
On vehicles for their ingredients, Bentley gladly dove into his devotion to the grill:
“I don’t get to do it here because we don’t have a grill #someonebuyusagrill — but, it’s always steak and stuff. It’s mostly because I’m from the Southwest (Phoenix, Arizona, actually), and there, it’s part of it is the atmosphere – it’s something we do every weekend. Get your grill, Modelos and sit by the pool. I’ve always wanted to open a BBQ joint, like always. I would love to open like a blues-motorcycle-BBQ place, just good vibes, you know?”
So naturally I asked if this article was gonna be hanging in the lobby of their first restaurant, and they both agreed.
Bentley: “Yes! first time someone’s recognizing my skills!
Jake: “Yeah, now I’m no longer just the Rambler or the nerd in the front row of accounting class.”
When it came to the fated “who influenced you” question, Bentley was first to bite the bait.
“Both my parents are artists — dad is the prolific painter Frederick J. Brown, (note, his work is displayed in the MET & the Smithsonian..) but it was my grandmother’s career as a pastry chef that played an incredibly important role. In a lot of ways, she’s the main source of my inspiration to cook, in the very same way she inspired my dad to use color.”