JOSH: I’M WITH A FANTASTIC CHEF. I’M HERE IN HIS HOME TODAY. THERE’S A SELECTION OF BOOKS FROM JULIA CHILD, HE’S GOT A WHOLE SECTION ON CHOCOLATE – MY PERSONAL FAVORITE – AND HE’S JUST SERVED ME A LOVELY MEAL. I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD HAVE CREPES WITHOUT ANYTHING IN THE MIDDLE.
Bret: And I can teach you how to make them, if you want!
JOSH: PLEASE! I’VE HEARD ABOUT YOU FOR A LONG TIME. COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR HISTORY WITH COOKING?
Bret: I am one of 6 kids. I’m from Northern Florida, about an hour south of Jacksonville. And I got tired of eating meatloaf on Mondays, pizza on Tuesdays, spaghetti on Wednesdays, blah, blah, blah. From an early age, it’s like “Mom, I want to make XYZ from the joy of cooking.” And she said, “Go for it. If you want to cook and I don’t have to cook, I support you.” That’s when I started cooking, and now realizing the stereotype. I was the one who would set the table, and for all the holidays, the table was set fabulously.
I went off to college at a Benedictine Monastery in southern Indiana. And the Benedictine philosophy is all about hospitality; it’s one of their founding principles. I truly believe in hospitality around the table. The altar of the church is the table, and you equate the altar to the eternal banquet table. We share the table here, or anywhere you gather around the table, as the foretaste of the eternal banquet. If you think dinner here is great, heaven’s going to be even better!
No war has ever started because of people eating.
JOSH: PEOPLE NOT EATING!
Bret: People not eating! And I think truths have been set around the table. And I think it’s important we don’t eat on the run, and we don’t eat in the car. I spend a lot of time in France, and they have really strong opinions about meals and food, and how sacred food is. I embrace that philosophy. It’s nothing to spend 3 hours at a meal in a French home or restaurant. Now, when I invite people over, they know it’s not going to be something that lasts an hour. You’re here for the evening.
JOSH: ADMITTEDLY, IN REGARDS TO EATING IN THE CAR AND ON THE GO, YOU’VE DESCRIBED ME TO A T. WHEN I LIVED IN MADRID, THOUGH, THE MEALS WERE VERY SIMILAR. IT WAS NOTHING TO SPEND 3 HOURS AT LUNCH. I COMPARE IT TO HERE, WHERE EVERYONE’S LOOKING TO GET TO THE NEXT THING. TELL ME, DID YOU EVER HAVE FORMAL TRAINING IN… FOOD PREPARATION?
Bret: The culinary arts. I moved from Florida to Minnesota because I got a scholarship to St. John’s, which is another Benedictine monastery. I sold everything I owned and moved in the fall of 1988. I spent a year there and moved to the Twin Cities. I happened to walk by Cooks of Crocus Hill on Grand Ave, and they had advertised in the window wanting volunteer cooking assistants. I started volunteering there, and it became my social outlet. I was a poor church musician, and it was a free meal. So I assisted a lot! I met chefs in the cities, and from around the country.
A woman who, at the time, owned Julia Child’s home in Province, was doing a national cooking tour, where I happened to be assisting. We became friends, and she invited me to her home in France to be her assistant. She had turned Julia Child’s house into a cooking school. I would go be her assistant, or chauffeur, and I did that off and on for 10 years.
People talk about the French being rude, and the truth is, they’re wonderful! If you’re nice to them, they’re nice back. I think I was French in another lifetime.
JOSH: FOR OUR READERS, I SHOULD MENTION HIS CLASSIC MUSTACHE IS NOT CURLED TODAY, AND I’M VERY DISAPPOINTED. AND YOU STILL GO TO FRANCE REGULARLY?
Bret: I’ve been going to France about every year since 1996 for 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks. And now I lead culinary tours of Southern France. My friend, who owned Julia Child’s home, introduced me to the chefs and shopkeepers she knew, and I follow the same tour she led.
This past year, I knew I wanted to go back, so I went on Scruff. Bing! This guy’s name was Olivier.
At this point, Josh laughs for a solid 5 seconds.
He and his partner picked me up at the airport, drove to Benoit’s [his partner] home in Versailles, and the next day drove to this beautiful, gay-owned bed and breakfast. He was my tour guide for the week. People think I’m such an introvert, but I take chances. You never know who you’re going to meet until you say hello!
After I planned the trip to France, my friend invited me to Italy. So I’m back on Scruff in Venice. And it’s not about hooking up! It’s the same way with Claudio –
JOSH: – CLAUDIO? MY GOD. SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT. YOU WENT ON SCRUFF, FOUND SOME DUDE NAMED “OLIVIER,” MET HIM AND HIS PARTNER AND WENT TO A GAY-OWNED BED AND BREAKFAST. THAT IS THE MOST BOUGIE, STEREOTYPICALLY-GAY THING I’VE EVER HEARD. AND I’M LOVING EVERY SECOND OF IT! SCRUFF SEEMS TO WORK OUT REALLY WELL FOR YOU!
TODAY’S INTERVIEW – BROUGHT TO YOU BY SCRUFF.
SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US TODAY?
Bret: I’m a business analyst by trade, but I also teach privately. I’m going out to Palm Springs to teach a class in a friend’s home, and another in San Francisco. But I don’t think my life is all that exceptional. Other people are doing things I think are so much more exciting and adventurous. I’m just leading a normal life.
JOSH: I RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE. BUT I DO HAVE ONE LAST, VERY PERSONAL – FOR ME – QUESTION. I HAVE TERRIBLE, VERY UNHEALTHY EATING HABITS, AND I HATE COOKING. HOW DO I START IN MAKING MY LIFE A LITTLE BIT BETTER, IN TERMS OF FOOD?
Bret: Invite someone over and pick out a cookbook or go online, and do it together. It’s much less stressful when you’ve got someone to bounce ideas off of. Just do it! Set a nice table – whatever the best is for you. Your best is your best, and don’t compare yourself to somebody else’s. I rarely get invited to someone’s house, because they’re intimidated. “Oh, I can’t cook for Bret, he’s so good.” Fuck that! It’s not a competition. Yes, I use china and silver and cloth napkins because I enjoy it. Because you are important enough that I do this for you; I don’t do this for me. I give you my best. If everybody’s philosophy was “I want to give the other person the best that I have,” it would be a brighter, happier world. I hate eating alone, and I don’t cook the same way for myself as I do for others. But we all should! Aren’t we worth it? Shouldn’t we give ourselves the best?
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.