dishin' it

Chef Brad Mahlof dishes on romantic meals, posing in the buff & a date that ended with a bedroom surprise

Brad Mahlof | Image Credit: Instagram, @bradmahlof

Television has its fair share of baking and cooking competition shows, but only one of them boasts a winner who’s both a talented, gay chef and a former rugby player who has posed nude for charity.

Meet Brad Mahlof who, over the summer, was named the winner of the second season of The Great American Recipe on PBS, a series focused on celebrating multicultural influences that shape American food and dining.

Hailing from New York City, Mahlof is a real estate developer by day, but spends a lot of his free time thinking about food, especially food that celebrates and honors his family’s Jewish and Libyan heritage. It’s his unique perspective on the culinary arts—plus his love of having friends over for a home-cooked meal—that helped him snag the win on The Great American Recipe.

Energized by the competition, Mahlof says he’s focused on advocating for himself, which means he’s devoting even more time to his blog Cook With Brad and Instagram page, both of which highlight his personal cooking and hosting tips, as well as some delicious looking recipes (and the photos of Brad are pretty easy on the eyes, too, we should add).

And, yes, Brad—who loves fitness and bringing a healthy balance to life—used to play for NYC’s queer-inclusive rugby team, The Gotham Knights, and even bared all with his teammates for a charity calendar.

So, would he do it again? Maybe for a sexy chef calendar? That’s just one of the many pressing questions we asked when Mahlof joined us for Dishin’ It, Queerty‘s rapid-fire Q&A series. In the fun and free-wheeling conversation, the chef tells us how his queerness informs his cooking, shares his tips for becoming a better home cook, and tells us the story of how a romantic dinner night went awry.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, video game, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey, or that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness? Why does it stand out to you?

I wish I had a better answer to this, but I didn’t have much knowledge or access to media that made coming out easier. My coming out felt lonely and isolating. Growing up in a Middle Eastern family and community, I thought that being gay was not an option for me. I knew that my family and community would not accept it, so I sort of accepted that coming out was not in my cards.

In my mid 20s, I finally had a “f*ck it” moment and I decided I needed to live life for me and not for the expectations of anyone else. I slowly started experimenting until I finally came out at 25. It’s been an uphill battle but well worth it to live life authentically.

While having a piece of media to aid with coming out would have been amazing, I do kind of like that without outside influences, my coming out story was uniquely mine without anything setting expectations on how it should look or what it means to be gay.

I do want to note that I have an incredible family, and while it’s not always been easy, I have always felt a sense of unconditional love.

Of course, some major congratulations are in order because you recently won the second season of PBS’ The Great American Recipe. What’s something you’d say you learned about yourself over the course of competing in the show?

Thank you! Doing something in reality TV wasn’t on my radar. To have this opportunity to come on a TV show and share my stories, share my food, and win, was surreal. I like to keep my private life private and being on a reality TV show took me out of my comfort zone in a big way.

While being so publicly exposed was nerve-racking, being vulnerable and authentically myself, was a big factor that drove me to success. My advice is to be authentically and unapologetically yourself and that is where you will find the most success in life.

A lot of your cooking is inspired and directly influenced by your Jewish and Libyan heritage. But are ways in which you’d say your cooking—or just your outlook on food, health & wellness—is informed by your queer identity?

I came on the show with a mission of sharing my Jewish Libyan heritage, which lacks representation on a global scale. There are no Jewish people left in Libya and I try and memorialize this once rich and beautiful culture through my food. While my North African, Israeli, and Jewish backgrounds do heavily influence my food, my culinary style is much broader than that. I consider my style to be global with a strong emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients.

I do think that my queer identity plays a role in my food. Part of my love for cooking is my love of entertaining. I think that my gay identity ties into my passion for bringing people together—from my elaborate tablespaces, food presentation, and meticulous curation of all of my dining experiences. This combined with my tremendous respect and gravitation towards tradition, hits a unique balance. My food feels like home (what I cook today is the same foods that my great-great-grandparents cooked for their loved ones) but is elevated in such a way that the gays do best.

You’ve described food as a “love language,” so with that in mind: What would you consider the most romantic meal (or dish/item of food)?

Food is definitely my love language. If I’m going out for a romantic dinner, there is nothing more romantic than a traditional white tablecloth Italian restaurant. Order a nice bottle of wine and share a delicious meal together. I always call ahead and request the most romantic table; I like a table that is tucked away in a cozy corner and that allows me to sit adjacent to my date.

Has there ever been a time when you made food in an attempt to impress a (potential) romantic partner and it failed, or went wrong in some way? What can you tell us about it?

I love preparing romantic home-cooked dinners and definitely have had some epic fails. One time I was really trying to impress a date and went to my butcher to buy two, thick-cut, 30-day-aged prime rib-steaks. They were beautiful and also cost me about $300.

When my date arrived at my apartment, I took both steaks out of the fridge and placed them on my kitchen counter to get to room temperature. As we waited, we went to have a pre-dinner drink in the living room and then slowly made our way back to the kitchen to start preparing the meal. I immediately noticed that only one steak was on the counter and the other had somehow gone missing. I was really confused and checked back in the fridge and all over, but it was just gone.

I then noticed my dog suspiciously sitting in the corner of the kitchen, looking guilty but also incredibly satisfied. Did Logan, my trusty and dear Chocolate Lab, eat an entire raw steak and ruin date night? She did, but it had us cracking up which made up for the fail. The steak had a large bone which also disappeared. Did Logan manage to eat that too? I shrugged it off in the moment but was still very confused and slightly concerned how she managed to eat a full steak including the bone. Luckily these steaks were huge and even just one was more than enough food for me and my date to enjoy.

After a beautiful meal, it was time for bed, and I invited my date to spend the night. As we tucked ourselves in to bed, my date starts laughing and pulls out a large bone from under the covers. Mystery solved!

You’re a big advocate for home-cooked meals so, with that in mind, do you have any helpful tips or broader advice you give to people who might want to try cooking at home more but feel like they’re out of their depth or don’t have the time?

There is really nothing better than home-cooked food. Don’t be scared of your kitchen and don’t be scared to mess up. Just like anything else, cooking takes practice and the more you do it the better you’ll be. We’re all busy so don’t let that be an excuse. There are plenty of delicious meals that I whip up in under 20 minutes, which is faster than the time it takes me to indecisively scroll through all the options on Doordash for delivery. You can even get groceries delivered to your home. Really no excuses.

A few tips to be a better home cook:

  • 1. Source the best ingredients possible and shop seasonal and local when you can. Your food will only be as good as the ingredients you use. Over time develop relationships with your food vendors (find yourself a good butcher and fish monger) having these relationships will ensure the best quality.
  • 2. Make sure you have the right kitchen equipment. A cast iron skillet, a Dutch oven, a lidded pot, a steal or non-stick skillet, and a good chef’s knife are kitchen essentials. Invest in them and you will have the tools to create amazing food.
  • 3. Cooking is an art so don’t be scared to experiment. If you’re following a recipe, it’s okay to improvise and make it your own.
  • 4. Salt! Salt is flavor and is essential to creating good food. You probably need more of it than you realize so don’t be stingy with it. Not all salt is created equal, I love diamond crystal kosher salt.

You’re passionate about fitness and used to play rugby—you’ve even posed for a steamy rugby calendar for charity back in the day. First of all: Would you ever do that again? Maybe a sexy chefs calendar for charity? But more seriously: What’s your secret to balancing a love of food with fitness?

Why not, never say never! I love the idea of a sexy chef calendar and for the right charity I would consider it.

I love to workout which I think helps me stay in shape, but my weight naturally fluctuates (and I’m okay with that). While I’m not currently playing rugby, I enjoy CrossFit and Olympic lifting to stay in shape. I believe in balance, and that doesn’t mean having fast food one night and a salad the next day. By balance I mean, eating wholesome meals that include all food groups, including carbs and fats.

Who is a queer or trans chef/artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

Wow there are so so many amazing queer chefs and creators who I love. But can I list myself? I’ve historically wanted to keep a low profile, but this year I am focusing on self-confidence and advocating for myself. I post all my yummy food content on my Instagram @cookwithbrad, as well as recipes on my blog I have some exciting things in the works so definitely follow my socials for updates. My long-term goal is to have my own cooking show where I promote home cooking and share my tips on home entertaining.

Scroll down for a few more of our favorite shots from Mahlof’s Instagram:

Don't forget to share: