On a cool Spring morning, chef and painter Ori Cosentino surprised us at the new Nativen Headquarters with a brunch to kick off warmer days. The perfect juxtaposition of worldly style and unrelenting creative energy, Ori seamlessly blends her natural cooking flavor with an urban artistic voice. A sunny morning meal and a tour through her painting studio, showcased Ori's visionary aesthetic. Join us for this perfect weekend brunch, and check out her recipe below, along with a playlist curated specially for our Spring meal...
Nativen: First off, can you tell me a little bit about where you're from?
Ori: I am a rare native New Yorker, from deep Queens in the Flushing area at the end of the 7 train. It’s most multicultural subway line in the world.
Nativen: New York City is obviously a big part of your painting, but how do you think growing up in Queens or New York in general has influenced either the work that you're doing now or even your choice to be in the world of food?
Ori: I definitely think that I was exposed to so many cultures as a kid. My friends were from every nation. There were grocery stores, restaurants and just access to stuff from all over the world, always. I was always kind of curious about it. I liked the smell of incense and the smell of different foods, sights, sounds and smells. I think it influenced me in the sense that it made me want to travel and find the things that I had just a little taste of.
Nativen: You're a woman of all trades in so many awesome ways, but were there epiphany moments in your creative journey where you realized you wanted to sort of pursue these two avenues in particular?
Ori: I think it all came really from wanting to discover different cultures. For me, the first way I
discover a new culture is through food—it’s my first portal. But as a kid, I also always wanted to make art and do crafty things. It was always my biggest pleasure to have a table full of art supplies and set up a fake desk where I got to work. Ultimately, I did go into art school, to the School of Visual Arts. My parents advised me not to pursue Fine Arts as a major, though, our
compromise was graphic design. After I graduated, I worked for the New York Press, which was an alternative New York City newspaper, the competition of the Village Voice. It was a little dirtier and less popular, but because of that, you could really do whatever you wanted.
Nativen: So where did the food aspect start to really come in?
Ori: I’ve always worked in the restaurant business, front of house. That's how I made spending money in high school and put myself through college. All the time I was studying art, I was also working already in the service industry. I loved the pace, the hours and the excitement—no two days are alike and I guess the social aspect of it. I already liked all those things. That's kind of how these two things grew up together and eventually married each other.
Nativen: How exactly did that marriage happen? Was there a single moment or a coalescing of events?
Ori: I guess you could say that travel was the catalyst. I didn't really want to do graphic design anymore, and I wanted to keep traveling. So I bartended for a few years, saved up a whole bunch of dough and then just started to travel. Whenever I ran out of money, I would come home back to New York, get a job, make a bunch of cash and leave again. I did that forever, like a decade.
Nativen: After all those years, what finally grounded you again?
Ori: While I was in Paris, I bit the bullet and I was like, "Okay. Let me see if I can work here." It was super hard to find a gig as a bartender there because they were still in the archaic
times of hiring only dudes. They wanted me to be a waiter and I was like, "Okay," having never really been a waiter before. It was new language, a new job, so it was really, really hectic. Plus the whole style of service there is…well, French people can be really unfriendly. They were not amused by me with my American accent trying to recommend wines. I would literally beg this
chef to hide me in the kitchen.
Then the chef (who was Australian) and his partner were like, "Sure. You can help us translate and be our assistant." The minute I got back there I started working, I was like, "Oh my God. This is it. This is what I want to do." It was all of the joys of everything I learned in art; composition, you work with your hands, there's surprise, there's things that can change, it's improvisation, it's color, it's texture. It was everything…and it was also a job.
Nativen: What brought you back to NYC?
Ori: I decided to come back to New York to figure out what I was going to do with food and art, but without the language barrier. When I first got back to the city, I worked for a bunch of catering companies. It was easy to do with even just a little experience. You don't really need solid culinary education per se. Eventually, I wound up deciding to go to the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health rather than studying the French techniques. Frankly it's not hard to make food taste good with fat, butter, lard and pork, you know? So I opted for an education that would teach me how to make vegetables and healthier food. It was a vegan program, actually, before everyone was a vegan allergic to everything, and it was going to teach me how to make all that stuff taste great on a gourmet level.
Nativen: What do you love most about New York? Do you think that's integral to your work?
Ori: I do. Obviously there's a lot to it now that I choose to ignore. I'm really clingy to the way things used to be and I dig my fingernails in to see it all like it is now. What impressed me most growing up here was the sparkling energy that this city has. Just this excitement everywhere, you know?
Nativen: Just a couple of rapid fire questions here. Do you have a favorite restaurant here in the city?
Ori: Whoa. That's a tough one. Oh, God. Things are so inconsistent. I want to stand up and be like, "SriPraPhai," in Queens, a Thai restaurant where you feel like you're eating in a laundromat. But now it's been reviewed by the New York Times so everybody's heard of it.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?
Ori: People of 2morrow. Over in Greenpoint. I have really gotten some gems there. It's a little expensive, but I can handle it, because like I said, "gems."
Nativen: How about favorite park or outdoor space?
Ori: There's this outdoor space on the edge of handball courts on the corner of Houston and 6th that has been my bench for twenty years, probably more. It has been my bench for so, so long.
I remember before even going to SVA, just being on that bench smoking a blunt with some high school friend. Fast-forward three years later, I remember being by that bench in college and being like, "Oh, yeah. This bench." It became the bench. I sat there and I would write. You can look all the way downtown. You can look all the way uptown. You used to see the Twin Towers at the end of the block.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in New York City?
Ori: This guide. I was actually just thinking about that today: if I see a certain view when
I'm walking or whatever, I'll shoot reference photos. All the time, reference photos, reference photos. Today I was looking down the street and I was like, "Should I walk all the way down there to get a reference photo?" What I did was I looked at the sky and I said, "The sky is not good enough."
Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy?
Ori: As I was saying off the record, I lay down these found parking tickets in the under painting of all of my paintings. If I'm painting something, I'm painting on top of dirty, decrepit, gross parking tickets that I have hodgepodged since the mid-90’s to my canvas. I do it with a little bit of intention, but I really also like it to be a surprise. The scene is really benefited by the design of the ticket. Whether it's the color or the typography or some aspect, it's kind of lining up with the scenery and giving it a texture that's very believable. When you get close you're like, "Oh, it's a parking ticket. Oh, that's the barcode."
Nativen: What part of your process is the greatest struggle?
Ori: Just getting to the studio is a struggle because of life, career and family. Also, just straight up good old fashioned procrastinating. I'm just like, "I have so many details and New York City’s just got so much shit everywhere. What am I doing? How am I ever going to translate all of this into a believable piece of artwork?" I guess I just have to turn the brain off at some point and focus on the tiny part of the painting. Just really screw myself into it because if I'm just lolling around, nothing happens. Also, just painting in general. I didn't study it, and I’m not actually a great painter. It doesn't come naturally and it never really did. I forced myself to draw all the time when I was traveling. I feel like I got good because of quantity and because I developed a style. But I can't draw an animal to save my life.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?
Ori: I would really like to work with leather. I've started to dabble with sewing lately, very little, but I did squeeze out a shirt that I made out of a skirt. I was proud of it, but leather is a fabric I'd love to explore and whack something together someday.
Nativen: What destination do you want to travel to next? Do you think that might inspire or alter your work either in the kitchen or on the canvas in any way?
Ori: Right now I would really love to go to Indonesia. I love the beach, I love being far away, and I love food cooked over wood. Once I found this Indonesian cookbook on the street, I don't even think I was a cook yet, but I kept it. The recipes were so fascinating, so beautiful, so many little parts and details of so many flavors. I'd like to go there and really have it the way it's supposed to be so that I can continue explore it at home.
Nativen: You obviously listen to music. Is there a song that you've been listening to a lot lately that maybe inspires you/ is kind of your jam right now?
Ori: "Point Me at the Sky” by Syd Barrett. Well, it's by early Pink Floyd. The recordings are literally him playing two bars and being like, "Wait. Oh, no. I'm going to start over." Just totally unaware that he would start again and just rock out a song.
Nativen: Is there anything that you do with your work to specifically connect with your community?
Ori: Ever since I've had the studio, I have participated in all of the open studios here in Bushwick, which have been really fun. I made nice connections through there, tried to volunteer to help out in any way I
With food, I'm always trying to feed people, like pass off leftovers. I call people up if I think it's an opportune moment for them to swing by and eat. Pack stuff up, ring doorbells, leave
food as presents. I think good food equals good life.
Nativen: What's the most helpful advice you've received? Or what's some advice maybe that you'd give to a creative looking to pursue their own work?
Ori: I just wrote it down because over the years I've met so many people of all ages, all places and all styles. I feel like my whole existence is just a gathering of what I've learned. But I guess I should pass on this incredible advice I got from this extraordinary millionaire: “do it now.” To help me not get swept into something else, I have a list. For Monday it says, "Do it now." For Tuesday it says, "Do it now,” and so on.
Nativen: Do you have a hero? Is there someone who you would consider maybe a hero or someone who's inspired to work in anyway?
Ori: I have so many heroes. I can barely pick one. I've really been sore about David Bowie for so
many months. He's one of my heroes. I don't know. My mom's my hero. You're my hero.
Name someone. They're probably my hero a little bit.
Nativen: What are three things that you can't live without?
Ori: Coffee. I mean water. You know, the basics. I'd prefer not to live without my studio but I could. I'm particularly grateful for this place because it makes me grateful for everything else. I come in here and just think about all of the things I have to be grateful for, you know?
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen
ORI'S BRUNCH RECIPE:
BAKED EGGS with ROASTED MUSHROOMS, ASPARAGUS and FETA
An impressive way to cook eggs for a crowd, with all of the prep done in advance. Can easily substitute any variety of vegetables and/or cheeses. (serves 6)
1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces 10 ounces mushrooms, sliced 1 shallot, small dice 4 tablespoons oil, divided 1 dozen eggs 6 tablespoons crumbled feta, heaping 6 tablespoons heavy cream 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small bowl, toss asparagus with 1 tablespoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in the oven about 10 minutes or until just tender. (Can be made in advance)
Do the same with the sliced mushrooms, diced shallot, 2 tablespoons of oil, salt and pepper. Place baking sheet in oven and roast mushrooms until brown and caramelized. About 30 minutes. (Can be made in advance)
Reduce oven to 350F.
Use the remaining tablespoon of oil to coat the inside of each ramekin.
Crack two eggs into each ramekin. Sprinkle asparagus/shallot mixture evenly between (6) separate ramekins. Add mushrooms and top with approx 1 tablespoon of feta. Drizzle with one tablespoon of heavy cream over each.
Season with thyme leaves, salt and pepper and place the ramekins on a baking sheet.
Slide baking sheet into the oven and bake the eggs for 10-12 minutes until whites are just set and yolks are soft, or until desired doneness. Serve immediately.
A hearty hash is sure to beef up any meal, even without the beef. (Serves 4 as a side dish)
2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
6 ounces veggie burger or veggie sausage, chopped into small pieces
1 large potato, small dice
1/2 cup onion, small dice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 stalks celery, small dice
1/2 jalapeño, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper
Warm the 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and cook the veggie burger or sausage pieces until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan along with the potatoes, onions, thyme, jalapeño (if using) and celery, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until golden and potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cooked veggie burger/sausage until heated through. Season well with salt and pepper.
A sweet-savory salad is the perfect fresh compliment to classic brunch favorites. (serves 6)
1/2 lb baby spinach leaves (or seasonal mixed greens) 1 beet, peeled and sliced paper thin 2 oranges, sliced into segments 1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced 1 avocado, diced
For the salad: Toss spinach with beet slices, oranges, cucumber and a few tablespoons of POPPY SEED DRESSING (recipe follows). Top with avocado and serve immediately.
POPPY SEED DRESSING
3 tablespoons honey 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 lemon, juiced 1/2 small shallot, minced 3-4 tablespoons champagne vinegar 1 tablespoon poppy seeds 1/2 cup olive oil
For the dressing: Place all ingredients except the oil in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly add the oil, whisking to emuslify with the ingredients Check for seasoning and adjust as desired. Store in a lidded container in the fridge, up to one week.
Ori's Brunch Playlist:
Brunch just wouldn't be right without a soundtrack. Keep the weekend vibes flowing with this funky playlist, inspired by Ori's soulful cooking and eclectic taste, and compiled by our music editor Kat Parker.