Reason for the season-ings: Book from Do or Dine chef explains the laws of flavor

The Brooklyn Paper
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The inventive chef behind the beloved but recently-shuttered Do or Dine restaurant has a new project: a cookbook. Justin Warner’s “The Laws of Cooking (and how to break them)” explains the flavor principles that led him to create dishes like foie gras donuts and Dr. Pepper-drenched frog legs by relating them to 11 common foods — such as “The Law of General Tso’s Chicken: Spicy meets Sweet.”

The Brooklyn Paper sat down with Warner over a late brunch to discuss his restaurant, the book, and what comes next.

Brooklyn Paper: So the obvious question is: Why did you close Do or Dine?

Justin Warner: The same reason we decided to open it — we just felt like it, you know? Business was like ‘eh,’ and we were all just tired. We were all 30-plus, and our priorities have kind of changed. Do or Dine was great, and I miss it, but I feel like I’ve grown two inches not having to deal with it.

BP: And what are you going to do next?

JW: I don’t know. I just made this book, so — promote the book, talk about it, get people jazzed about cooking. Do some TV. And right now I’m going to have a salad and a Bloody Mary.

BP: Good plan. How did you choose the recipes in the book?

JW: I couldn’t make this book without the foie gras donut, mostly because that is the recipe that started this book. When I was talking to cookbook publishers, they said, ‘The question we need to answer is — how do you come up with something like the foie gras donut?’ And I was like, ‘Well, it’s basically a compressed version of a classic foie gras presentation, where you’d have some foie gras mousse, and you’d have some bread, and something sweet and fruity with it. That’s what the foie gras donut is.’ And they’re like ‘Yeah, but why does that work? Why is that classic?’ I’m like, ‘Well, it’s a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, you know? It’s something fatty and fruity and something to spread it on. So that’s the Law.

BP: How do you think people will react to “The Laws of Cooking”?

JW: I want people to say ‘Wow, you really opened my eyes.’ I think it has that power, because there’s no other book that’s ever broken down flavors in this very easy-to-understand way. Once you’ve read this book, you can look at any food in your life and say ‘Oh, this [pointing to his kale Caesar salad] is coffee, cream, and sugar’ — bitter kale, creamy Caesar, and, believe it or not, these croutons and cheese are oddly sweet. You can look at a Bloody Mary, and see General Tso’s chicken — spicy and sweet.

BP: You’re doing a Food Book Party at Berg’n next week. What’s going to happen?

JW: We’re all going to hang out and jam. I’ll make some food, [sommelier Andre Mack] will bring some wine, and we’re going to talk about stuff. We’ll talk about food. It’s sort of for food people, by food people.

BP: What are you cooking?

JW: I’ll do something large-format, that everybody can have. I have no idea what, but I always make sure everybody has enough. You can’t show up at a food party without enough food. Nothing is worse than not enough food. Nothing, ever.

BP: Without enough food, you starve to death.

JW: Yes! I’ve tried to make this case a million times but, of all the arts, this is only one without which, we will die. So it’s a good skill to learn.

Justin Warner discusses “The Laws of Cooking” at Food Book Party at Berg’n (899 Bergen St. between Franklin and Classon avenues in Crown Heights, Nov. 5 at 6:30 pm. $10.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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