Editor’s Note: As we begin leaving our home kitchens and dining out more, the weekly Lunch Break column will evolve to highlight dishes from a variety of sources: a new or reopened restaurant; a newsmaking person, place, or recipe; or, of course, a great cookbook.
On June 15, Andrew Rea, best known as the star of Binging with Babish, posted a cooking video based on the animated TV series American Dad. It was a dish of “Meat-Ghetti and Spag-Balls.” Within two days, it racked up over 1.5 million views as people watched Rea make a straightforward version of ground beef strands and spaghetti balls. Then he hacked the dish by preparing sous vide sausage strands and deep-fried pasta balls—and it did not go well, even if it did make for great entertainment.
Rea’s YouTube channel, Babish Culinary Universe, which also includes shows like Stump Sohla, starring chef Sohla El-Waylly, has over 9 million subscribers. (His screen name is inspired by The West Wing’s Oliver Babish.) They tune in to watch him recreate recipes from TV shows, movies, and the occasional video game. He’s made the ramen from the cult favorite Tampopo, including the noodles, and the babka highlighted in Seinfeld.
“That meat-ghetti episode might be my favorite of all time,” says Rea in a phone interview. “First off, it’s so horrible. It’s the first time where I straight-up admit defeat.” Usually, when a dish doesn’t work, Rea will scrap the episode. In this case, he went ahead because he wanted to use the show to promote his new cookware line. “The episode turned out to be very meaningful. It’s representative of showing your mistakes and not being defeated by what you do.”
Meat-ghetti represented another victory of sorts for Rea. It topped the subreddit ‘Thanks I hate it.’ “I’ve never been so honored to be No. 1,” he says.
A less problematic Father’s Day-oriented dish is rum French toast, inspired by an episode of Mad Men, which appears in Rea’s 2019 cookbook Binging with Babish: 100 Recipes Recreated from Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows (HMH; $30). For Rea, the dish was also challenging, because his devotion to detail drove him to make the anchoring brioche from scratch—without a stand mixer to incorporate the butter. “I can’t advise to anyone in their right mind to do it,” he says.
For those of us who don’t feel the need to bake bread that gets soaked in batter, pan-fried, and then doused in syrup, the good news is that there are few better uses for supermarket brioche then French toast. (Although for best results, you still need to use a good-quality one.)
In the Mad Men episode, Don Draper’s daughter uses a bottle of rum instead of maple syrup to top French toast; he eats it anyway. “Dousing your French toast with rum might be cool if you’re Don Draper, downing three martinis at breakfast. The reality is less appealing,” says Rea. Instead he cooks down the alcohol that goes into the dish to get rid of the burn—and the buzz.
The dish is a delightful, grown-up version of the breakfast staple. In fact, it’s a party. There’s rum in every component, from the egg mix that soaks the brioche to the whipped cream. Even the requisite maple syrup, which is spiked with rum then cooked down, has a background caramel-y, boozy hit. The French toast itself is rich and custard-like, good by itself and even better when soaked with the cream and syrup. It’s easy to make a case for serving it for dessert, as well as breakfast, to a crowd of adults.
For future Babish-inspired Father’s Day gifts, Rea is breaking ground on the first of many planned, foodie-focused “Bed & Babishes,” starting with a cabin in the Catskills that will open in 2022. He’s also expanding his cookware line with sets of stainless steel and carbon steel pans and tableware that will include a “dinner bowl.” Rea says the Babish line of kitchen top, stove top, and tabletop products are helpful for “the only place your home cooking really matters, which is your Instagram.”
The following recipe is adapted from Binging with Babish by Andrew Rea (HMH Books & Media, reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers).
Tester’s Note: To take the French toast even further over the top, add the optional cream to the maple syrup; it will look like the caramel in the picture at top. I made it without this step, and it’s still divine.
Rum French Toast From Mad Men
1 brioche loaf, sliced 1-inch thick
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp dark rum
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Rum Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Rum Maple Syrup (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 200F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack. Place the brioche slices on the rack and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until dried. Remove the bread; keep the oven on.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, rum, salt, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon until combined. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Soak the brioche slices in the mixture for 30-45 seconds per side, until saturated.
In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until the foaming subsides. Working in batches, fry the soaked brioche until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to the wire rack and keep warm until serving.
To serve, place 2 to 3 slices of French toast on a plate, dollop whipped cream, and dust with powdered sugar. Pour a little rum maple syrup on top and serve the rest at the table.
Rum Whipped Cream
Makes About 1 Cup
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark rum
Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a mixer meat until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Rum Maple Syrup
Makes About 1 Cup
½ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup dark rum
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup and rum to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened and the smell of alcohol has dissipated. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter and cream.