You probably first encountered Waris Ahluwalia in movies like The Life Aquatic, or maybe you met him hanging out at Limelight back in the day. He’s been a fixture of the downtown fashion scene for years, and for the last five years, Ahluwalia has been thinking a lot about tea. No, not quality gossip, but the herbal tea blends for his House of Waris Botanicals. Currently, he’s steeped in the company’s launch: selling teas to restaurants and opening a tearoom in Chelsea next month. He leads a multi-hyphenate lifestyle that can get a little harried — and this week brought him to London for a last-minute shoot — but he finds his routine in regular meals like his weekly date with his mom and hours-long brunches and dinners he hosts at his apartment. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, October 10
The plan was to start this eating report in my native New York City. However, that’s not how this story begins. As is my life, I ended up in London for a photo shoot out in the English countryside. The tickets were booked barely 24 hours before, and there I was, across the pond for two days. I woke up in a hotel room extremely tired from the flight and the 12-hour shoot from the day before. Forgive me, I digress.
I slowly got dressed and worked my way downstairs to Charlie’s, the restaurant at Brown’s Hotel. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day — the other two favorites are lunch and dinner. So, a Continental breakfast doesn’t do it for me. I much prefer warm food.
I ordered the vegetarian English breakfast: two Burford brown poached eggs (their yolks are a much more beautiful orange), avocado, steamed spinach, baked beans, tomato, a hash brown, and two veggie sausages, then made my way to the buffet. I picked up a green smoothie (kale, spinach, and avocado), a handful of blackberries, and some sliced pink grapefruit. To drink I ordered a pot of hot water — of course I travel with my own creations. Instead of caffeine first thing in the morning, I like to have our Sweet Clarity blend: tulsi, rhodiola, eleuthero, ginger, cardamom, orange peel, and sweet basil. It’s less jarring but still effective.
After breakfast I hopped in a black cab to go see Transformer: Birth of Wonder, but the traffic was at a standstill, the driver explained, because of a protest blocking the roads. So I followed his advice and hopped out. As I weaved through the streets I found myself in the heart of the protest in Trafalgar Square. The protesters had just arrived two days before and were planning on camping out for two weeks. Their demands were clear, and I support all of them, with the complete awareness that I had just flown here from NYC burning fossil fuels. Better, not perfect? Again, I digress.
After the show, I made my way back to Mayfair to pick up some gifts. One of my favorite things about London is that they really know how to do packaged food: biscuits, jams, spices, and so on. Especially Fortnum & Mason. With little time to spare, I went straight to the hamper department — that’s their way of saying fancy picnic basket. In it went: smoked cheese straws, walnut-and-seed cracker, charcoal-and-cumin crackers, fig mustard, hot carrot pickle, Piccadilly Piccalilli, dark-chocolate butter biscuits, pistachio-and-clotted-cream biscuits, and chocolate-macadamia-nut biscuits. I wasn’t buying anything for myself.
Next stop was Charbonnel et Walker for my favorite chocolates. Picked up some dark-chocolate sea-salt truffles and peppermint for my mother and a special lady friend. Rushed back to the hotel where my friend Jefferson was picking me up for dinner. We went over to Kentish Town for the launch of Claudia Donaldson’s beautiful new magazine, Cloakroom. To my delight, I learned that the dinner was catered by the River Cafe. Primo: Risotto all’ Amarone. Secondo: artichokes alla Romana, Italian spinach, baked fresh cannellini, roasted red peppers and Datterini tomatoes, zucchini trifolati. Dolce: chocolate nemesis with crème fraîche. Of course I ate every last bite.
Friday, October 11
Friday morning was not my friend. With very little sleep, I made my way over to the Conduit, a members-only club (those are quite popular in London) with a twist. It’s for people passionate about social change. I met my dear friend and often partner in conservation adventures, Ruth Ganesh. Ruth runs an organization that I’ve been involved with for over a decade, Elephant Family.
She was running late, so I ordered her a skinny latte. She asked for yogurt as well, but the closest thing on the menu was an item called golden milk custard. It had poached apricots, pistachios, and coconut bits. A little too sweet for my morning palate but still good. I had the kimchee eggs — it’s hard for me to pass up something spicy. We were talking about our work with one of the biggest tea producers in India, towards turning one of their estates elephant friendly. It’s a long process, but we’re excited to be working towards it, even if it’s one estate at a time.
My intention after breakfast was to go to the gym before my flight. This was ambitious, as I could barely put two words together to form a sentence. So instead I took a nap. Same same. After, with no time for lunch, I ate a coconut-chocolate RxBar on my way to the airport.
Once at the airport, I headed straight to the lounge where my feeding began. In normal, everyday life, I’m not much of a snacker. Yet when I’m flying, I can’t stop eating. Usually I bring my own food to make sure I won’t go hungry. I don’t like to be forced to eat things out of hunger. I know they say you’re better off not eating on a plane, but I have two modes on a flight — asleep or eating.
First I went to the deli counter for some slightly braised carrots, cabbage salad with golden raisins (needed some salt), and a little farro. Upon sitting, I ordered a cauliflower soup; a laksa with bean shoots, chile, lime, and coconut milk; and a ginger-lemon tea. Whenever I ask for a hot sauce, the first answer is usually tabasco. But if you’re patient and you push a little further, you may find what you’re looking for. In this case it was a chile-ginger sauce that was a perfect addition to the soup.
On the plane, I started with popcorn flavored with sea salt, black pepper, and olive oil. The flight attendant noticed I liked it, so she brought me three bowls. This was followed by tomato soup and a vegetable tagine. I skipped the dessert and instead asked if they had any dark chocolate. Thank goodness I slept the rest of the way.
The plan was to go out to eat, but I was a mess. Physically and emotionally. Trying to launch this company on a very tight budget is no small task, to put it lightly. I was a shell of a man wondering if there was an easier way to go through life than this multi-hyphenate existence. The answer this time was comfort food, and mine happens to be either Mexican or Chinese. So I ordered steamed veggie dumplings, spicy broccoli, and shredded chicken with peppers from Famous Sichuan. The food arrived just as my lovely lady did. Small victories.
Saturday, October 12
Saturday morning I woke up to a text from my friend Philip Huang about a going-away brunch for his sister Mimi at abcV. Philip designs beautiful indigo clothing — and wears all indigo all the time. Philip mostly lives in Bangkok, but whenever he and his wife, Chom, are in town they come over to make the best Thai food. Mimi will also make a dish or two, so I was sad to see her leave for a new post with the U.N. Food Programme in Rome.
I started with the saffron golden milk with oat, Afghan saffron, honey, turmeric, cardamom, and vanilla. Then I couldn’t help but be Indian and order the dosa and kicheri. My mother would laugh at me (not with me) if she saw me paying $ 16 for a dish I never liked eating at home growing up. Kicheri is that comfort food you eat when you’re feeling sick. She’ll read this and she’ll know.
We ended up sharing everything. Beluga lentils with chile oil, black-vinegar yam, broccoli stems. Pandan infused coconut sticky rice, market-vegetable slaw, peanut, spicy lime. Vegan einkorn pancake, banana, ripe figs, coconut butter, maple syrup. Sunny-side-up eggs, herbal labneh, string-bean cherry tomato, za’atar, pita. My favorite by far was the sungold tomato fried rice, shiso, and Sichuan aromatics.
After lunch we walked through the farmers’ market, a treat for me as I live in the Lower East Side. We walked to the end before we realized we actually needed to buy food for brunch on Sunday. My friends Pablo G and Ju were coming over for our occasional brunch feast. It’s what I need as a human being living in NYC. I need a chance to sit down with people, eat with people, provide for people.
Pablo, an artist, makes world-famous pancakes. I suppose the artistry also helps with the pancakes. So we picked up some tomatoes, eggs, fennel, kale, radishes, apples from Norwich Farms, and jalapeño cheddar sourdough from Our Daily Bread and made our way back downtown. The rest of the day was spent at the office writing copy for the newsletters and working on the redesign with my friends from 74Studio in Istanbul.
There was so much to do that I could have worked through the night, but it was already 10:30 p.m. and there was a hungry lady. We meandered home with our produce and then walked over to Cervo’s for a late-night dinner. We ordered the salad with bottarga. It’s a beautiful plate of greens that are hard to eat with a fork, so we resorted to eat it by hand, which is my preferred way anyway. Salad feels like a finger food to me. We split the whole red snapper and lamb burger. We asked for it with no anchovies but it still came with anchovies and we were thankful they did that. They know what they’re doing; we’re just there to eat.
Sunday, October 13
Sunday was a big, beautiful bright day. Guests were arriving in less than an hour and I still had a little cleaning up to do.
Pablo G and Ju were the first to show up and immediately got to work on the batter. In went flour, buttermilk, coconut oil, coconut flakes, walnuts, eggs, and the ricotta, which makes it heavenly. Maddie diligently shaved the fennel for what seemed like hours, dressed it with sea salt and lemon. Ashley arrived with some kombucha and started massaging the kale and slicing the radishes. The cucumbers were sliced and seasoned with Tajin seasoning that I got from Mexico on my last trip there. We got just enough kale for it to be a garnish — going back to the way things were.
Bananas were sliced for the pancakes, and I sliced the apples really thin for an additional topping option. Mangosteens were peeled and plated. Bread was sliced; jalapeño cheddar was a big hit. Pancakes started going on the iron skillet, and everyone got excited. I had brewed some Earl Grey for anyone that needed caffeine and one of my favorite herbal blends Love Potion #1, hibiscus, eucalyptus, tulsi, and peppermint.
As the first round of pancakes went out, I started my not-so-famous super-thin crêpe-style omelets. For seasoning I pulled out the spice tray my mother had given me for a little of this and a little of that. The brunch lasted about five hours with friends coming and going. The pancakes had run out, but I kept the eggs going for late arrivals.
After everyone left, I organized a bit. I’m quite fond of days where one meal leads right into the next, and soon enough it was time to head over to Mom’s for dinner. I got my love of food from my mother; I grew up eating at home everyday, at the table. I watched her cook every day with ease and simplicity. Not like, “Oh, we’re making a big meal.” Just 30 minutes, and this whole thing was done. The yogurt was being prepared for the next day and day after. The dough was being prepared for the roti. It was done with such ease.
We try to see each other at least once a week. When I got to her house in Brooklyn, we sat in the living room and caught up a bit. We speak every day so we’re quite up to speed on most things — we (mostly me) ate some pistachios as we waited for my mother’s friend and former colleague Dorothy to join us for dinner. They taught together at a school in Park Slope for 25 years. Once Dorothy arrived, we got straight to business. The dining table was set, and out came the food: a perfectly spiced moong sabat daal, paneer with green and red bell peppers, the last of the green beans, eggplant and little red tomatoes from the garden, homemade yogurt, basmati rice, and roti. Mic drop.
Monday, October 14
Monday came too soon. What’s the rush? The day started at 7:30 a.m. with a bike ride over to the West Village to work out. The current madness at work has put a bit of a pause to my regular exercise routine.
I walked my way through Soho to the office but first made a stop at my smoothie place, Madhufalla, for an Omega: almond milk, almond butter, and vegan protein.
I won’t lie: It’s been quite stressful to start a company that is trying to address stress in our daily lives. Before I knew it, it was 4 p.m. and I still hadn’t eaten lunch. So I walked over to Chop’t and picked up a Mexican Caesar with spinach, kale, cabbage, peppers, spicy chickpeas, avocado, shredded cotijo, and the Mexican goddess dressing. From the very beginning, I’ve made it a rule to never eat while working on a computer. No matter what. So I sat on the dining table and ate my lunch and went back into the insanity. The best way to describe how I felt: like a tea cup under a waterfall.
This tea cup worked till about 8:45 p.m. and then walked over to meet my friend Walton Ford at Café Altro Paradiso. It’s becoming a little bit of tradition with us, meeting every few weeks over the fennel salad and whole red snapper. We added the plums and dates with marcona almonds and cacio etrusco to our order this time instead of a pasta. It was Monday, we wanted to start off light. Over dinner we caught up about love, conservation as colonialism, mycelium networks — only the light stuff. Walton has long been one of my favorite artists, the subject matter and the poetic context he places them in speaks to my heart.
To cap the night off, we walked over to his studio to see an absolutely breathtaking painting he had created for a private collection. What a way to start the week: decompressing and catching up with a friend and seeing art I love. I hopped into a cab with a smile on my face, ready to take on the world.