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The Power of Community…and Cake

Feastly was lucky to get the inside scoop from Bettina Banayan, a French Culinary Institute student, who you may have seen or heard of as the well-dressed lady who chopped onions on the New York City subway in 2012. Well she is back in her latest social/food stunt with ‘Subway Cake Performance’ which has gained almost 240,000 views in a week! More importantly perhaps, is the light she sheds on the people around her and beyond – that food indeed is a catalyst for community, a show of kindness, and a tangible element of human interaction.

Watch her video and read our interview with Bettina below.

When did you get into cooking for others?

In high school my friends and I had potluck dinners since there is nothing else to do in suburbia when you’re 16. I would make extravagant meals that I was incapable of doing like bacon wrapped deep fried Mac ‘n Cheese. When I started living in Manhattan with my friend Kathryn I realized I had to start cooking. I would make winner winner chicken dinners often and also make random midnight snacks like tzatziki dip with pita chips. Sometimes we would watch the Food Network and get inspired/crave so we would go to the nearest market and make delicious concoctions.

What inspired you to participate in the subway cake project? Was art/performance the original goal, community or other? 

It was done in the name of art but if people don’t believe that it exists in that realm, it is still okay because it did something (which is the ultimate goal of art). I grew up partially in Manhattan and then moved back here when I was 17 so I was very familiar with the stereotypical demeanor of a New Yorker (especially in transit). I was always the type of personality to cause scenes in public for fun, so performing is somewhat natural to me. I was bothered by the way people don’t acknowledge each others’ presence in public. I find it actually sad sometimes. I guess I wanted to stop that even if for only a few minutes and it worked, and people were happy.

What has surprised you most of this video and its virality? 

One of the things that has surprised me is how touched people were by watching my performance. IT was such an easy thing for me to do, I was glad that I could move people. I have received the nicest emails and Facebook messages telling me that I have inspired and motivated people to be nicer.

What do you love about the NY food scene?

How you can step out and literally be immersed in all of it. How food is accessible between the important hours of one and three am. How I couldn’t physically eat at every restaurant in NY, and ultimately, how so many people have the same (romantic) relationship with food as I do.

What would you like to see more of or what would you add?

More restaurants that take reservations! More diners with GOOD diner food. Better, more authentic Chinese food. More supper clubs and more test kitchens (that want to hire me, haha).

(Feastly’s two cents: we’re adding Bettina to our cook roster in NY, so she’ll have one less job to look for and more exciting meals for you all!)

Favorite dish to cook:

This is a hard one, but I’d say my go-to would be my ‘Lemony Snicket Chicken a L’Orange’. It’s my take on the French dish except it’s more rustic, has more love, thyme, and multiple citruses. It’s the kind of thing my friends crave and call me asking how to make it. I never tell them.

Your ultimate comfort food:

All of the classics. I love pizza, especially Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Also a good burger- but I think they are hard to find. I love small/flat burgers that I can properly eat without having to worry about all of the ingredients falling on my lap. If I find one like so (anything like In-N-Out will suffice) I will be taking about how happy I am the whole time. A few more would be Katz’s pastrami sammies, Joe’s Shanghai soup dumplings, a well balanced Tom Yum Soup, and a bowl of Chashu Ramen from Ippudo (why don’t these places deliver!?!). The list goes on and on.

Who would be at your Feastly meal? 

A few food science nerds to teach me and my other guests about the food I made….aka Alton Brown. One of the things which attracted me to cooking was knowing that I could make food better by learning the science behind ingredients. That’s why I loved watching Good Eats when it was still on TV. I’ve watched ‘Mind of a Chef’ with David Chang four times…

Also in attendance:

  • a food blogger so that I could see my review/critique and make my meal better!
  • someone who is like me and cries about how good the food is the whole time they are eating it
  • a comedian
  • a sommelier

A few people who want to be friends with me which includes: Making our apartments into test kitchens, eating at all of the 38 Essential Eater restaurants, eating with me 50 times a day, and having dance parties with me, and more!

Thanks Bettina and #FeastOn! 

Interested in attending one of Bettina’s Feastly meals? Now is the time! Check out her ‘First Feastly Feast’ March 9th in Manhattan. 

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