Daniel Breaker has always been in love with food. Growing up in a military family, the actor traveled a lot as a child, having moved to Western Germany when he was only five years old. Experimenting with flavors and local ingredients was a way to get to know the local culture, but it was also fused with a little bit of Southern style from home.
It wasn’t until Breaker graduated Juilliard and was living in New York, “deeply unemployed and making no money,” that he began to experiment with cooking, himself. “I realized that it cost the same amount of money to make fresh pasta as it does to buy a box of pasta,” he says. “I would get some flour and get some eggs, and I would watch Big Night—which is a great food movie—and I would make pasta and pretend I was eating all this food that they were whipping up in the movie.”
Over the years, New York’s culinary scene fueled the fire of his cooking passion. It might seem odd that Breaker’s zeal came alive in a city known for stuffing its ovens with sweaters instead of soufflés, but Breaker says the spatial constraints yielded his greatest creations. “That lack of space in apartment living was, honestly, a lovely challenge. It’s a lot like music,” he says. “A musician has a certain limit of notes. You have the option to play all of the notes, but when you are restricted in some type of form, great things come out of it.”
Breaker also likes to operate with restrictions when it comes to ingredients. “The idea is to use all of the elements that are in your close vicinity to create,” he says. Sounds like acting. Breaker agrees that his work in the kitchen is similar to that onstage “where you are using your past experiences and applying them to the role that you’re undertaking, and you’re also using those things that are near you … [other actors], designers, your director, to get more inspiration and create.”
It’s not just a match in terms of method, food and theatre actually mesh well with his schedule. Performing in The Book of Mormon as Mafala Hatimbi eight shows a week, filming for Amazon’s original series Mozart in the Jungle and recording the cast album for James and the Giant Peach—not to mention his role as husband to director Kate Whoriskey and dad to Rory, 7, and August, 21 months—have kept him busy.
So which craft does he love more? “I still enjoy theatre,” he says. “I still enjoy these great opportunities, and, right now, one is feeding the other.”
But when Breaker starts talking flavor profiles and the merits of brining seafood, it sounds like he should open a Daniel Breaker restaurant. “That’s definitely on the table,” he says. In his mind, there are two paths to becoming a chef: formal training and learning on the job. “I did expensive training as an actor, and there have been great advantages that I have learned from going to school for it,” says Breaker. “There is a part of me that is trying to figure out what is the best way to continue my understanding of food right now? One version where I go straight back to culinary school. There’s another version of Daniel in the food world that is more about a journey across the globe … and, to be honest, I find that much more intriguing right now.”
“I think I’m trying to find this perfect balance of these two careers,” he says. “I believe the food world will outweigh the theatre world, but right now, I want to take advantage of the wonderful elements that both careers provide me right now.”
Whether his foodie tendencies take him into a professional culinary career or not, Breaker’s cooking shows no signs of slowing. It’s his other love. “People are always surprised by a person’s desire to do something else, or that they have other skills,” says Breaker. “We should show that we have other loves and skills that should also be celebrated.”
Breaker loves to host dinner parties and spoil his friends. He even hosts wine and cheese parties—complete with homemade ricotta—in his dressing room at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. In the gallery below we get a taste of his menu from a parents of St. Ann’s get-together and a New Year’s Eve celebration. Explore Breaker’s signature dishes and the range of ingredients he finds in New York City’s famer’s markets, Asian markets, Latin markets and more to make meals we’re all jealous of.