For Zachary Noah Piser—or Boq as you may know him from Wicked—Astoria could not have been a better place to land and call home. Astoria is a food lover’s paradise; what started as a strictly Greek food mecca has evolved into a neighborhood bursting with international flavors. And, what could be more perfect for someone whose mother is Jewish and Asian (self-proclaimed “Jasian”) and father is a “farm boy” from Indiana with Lithuanian roots? Total match made in food heaven, right?
“I love everything about Astoria,” he says. “It is the absolute perfect neighborhood for me. Growing up, food was and is so important to my family. It represented so much more: It was comfort, and community, and love. My fondest memories include us standing in the kitchen and smelling my mother’s cooking and my grandma’s cooking. My mom is a physician but also a self-taught chef. I would come home and eat my face off. I was definitely a chubby kid. I was the chubbiest child ever. Pretty much all through my teenage years. I was carrying the extra pounds.”
Piser’s mother cooked for his temple growing up. His mom wasn’t born Jewish, but converted before Piser was born. He says his father used to keep kosher, but when his parents moved into San Francisco from Piedmont in Oakland, his mom declared they were going to start eating crab cakes and bacon, and his dad happily obliged.
“You can imagine meeting an Asian woman who grew up eating pork belly for breakfast, [so] that didn’t last long,” he laughs.
She was officially ordained to cook all the bar mitzvah meals at his synagogue. At a whopping 4’10”, he remembers her racing around the kitchen, cooking meals for 200 people at the bar mitzvahs. He inherited that love as well and cooks often in his apartment in Astoria.
Growing up with parents who appreciated food and flavors set the stage for Piser’s own personal love. His mother encouraged him to expand his palette. Now, seeking out tasty and interesting meals is the highlight of his day off stage.
“Food creates so many memories, we connect so much psychologically with food,” he says. “When I smell anything fish-related, like seared fish or crab, shellfish, I get a flashback to my Chinese grandmother’s house,” says Piser. “We would all get together—her brother and my family and my grandparents. I have memories still of seeing all my Asian family members fight over the last fish head. It was a little traumatic to see my mom attack her brother with chopsticks.”
His mother gave him a slow cooker for Christmas, and he says it’s been the tool that keeps him fed. On his off day he cooks up a pork loin or a big protein to last him multiple meals during the week. Rotating that in with salads and sandwiches keeps him energized for the stage eight times a week.
“It’s so cathartic for me,” he says. “When I get home from these shows, I’m making a full meal; it allows me to reach a place where I can actually fall asleep. I’m listening to some calming music and making myself a meal, and it makes me wind down. I love to cook whenever I can. And on the show schedule it’s difficult to cook. It is easy to do delivery, but I derive joy cooking for myself.”
On those nights when he takes a break from stage and stove, it’s an all-out culinary adventure and Astoria takes the spotlight. From the hole-in-the-wall Greek spots to the super fresh seafood he’s tried it all. Astoria even got him into brunch.
“I was never really into brunch until I heard of this spot, Samford’s. They have a stuffed duck burger. Nutella pecan waffles. I have tried pretty much everything on the menu—it’s kind of embarrassing that they recognize me.”
Despite his adventurous spirit, his guilty pleasure is a simple burger and fries. “The craving you have for a burger and fries is one of the most pure cravings you can have, he says. “I grew up in Cali, so I had In-n-Out and True Burger. But Shake Shack here does the trick for sure. Those crinkle fries are so darn good!”
Food for Piser will always play more than one role. It’s not just a meal; it’s a new opportunity to create a memory.
Kori Frederick is a television producer in NYC who loves food and theatre. She's currently working on The Chew on ABC.