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The Quarantine Questionnaire: Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto and Spoken English

The DC chef has been working on his restaurant-relief effort and making yakitori at home.

What’s the best thing you’ve streamed or read? The most surprising self-discovery you’ve had during this time of social distancing? In search of inspiration (and a bit of voyeurism) we’re asking Washingtonians how they’re passing the time in quarantine. Here’s Erik Bruner-Yang, the DC chef behind Maketto, ABC Pony, Toki Underground, and Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English at The Line. Soon after quarantine began, the restaurateur launched the Power of 10, a restaurant-relief effort that’s working to raise $10,000 per week to support ten full-time jobs at small, independent restaurants, which then provide 1,000 meals to hospital workers, first responders, and others in need. The organization has raised more than $750,000 to date, and is working with 38 restaurants in eight cities, including DC. Meanwhile, during the racial-justice protests that have swept the city in recent weeks, Bruner and DC designer Chris Cardi have teamed up at Maketto to provide meals and supplies to demonstrators.  

Best book I’ve read: Currently reading No-No Boy by John Okada. It is a powerful book that follows a “fictional” journey of a young Japanese Asian-American man discovering the meaning of life after being in an internment camp. There is currently a dispute over the rights of the book. Penguin printed it in 2019 without the permission or the rights from the Okada estate, saying that they had never protected the copyright [in the US]. It is a shame but also part of the journey of this book, which is interesting.

Bruner-Yang packing meals at Cane, as part of the Power of 10 restaurant-relief effort. Photograph courtesy of Bruner-Yang.

Best thing I’ve streamed: What does stream mean now? Youtube? Netflix? Spotify? I just started doing yoga during the pandemic. I follow Yoga with Kassandra on Youtube. I like her style. 

Best podcast I’ve listened to: I like Industry Night by Nycci Nellis and Add Passion and Stir by Share Our Strength.

Best virtual event I’ve attended: I attended a happy hour that The Brand Guild had put together. It was the first happy hour that I have been to probably in the last five years. I love a digital happy hour because it makes doing the Irish goodbye so much easier. 

Most useful thing in the freezer: Bagel Bites for my kids when I don’t have time to cook dinner.

Surprisingly useful household item: Swiffer Sweeper to get under all the furniture.

Most surprising self discovery: I love to mop apparently. I find it really relaxing.

Song/album on repeat: I have become mildly obsessed with Harry Styles all of sudden. Super into the song Adore You

Best purchase: I just bought a yakitori grill [here] for my backyard and then something called a CUBO that helps you make 100 skewers really easily. Those two combined have been amazing!

Quarantine goal: Do 30 straight days of yoga. I keep messing up and have to start all over.

Favorite takeout: So far our best take out from quarantine has been Caribbean food from Cane. The fried whole fish was amazing. 

Favorite comfort food to make at home: I love making scrambled eggs and breakfast burritos.

Go-to at-home cocktail: I am not a big drinker, but I recently learned how to make Turkish tea. I got the double pot, the rose water, the tulip shaped glasses and everything. That has become our evening ritual between me and my wife. 

Weight gain or loss: I just want to net zero at the end of this. 

Worst part of the day: Going to work and leaving the kids behind 

Best part of the day: Story time at night with the kids. Except my son has been having me read the same book (we are on Day 37 of the same Paw Patrol adventure). 

Zoom, Google hangout, or FaceTime—and why: I am indifferent as long as someone sends me a calendar invite. I hate when the invite is embedded in a crazy long email chain, which a lot of people have been doing with Zoom recently. 

Favorite quarantine activity: We started playing Monopoly with our kids (Sonic the Hedgehog Edition), and it has been a great way to have family time and have a lot of fun. 

Person I’d most like to spend a day quarantined with: I wish I could have more alone time with my wife. We have three kids under the age of five, so having some time to just the two of us can be hard sometimes. 

Person I’d least like to spend a day quarantined with: #PresidentPlumb

Favorite place at home to quarantine: When I want some privacy, I just start vacuuming. Everyone in the house hates it when I vacuum, so they just go to their spaces and leave me alone to clean. 

Most memorable quarantine fail: I wanted to make the IDEAS IN FOOD sourdough doughnuts. I started the recipe but made the mistake of not reading all the way through. Their doughnut making process takes 3 DAYS!!!!! Who has time for that!?

What’s changed for me since demonstrations and protests for racial justice began on May 29: I’ve been taking this time to reflect on how my businesses and the way we operate need to evolve. I took the widespread diversity of our company for granted and assumed that we didn’t need to have any critical thinking or special practices in place, since we were a diverse group of individuals. We’ve learned that there are ways to improve. I’ve had a lot of conversations with staff members who are working with us and who are waiting to return to work to figure out a new path moving forward.

Dream day once life returns to normal: I love to travel, and I love discovering new and cool hotels. One of my biggest passions is shopping online for great travel deals. I am an expert Expedia navigator.  I can’t wait to plan a trip again soon. 

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.