Now Playing

How the BrokeAss Gourmet Faked It Till She Made It

For years, Gabi Moskowitz fibbed about her foodie-empire bona fides—until they all came true.

SLIDESHOW

(1 of 2)

Gabi Moskowitz, right, with her TV self, played by actor Emily Osment, on the set of Young & Hungry.

(2 of 2)

 

Gabi Moskowitz is fondly remembering her old kitchen, the one in the Mission district Victorian where she lived when her new life began. It was the kitchen that, in 2013, set designers for the ABC Family show Young & Hungry re-created in an L.A. studio, two years after Moskowitz optioned her blog and life rights for TV. The sitcom kitchen was a near perfect facsimile of its real-world inspiration: all the whisks, measuring spoons, and fry pans hanging just so on the wire rack; the hodgepodge of coffee mugs; that awful green cabinetry. The first time Moskowitz saw it, she says, “I felt in some ways almost like I was hovering above my body.”

It was in that kitchen—the real one—that Moskowitz transformed herself from a plucky food-blogging wannabe into a real-world lifestyle powerhouse. Today, in addition to her cooking blog BrokeAss Gourmet, she’s the author of three cookbooks, with a fourth, Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious Disastrous Life (Grand Central), cowritten with The Mindy Project writer Miranda Berman, due out this month. She’s also a regular freelancer for the Washington Post, the creator of a syndicated weekly recipe column, and a producer on Young & Hungry, the television series based on her life, now in its fifth season on the channel Freeform.

Even in San Francisco, this modern bastion of the self-made, Moskowitz is the quintessence of the go-getter. Though she’s never worked in a commercial kitchen, she’s made up for her lack of traditional culinary training with a never-ending series of side hustles, new-media experiments, and an ability to project a vision of a very particular version of Gabi. Hers is a classic fake-it-till-you-make-it American success story, updated for the Facebook age. How’d she do it? “Like, the way someone would be a compulsive liar, or fool themselves into thinking something,” she says. “I used those techniques.”

Moskowitz, affirms David Holden, the head writer for Young & Hungry, “worked for every single thing she got. She bites off more than she can chew. But she always manages to chew it all in the end.”


Growing up
in Santa Rosa, Moskowitz became interested in cooking early. While her mother was in night school, she started learning to make dinner with her dad. In the morning before school, she’d watch the Today show and pretend to host her own cooking segment. (“This is how we make a mushroom risotto,” she mimics in kid voice now.) Later, she became the self-appointed cook among her friend group.

After college back East, where she studied theater, Moskowitz moved back to the Bay Area and took a job teaching kindergarten at the San Francisco Day School. That’s where I first met her, Moskowitz a 23-year-old helping 5-year-olds (including my son) make veggie faces on their bagels. That job led her to the JCC, where she taught cooking classes and started nannying—often cooking for client families as well. Before long, she was dropping off a lasagna or a pot of soup at the homes of some of her former students. Moms looking to support her endeavor placed orders, or hired her to cook at birthday parties. The operation was hugely amateur: She’d show up with her beat-up Tupperware and mismatched serving dishes and get to work making sushi with my seven-year-old. But she was a charmer.

Moskowitz started referring to these one-off jobs as “catering gigs,” and whenever people asked what she did for a living, she’d tell them that she was a cook and food writer. Before long, the embellishments started resembling the truth. Her first big break, in 2007, came when she was hired to cook for a party of 300. To shrug off waves of self-doubt, she convinced herself that “all I have to do is organize myself so that I can get these plates out and show up on time and shop,” she says. Of course, mistakes were made: She once delivered a holiday brisket so tough a client refused to pay in full. And a pizza-cooking demonstration at the Williams-Sonoma in Union Square resulted in her fusing her whole-wheat crust to a supposedly wondrous pizza stone.

But she kept her loftier plans alive, and instituted a strict routine: By 6 a.m., she was at her kitchen table, typing away at her burgeoning food blog, Out of the Pantry. “I turned my crappy apartment kitchen into as nice a kitchen as I could afford,” she says. When she was testing recipes, she wore her apron, even if nothing was messy.

Ever scrimping to make rent on a teacher’s salary, Moskowitz became adept at “broke cooking”—meals she could make for under $20. She’d riff off the spicy noodles she tried at Burma Superstar, or Bakesale Betty’s fried chicken sandwich. She shopped in the bulk bins at food co-ops and made the most of basic ingredients. Eventually, she found her groove, learning through trial and error how to light a photo and find flattering angles from which to shoot her dishes. She paired her recipes with millennial musings on life and food. (One of my favorites: “The broiler is the g-spot of the kitchen: hard to find, but once you do, things get a whole lot more fun.”) Says Moskowitz, “I adopted an affect, kind of like this sexy, domestic but cool, edgy character. I was trying to sound like I knew what I was doing.”

Meanwhile, the economy was tanking, and many of her friends who’d been accustomed to dining out were suddenly scavenging for dinner. A friend suggested a new name: the BrokeAss Gourmet. Suddenly she had an audience. And a brand.


As web traffic
to the blog began to grow, larger outlets took notice. In 2009, MSN Money and Time.com covered it, and a publishing deal with a small press materialized, resulting in The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook. Sales were modest, but the related blog put her on the radar of Barry Kotler, an agent from the Hollywood firm CAA, who invited her to Los Angeles to pitch her story to production studios. Moskowitz showed up for producer pitches with a plate of salted-chocolate-chip cookies. “In general, in these meetings with L.A. industry types, it’s almost popular to be jaded,” Kotler says. “When somebody is unapologetically positive and optimistic, they stick out.”

The Tannenbaum Company, creators of Two and a Half Men, loved her and green-lit production, with Holden attached as lead writer, though it was decided that the main character needed to be recast as the plucky personal chef to a young CEO, whom she jumps into bed with in the first episode. Moskowitz, game as ever, agreed. Holden spent five days with Moskowitz, visiting her San Francisco haunts. They shopped at Duc Loi and Bi-Rite and ate at Craftsman and Wolves, where Moskowitz quipped about the chrome-heavy decor, “I’m not sure whether to order a scone or a pap smear.” (The line—slightly altered—appeared in the pilot.) 

Holden was taken by Moskowitz’s tenacity, which became the character’s core trait. “This is a girl who can get herself into a difficult social sphere and still handle herself well,” he says.

So just how brokeass is the BrokeAss Gourmet now? Moskowitz, usually an enthusiastic sharer, is hesitant to divulge financials. It’s not that she’s being coy, she tells me; she just doesn’t want to unwittingly influence any future negotiations. What she offers is that, if she curbed some expenses, she could live off what she makes from her blog and the show alone.

That won’t likely be the scenario anytime soon. The exposure from Young & Hungry has led to several high-profile opportunities: In 2014, she was featured on the show Raising Whitley on the Oprah Winfrey Network; in 2015, she cooked with Hunter Pence on the popular YouTube channel of his wife, Lexi. Also in the works are another cookbook and, possibly, a cooking show. Moskowitz, clearly, has bigger kitchens in her future.

In May, I was clicking around the Broke-Ass Gourmet site, now a whirlwind of exotic recipes and celebrity name drops. The top post was about cauliflower-queso-fundido-stuffed tacos. At the end of the recipe, below photos of the final product, Moskowitz added a brief postscript. It seemed to signal a new level of confidence—no need for keeping up pretenses. “This is a slab of marble, not an actual marble countertop,” she confessed. “I don’t know any bloggers who actually have fancy marble countertops. We’re literally faking every surface we purport to put food on.” 

 

Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco 

Have feedback? Email us at letterssf@sanfranmag.com
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Diana Kapp on Twitter @dianakapp