20 Questions With Baba Cool’s Gabriella Mann
In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you time-travel for?
In this edition, we talk to Gabriella Mann, the founder of baba cool, with two locations in Brooklyn: one in Fort Greene and another in Williamsburg, which just opened last year.
The Resy Questionnaire
1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?
I did a winter Ayurvedic dinner party at baba cool in Fort Greene pre-COVID with one of my close friends/yoga teachers. It was really fun to incorporate new ingredients and be creative, yet approachable, with this style of cooking.
The menu included mulled wine and a trio of dips: mung bean (with saffron, hing, and parsley), roasted carrot (with sesame, jaggery, and lime), and roasted beet (with ginger, chili, and yogurt). For the main course, I made a root vegetable daal, lemon rice (with grated coconut, curry, and peanuts), and mustard greens with ginger and garlic. The digestif was a shot of takra (yogurt, filtered water, and digestive spices), and for dessert, a chai-spiced pudding with vanilla bean, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.
2. Kitchen tool you couldn’t live without?
A microplane. Lemon zest is the best ingredient out there.
3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?
Apple cider vinegar. It has so many food, cleaning, and medicinal purposes.
4. Favorite place to get a slice in New York?
Joe’s on Carmine. I spent every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there when I lived across the street.
5. Favorite cookbook?
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, by Julie Sahni. Also really enjoyed SPQR; it’s so beautiful.
6. Your drink of choice?
Mezcal on ice with an orange slice.
7. Favorite food movie?
8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?
Janis Joplin (dead) and Pete Davidson (alive).
9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?
Ina Garten. As much as I have become decently well-versed in the kitchen, I would describe myself as a creative entrepreneur. She left her regular day job to take a chance at opening up a labor of love, a small food business, when that wasn’t the norm for women at the time.
10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?
It’s hard to get away from the restaurants, but but when I do grab a bite, it’s somewhere really low-key where I can just kick back. To me, that’s a great restaurant experience, where I feel at home. Outside of New York, I thought the food experience and vibe of BasBas in Helsinki was great. I think Hartwood in Tulum also lends itself to really awesome food and a cool vibe. I need to get out more, though!
11. Your greatest professional achievement?
Opening up baba cool with zero experience, keeping it alive for seven years, and building enough street cred that I could raise capital for a second location. Fundraising was something I was really scared to do for a long time.
12. What single dish best describes your personality?
Bone broth with extra fresh ginger. New-school on the surface, but traditional at the roots, simple, earthy, with a little unexpected sweet but spicy kick.
13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?
Gino’s. It’s a place I used to go as a child. It’s an old-school Italian institution that always felt really warm. Back in the day, it was frequented by Frank Sinatra and everyday people would come together over a bowl of spaghetti. I like the idea of old-school New York.
14. Your favorite meal from childhood?
My mom’s scrambled eggs. They were always soft scrambled and made with half and half, butter, and mozzarella (insane!), and if I was lucky, I’d get a pain au chocolat on the side.
15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?
Creating a system that allows for equitable pay for the kitchen crew.
16. What do you wish you did better?
I am not always the most organized — something I work on all of the time. That being said, I have my systems. They just, maybe, aren’t recognizable as systems to others, haha. I’m learning how to delegate better while still keeping true to my vision.
17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?
I’d like to travel through the cities of Sicily, eating all the carbs and red wine, while balancing it out with fresh fish and Middle Eastern-inspired dried fruits and spices.
18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?
Getting a manicure. I work with my hands, it’s so necessary.
19. What do you value most in restaurants?
20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?
Rigatoni with eggplant and fresh mozzarella, followed by dark chocolate chocolate chip ice cream.