Tea and A Chat With: Michael Zee, Symmetry Breakfast

This piece originally appeared on The Holborn.

Like many of the best ideas, Symmetry Breakfast is beautifully simple: every morning, Michael Zee prepares a delicious (and photogenically matching) meal for two, which he shares with his boyfriend after taking a snap to upload to their increasingly popular social media pages. For many people, checking the latest Symmetry Breakfast Instagram and Twitter is as much of a daily ritual as the first meal of the day.

We couldn’t wait to find out more about the story behind Symmetry Breakfast…

1

Thank you for joining us in the Pantry at The Holborn for Tea & a Chat, Michael. How do you take your tea?

Milk, no sugar

What would we find if we poked around in your pantry?

It’s absolutely rammed right to the ceiling, you’d actually find about 20 types of tea, countless packets of foods from China (my grandfather was from Shanghai) so probably some bone soup sachets. Lots of baking powder and dried yeast.

What’s your earliest food memory?

Round milk bread and chicken roll sandwiches. Hovis crackers also feature quite prominently

2

Where did your love of breakfast begin?

I always ate breakfast as a child, Weetabix or toast that was so lightly toasted it was like hot bread. I remember being about 13 when I first saw a Full English in a tin and I was sold. (Not the best of beginnings!)

Have you noticed any trends with your posts; do some types of breakfasts or specific ingredients get more of a reaction from your followers than others?

Absolutely loads, an egg yolk is visually more striking that scrambled or poached. Red fruit is always popular as is a ‘classic’ Western breakfast like pancakes or a fry up. People do like things from further afield but they are more likely to be intrigued than ‘like’ it which I think is a shame. Coffee always gets more of a reaction than tea.

3

What inspires you to cook and create new ideas for breakfast dishes?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Holidays to new countries, or revisiting ones we’ve been to many times before and stopping to think, actually this dish could be better if we changed something (which infuriates the Italians)

Sometimes it’s the dish or plate itself that inspires a style of eating, a thali or bento plate almost encourages you to ‘deconstruct’ a dish in a way you might never do with a bowl.

What flavours do you not enjoy or find challenging?

I’ll eat anything. Mark doesn’t like things too spicy but that’s not so much of a problem first thing in the morning. We both hate Marmite because it’s the devil’s spawn.

4

What is your favourite bit of kitchen kit?

Sage Barista Express, absolutely changed my life.

Where do you like to shop most for the best ingredients, cutlery and crockery?

I never include cutlery in my photos. Don’t ask me why because I don’t really know, it does make the aesthetic too cluttered though. Borough Kitchen have a beautiful range of tableware and the guys there have great taste. I love Triangle on Chatsworth Road too.

Foodwise I go absolutely everywhere, big and small supermarkets, specialist Asian supermarkets, Brazilian butchers, Fortnum and Mason, Wholefoods, my local corner shop, the Farmers Market at Imperial College on a Tuesday. The list is wide and does not discriminate.

Have you had any disasters in the kitchen that left your food un-sharable?

None at the moment, once I made a dish with baked apricots and photographed it. It was pretty bad but we did try to eat it. After the second bite we settled for toast.

5

If someone wanted to make a special breakfast for a loved one, what would you advise?

Baked eggs is super easy and can be basic or luxe. It can also be prepped in advance too. I created a recipe for Borough Kitchen that can be found here.

I would be very happy with a bacon and fried egg sandwich and a cup of tea.

Tell us about how you fit in your dedication to symmetrical breakfasts around your life? What happens if you go on holiday, or eat out for breakfast one day? Or are really hungover and fancy something filthy and un-Instagrammable!?

Its actually not that difficult. I only post once a day and then go to my day job at the V&A. We do symmetrybreakfast on holiday and we eat out all the time but normally go to places that invite us because they want to get some exposure or simply love the concept. Luckily as much as I drink, I don’t get hangovers 🙂

6

Speaking of travel, what country or cuisine has your favourite breakfasts?

Japan. They have an appreciation for flavours that most countries don’t. The Japanese food in Japan is nothing like what you get in London. The delicate balance of flavours, bitter and sweet, sour and salty, they’re all part of the breakfast experience.

When was the last time you skipped breakfast?

Honestly can’t remember. I do skip dinner sometimes though

What is your food guilty pleasure – time to fess up!

I’ll honestly eat anything. Takeaway of any description. My diet can be pretty bad sometimes.

We’ve heard rumours about a range of homewares and a book – can you tell us what the future holds for Symmetry Breakfast?

Homeware is still in the planning. As for a book I’ve decided to leave it for the moment, there are so many cookbooks on the market right now and despite all the hype and endorsements none are any good. Nice photos but I find them more intimidating than empowering. I want to explore more events that help bring people together over food in exciting ways never thought possible, watch this space.

 

 

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