By Claire Cella
Photography by Kate LeSueur
In a city that lays claim to having it all, Suzanna Choffel has discovered something it doesn’t have.
Good ones—like the ones she unknowingly took for granted in her hometown of Austin.
Although New York City—where the 33-year-old musician has lived for two years—may have unparalleled bagels and pizza, Choffel says it lacks the fresh-off-the-skillet flour tortillas and chunky homemade salsa Austin has on almost every street corner. These two ingredients are essential to a hearty and tasty breakfast taco, Choffel says. And unfortunately, they’re nearly impossible to find in the Big Apple.
That’s why when this Austin native gets homesick, she can be found in her cramped city kitchen, preparing her taco fix. Nothing elaborate, nothing gourmet, though—she’s an acclaimed musician with a full and often fluctuating schedule, after all. Choffel is also a woman who knows what she likes and isn’t afraid to admit it, even if it is just a humble combination of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, sprinkles of cheese and sliced avocado, all folded into flour tortillas and drizzled with salsa.
This consoling ritual is usually reserved for special lazy weekend afternoons twice a month, because during the week and most weekends, Choffel’s days are packed like the cars stuck in the morning commute just outside her window. She and her boyfriend, Paul Oveisi, are rarely around for dinner, she says, and that’s usually a meal that she can eat on the go. But she’s typically home for the breakfast hour, or, she says with a laugh, at least awake for the brunch hour—which makes breakfast tacos ideal. Her hectic lifestyle warrants the need for such fast and effortless meals, and she’s perfectly okay with that.
“I ate a lot of cereal this summer,” she confesses unabashedly, and says that even when she was younger, she remembers always being too busy and too energetic to cook (by the age of 14, she was already a budding local star).
“I have two sisters,” she says. “And out of the three of us, I was the one who cooked the least. I was that crazy-busy kid; I just showed up for meals and ate them. I got a little more curious about cooking in college when I lived on my own, and realized: okay, I have to cook now.”
Although cooking isn’t a task Choffel presently devotes a great deal of time to—she’s in the kitchen about three or four times a week—she admits that cooking can be a creative process, and she’s learned to approach it in the same way she intuitively approaches music: with resourcefulness and imagination.
“A little bit of a lot of things,” she says of her techniques. “My cooking style is very laid-back. I don’t follow recipes; I interpret them. I do that with my music, too. I don’t like to stick to rules or forms. I take liberty with melodies and rhythms. Up on stage, I’m very easygoing, I like to think, and I’m very similar in the kitchen: free-spirited, interpretive, laid-back.”
This energy, eccentricity and candor are absolutely evident in Choffel’s music—it’s like she’s opened a cabinet stocked with her musical talents, interests and genres and, similar to her cooking technique, picked an assortment of things she knew she liked, shook them together and created a savory, soulful sound. She’s been experimenting musically since her early years on the stages of the Saxon Pub, the Broken Spoke and the Continental Club, tapping into a range of genres from R & B and soul to folk, jazz and hip-hop. Her three records have followed her curious and creative flair, though none of them sound quite like the others. For her upcoming album, which she hopes to release within the next year, she says she wants to come back to her roots. Although perhaps not physically, quite yet.
“I’m happy where I’m at,” she says of her career and New York, but she plans to continue visiting and playing in Austin. Even if only to smuggle a bag of still-warm flour tortillas and a jar of D.L. Jardine’s Habanero Salsa into her suitcase for the flight back East. Something she’s been known to do.