By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
When Owen Egerton “cooks,” it’s usually something like cheese, bread and olives retrieved from the pantry and placed within reach. Everyone in the house likes the spread, but it isn’t exactly fine dining. “I love the idea of being a careful cook,” Owen says, “but I’m not.” His wife, Jodi, agrees. “Our meals tend to be haphazard. He’s often coming and going from a show,” she says.
The Egertons and their two young children don’t always sit down at the same time, or even at the same table, but right now Owen is doing something in his kitchen that could be described as bustling about. He’s using three out of four burners. Jodi watches him with interest. “It’s so awesome that you’re making dinner,” she says.
“I’m primarily the breakfast guy,” Owen says, “but this is a traditional British fry-up, and it is not breakfast for dinner! It’s what you eat when you come home from the pub or you’re hung over. It’s perfect solo-guy food.”
If you quadruple the recipe however, it’s perfect weekday dinner food for a family like the Egertons, who’ve just come back from a long trip and haven’t quite unpacked. (Owen was relieved to find a can of baked beans, without which he can’t make this meal properly, in his luggage.) The family had moved to Los Angeles for seven months so that Owen—a screen and fiction writer, actor, monologist and high-profile improv guy—could work on scripts and promote his movie ideas in their native habitat. It went well. He took meetings, wrote a lot, garnered industry attention and came home feeling optimistic.
“We actually could have stayed longer,” he says. “We loved the beach, the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the weather.” “But,” Jodi cuts in (and this “but” is significant), “we found there was no equivalent to a breakfast taco! They have something called a ‘breakfast burrito’…I walked into this obviously hip coffee shop, looking for something delicious, and that’s what they had! Nine bucks!”
That was a bargain compared to the eatery of the moment she went to with an old friend who’d become a successful TV writer. “He took me to a foam restaurant, where all the food is foamed,” she says. “He kept saying ‘you’ve got to try the organic egg. You must have it.’ Yes. It was a foamed egg. It made me worry about moving there.”
“The food’s different,” Owen agrees. “There’s no Kerbey Lane. There’s a lack of sincerity. There’s a soul to Austin food.”
Not coincidentally, his courtship with Jodi began with food in Austin. It was 1999. He was doing improv comedy and living in a Volkswagen bus. She had just joined the same comedy troupe, and late-night platonic bonding ensued. “We were not dating at all,” he remembers. “But one night, I called her at 3 a.m. and said, ‘I’m going to Jim’s for steak and eggs. You want to go?’ And she did.”
For a man who admits to an obsession with Waffle House restaurants (“they’re sort of holy”), a woman who was not only as funny as he was, but also just as open to late-night snacking, constituted the marital jackpot. Owen felt empowered to share the foodways he’d learned from his British parents, who’d raised him in Houston. A touch of British accent emerges as Owen tells a harsh tale of childhood meals.
“My mother wasn’t keen on packing lunch for four kids,” he says. “So she’d take all the leftovers—there was always lamb—and put them in the Cuisinart and make this sort of lamb paste. She and my dad would spread it on sandwiches and throw them all in the freezer, and that’s what we packed for lunch. At school, I’d take my sandwich out and discover this semi-thawed lamb paste. Overcome with guilt, I’d take a nibble and throw the rest away. It turned out none of us could stand the icy center of a damp lamb-mush sandwich—which, at our house, we called lunch.”
But this isn’t a referendum on British food. Owen loves most of it: chips, crisps, pub meals, Guinness. Whether living in his van or in a Santa Monica sublet, he gravitates toward canned baked beans on toast, a very British snack. “Or bacon buddies, like my dad used to make,” he says. “It’s toast, buttered on both sides…and bacon. Plus extra bacon. I’m a big believer in making sure you don’t waste bacon. Or bacon grease.”
Which explains the snap, crackle, pop emanating from the stove, Owen’s near certainty that the smoke detector is about to go off and the fact that Arden (age 6) and Oscar (age 3) are moving ever closer to the kitchen. The fry-up—a hedonistic mélange of British and American late-night comfort foods and aromatic tomatoes and mushrooms—is nearing completion. All that’s lacking is one egg per person. Fried in bacon grease. Sunny side up.
OWEN EGERTON’S FAMILY-GUY FRY-UP
Throw 3 slices of bacon and 1 sausage* per person into a pan. Heat a can of baked beans (the Heinz blue can**), in its “deliciously rich tomato sauce.” Cut up a handful of mushrooms and a handful of tomatoes per person. When the bacon and sausage are about halfway cooked, add the vegetables to the grease. Crack in one egg per person and fry slowly, basting occasionally with bacon grease. Don’t crank the heat too high—this should take a while. Toast one slice of bread per person. Or, if you’re feeling sassy, push aside the bacon and fry the bread in the bacon grease. Serve all on one big plate.
* Owen likes the spiced bison sausage from Whole Foods Market, but feel free to substitute.
** Campfire-style beans, not brown sugar beans.