The story of how two close friends became the hosts of Aspire TV’s “Butter + Brown” culinary series begins with different recollections of how they first met. Leslie Antonoff recalls meeting Seth Brundle at El Torito, a popular restaurant in Los Angeles. He doesn’t remember that encounter, but Brundle will never forget how the two natives of California connected at a friend’s party.
“I remember having a conversation with Leslie and instantly feeling that she was going to forever be my friend. We aligned on everything, from food to fashion to our own experiences at Morehouse and Howard,” says Brundle, the co-host and co-creator of the “Butter + Brown” cooking show. Brundle and Antonoff bonded as graduates of HBCUs, Morehouse College and Howard University. The two foodies have shared their love of food, fashion and family over the past decade. “We would just cook together. I’d go to his house and visit with him and sit and talk and laugh all day,” says Antonoff.
The Bond That Binds
She and Brundle both enjoy creating in the kitchen and eating out at restaurants. They taught themselves how to cook in college by watching the Food Network, the Cooking Channel and other food television shows. What they didn’t see inspired Antonoff to suggest they do a cooking show together. “I love food TV, which is why I was so amazed and just kind of shocked that there weren’t any people that looked like me or of my generation,” says Antonoff. “I saw the void and realized that we can capitalize on that, especially with our personalities.”
Brundle immediately got on board. “I was really excited about the idea of us doing a cooking show together because we had been close friends at that point for a few years. She and I were two of the main ones in our friend group that did all the cooking,” he says thinking back.
At the time, Antonoff was doing a web series called “Let Leslie Tell It” on Issa Rae’s YouTube channel. She suggested the cooking show to Rae, who was looking for new content. “That went from a pitch meeting to a production meeting because she was on board and she was like, ‘Let’s do this. It’s amazing. I can’t wait to see what it becomes.’” It became a web series in May of 2014. Antonoff, Brundle and director Theo Macabeo produced the “Butter + Brown” web episodes as a scripted show. The two hosts prepared dishes they created by “taking ordinary ingredients and making extraordinary meals.”
Brundle went to high school with Rae, a successful actor and producer who started Issa Rae Productions. His second web series, “Fundamental,” appeared on her YouTube channel right after the cooking show’s first season. Before long, other television executives began to take notice of “Butter + Brown’s” unique approach to encouraging people to cook. “We wanted to make a cooking show for everybody. We wanted to be the homies that you kick it with on the weekend,” Brundle says.
From YouTube to Aspire TV
The two homies made their first appearance on Aspire TV five years ago during the holidays with a mini-series called “Big Screen, Small Bites.” “As they were showing classic Black films, we were making snacks and small dishes to go with the movie they were showing,” says Antonoff. “We did 12 episodes and that was when they decided they wanted to pick up ‘Butter + Brown’ full-time.”
The two co-hosts are also executive producers along with James Beard nominee G. Garvin, a celebrity TV chef and Issa Rae. Antonoff and Brundle work with Garvin and a culinary team to create the recipes prepared on the cooking show. “People are not automatically intimated by the recipes or the show because we consistently reinforce that we’re not classically trained. We’re not professional chefs. We’re not people who learned how to do what we do via a fancy cooking school,” Brundle says.
Antonoff agrees that the show is designed to appeal even to people who do not cook. “I think the one thing we want to do is to inspire people to get into the kitchen. For them not to be intimidated, not to feel like they can’t do it, and also not to be afraid to make mistakes.”
The show’s co-creators came up with a name that also reflects an easy-going attitude about cooking and entertaining. Butter represents the dishes they prepare. Brown stands for the alcohol in the cocktails the two hosts make with bourbon, whiskey, scotch and other brown liquor. “So, the idea to do a cocktail, to do the entrees and inject comedy into the show was all developed further as we partnered with each other,” says Brundle. “It’s very authentic to us, our dynamic and our sense of humor.”
Cocktails, Cooking and Comedy
All the banter between the two friends is ad-libbed. The idea of including comedy with the cooking and cocktails is inspired by “In Living Color,” and other Black TV shows Brundle and Antonoff watched growing up in the ‘90s. “We love that kind of sketch comedy we were able to bring to it. I think that is what elevated the show more and made people interested,” Antonoff says.
“Butter + Brown” completed its third season on the Aspire cable network in November. So far, the show meets Antonoff’s expectations for producing something different and fun to watch. “We spend so much of our lives in kitchens and around food and around tables. It’s where a lot of memories are made. We like to keep the laughs. We like the joy.”
Brundle is also pleased with the inspiration he and his co-host get from their own dining experiences and listening to their audience. Their plans for an episode on repurposing holiday leftovers changed after getting feedback from fans. “A lot of people were saying I want to know how to make mac and cheese. I want to know how to make collard greens, and I want to know how to make candied yams,” Brundle says.
The holiday sides episode demonstrated the techniques for making those soul food traditions. Brundle once thought it would take a great deal of fortitude, knowledge and patience to replicate the delicious dishes his mother and grandmother put on the table. “With a lot of traditionally Southern or Black dishes like macaroni and cheese or even collard greens, I thought it was really involved, really complicated,” Brundle says. “When you start to learn the techniques, it really blows the roof off your imagination and what your assumptions were about certain dishes.”
The cooking techniques Brundle and Antonoff learned by watching chefs on TV and practicing in their kitchens also gave them a better understanding of how to flavor different dishes. “Sometimes, people are focused on recipes. What you don’t understand is that if you learn how to build Thai flavors, and if you learn how to build Mexican flavors, you can apply that to anything,” Antonoff says.
Cooking and Connecting on Camera
Neither of the “Butter + Brown” hosts has taken cooking classes. Producing the web series for Issa Presents taught them they had a lot to learn about appearing on camera. Antonoff sees how much the two have grown since moving to Aspire TV. “It’s something you have or you don’t. Thankfully, we have it. But we definitely worked on that. We worked with a culinary team and with a teacher.”
Antonoff and Brundle credit their production team and chef Marsha Carter with helping them to master the on-camera work. It’s not enough to be a talented cook if you cannot connect with an audience. “When we adapted the show for television, it was a totally different landscape. We had to learn how to entertain, cook, be funny and be knowledgeable and all at the same time,” Brundle says. “It’s very, very difficult, but it’s something that I really enjoy doing.”
The production of “Butter + Brown” went from a three-person crew and one camera to a team of 25 to 30 people with three cameras. Antonoff appreciates the fact that the show was given time to develop and improve. “Aspire is a smaller network, but that’s been excellent for us because it’s allowed us to build and grow in a way that sometimes other people don’t have the opportunity to do. I think our third season was our favorite and our best overall, and it shows.”
Blessed to Work with Friends
Each season taught the co-creators something new about their show and what they want to present to their viewers. Whether Antonoff and Brundle are cooking fried chicken, filet mignon, or Korean barbecue, they strive to remain authentic and true to themselves and their friendship. As Brundle explains, “If something doesn’t feel right, if someone doesn’t feel right or if a recipe doesn’t feel authentic, I think we’ve learned to trust ourselves and our vision for the show, and that’s all-encompassing. That’s every pinch of salt, every guest we ask on the show. That’s every sketch that we write.”
Another aspect of working with friends that Brundle cherishes is having a Black male mentor in the entertainment field. “One of the best things about working with G. is I have another Black man who is not threatened by me. He doesn’t have preconceived notions about who I am. He has taken on that role of mentor to help me become a better cook, a better chef and a better executive producer.”
“Butter + Brown’s” co-hosts both know the value of learning from G. Garvin’s culinary and production expertise. The years of friendship with Issa Rae have given them the opportunity to applaud her success along the way and their own. “It’s just a blessing to be able to work with my friend that I’ve known for more than half of my life,” Brundle says. “It’s an easier process along the way when you get to develop something like this with someone you love, someone you are close to and someone who has your best interest at heart.”
There are other benefits to working on a dream job with friends. Brundle and Antonoff have loads of fun working with other intelligent, creative people while attracting more people to the Aspire network. “I think that some of my favorite episodes are the ones where it’s just Seth and me. We get into our groove. We almost forget people are there with us. It’s awesome because you get to be with your friend,” Antonoff says.
The show’s nine episodes included guest appearances by rapper and actor Ludacris, actor James Bland, social media influencer Chef Resha of CarnalDish and other celebrities. The popularity of “Butter + Brown” continues to grow with each season. “I know our GM has told us we are the number one show on the network. Our fans are consistently asking for more episodes and longer episodes,” Brundle says.
Visions for a New Season
Brundle, a former marketing and public relations professional and fashion stylist, feels he and Antonoff have created a show that resonates with a range of viewers. It appeals to everyone from foodies to home cooks to people who seldom pick up a pot or pan. He would like to see previous episodes on more streaming platforms where subscribers can watch them for free and learn about the joys of cooking. “I get to create something from raw materials, these amazing delicious dishes that invoke nostalgia and comfort my wife, my friends and my family,” Brundle says.
Antonoff shares her partner’s goal of getting more people interested in watching “Butter + Brown.” She would also like to see them introduce more international dishes if the series is picked up for a fourth season. “Los Angeles has such an astounding food scene. You can really get anything. If we can open up the door and show people other regions of food and open their palates a little more, that’s something we take a lot of pride in doing.”
The two self-taught cooks hope the more people watch the show, the more they will consider the importance of knowing what goes into their food by cooking it themselves. “It’s just super smart for people to do, and I think if we know what is going into our bodies and we’re making our own food, we’ll live longer and feel better. That’s something I really want people to take away from ‘Butter + Brown,’” Antonoff says.
Fans are requesting a cookbook that shares the dishes and cocktails prepared on the show. That further validates Brundle and Antonoff as culinary personalities people trust and enjoy watching.
Building Futures on a Lasting Bond
The bond between the two co-hosts gives some viewers the impression they are married, even though their spouses have appeared on the show. Brundle, whose given name is Chris McMullen, is married to Abenet McMullen and they have a 14-month-old son, Selassie.
Antonof is married to Jordan Antonof, and together they have three daughters, 11-year-old Dreux, 4-year-old Clarke and Emerie, who is a year and a half old. “I want people to know that you can be a successful working mother who is a wife. I think men don’t often get asked about how they do it all, but women do. We do it all because we are capable,” says Antonoff, who was attending an academic awards ceremony for Dreux right before this interview.
Antonoff, who is also the creator of Hautemommie.com and owner of Sweet Knowledge Clothing Company, an HBCU apparel firm, would like to travel the world writing about food. She wants to inspire other women not to put limits on what they can do and be. “What I want to do is be an example to my daughters. I want them to know they’ve seen mommy do these things, but also be able to do school pickups and be at award ceremonies in the morning,” says Antonoff. “I think that you can’t be the best mother you can be until you can be the best you.”
Brundle is also building his career and brands outside of the cooking show with two more TV projects in development. His ultimate goal is to become the king of daytime television of the Millennial generation. “We’re always looking to improve, not only on ‘Butter + Brown,’ but in our personal lives, on our personal brands and this thing that we created together,” Brundle says.
He envisions a new season of “Butter + Brown” with better recipes, bigger laughs and better cinematography. But no matter what comes next for the show, Antonoff believes they know what matters most. “It has been really important to Seth and me that we maintain our friendship. We always said if this show goes by the wayside, we would still like to walk out of it with a friend.”
You can follow Seth Brundle on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Keep up with Leslie Antonoff on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Watch episodes or get recipes for “Butter + Brown” on Aspire TV’s website and follow the show and hosts on Instagram.