October 20, 2021

Norm Lewis’s Grub Street Diet

Illustration: Lyne Lucien The actor Norm Lewis is thrilled to be back on Broadway. “Broadway…

Illustration: Lyne Lucien

The actor Norm Lewis is thrilled to be back on Broadway. “Broadway is our church as performers,” he enthuses. “This is our religion.” After a long career starring in musicals — you’ve also seen him in Da 5 Bloods and Pose — the Tony Award–winning actor will next appear in Chicken and Biscuits, one of the most anticipated shows of Broadway’s return. Lewis is mostly just excited that the play, which first premiered last February and was derailed by COVID-19, is finally opening on October 10. “We’ve been segregated for so long thinking that a Black show has to be a certain way, or Asian show has to be a certain way, but it’s so relatable,” Lewis says. “Everybody has these people in their family.” 

Monday, September 27
It is such a blessing to not only be back on Broadway, but to return to the communal experience of live theater, which many of us have craved for so long. I’ve been lucky enough to get back onstage. Back, I think it was in May, I opened up the Lincoln Center Restart Stages — we were outside and blah, blah, blah, and people were willing to weather the storm and be out there and listen to me sing a couple of little ditties. I’ve been able to do outside events since then, like Wolf Trap, and I went to San Diego and opened up their outdoor venue. But it just feels so good to be on a stage, to have that visceral, immediate reaction. To do that in a theater on Broadway just makes it that much more exciting.

Now that I’m back into a more regimented schedule, I’ve had to adjust the fuel for my body. And as much as I love chicken and biscuits, I’ve gotta be a bit better to get through performance weeks.

Each day, my go-to morning beverage is a mix of Super Amazing Coffee and MUDWTR. MUDWTR is a blend of masala chai, cacao, and adaptogenic mushrooms. Don’t knock it until you try it! Additionally, I’ll have a fruit and veggie smoothie as a snack to get through the day and ultimately have one “full” meal.

I was craving eggs, so for the full meal of the day I decided to order a spinach and mushroom omelette from my neighborhood diner. They always make it just right for me, and better than I would for myself!

They do all kinds of stuff for me at the diner. They know me now by name. So I walk in, it’s like walking into Cheers, or if I call up they know my address immediately.

It’s a nice little something when you don’t feel like cooking. You can always rely on a diner, and this one also serves pizza. I get salads a lot of times. They also have a really good chicken salad that they mix up that doesn’t have too much mayonnaise. You know what I mean? I don’t like a lot of mayonnaise in my chicken salad. They cook up a great burger. But mainly what I get from them is breakfast stuff.

Tuesday, September 28
When I’m not in a show, I’m still pretty good about what I eat and how I go about my day. I’m not as disciplined or I’m not as regimented because I don’t have a set schedule. With this pandemic, it’s been really interesting. I cooked a lot more, which made me eat healthier. Every once in a while I will splurge, like the other day I said, “Screw it. I’m going to eat a Popeye’s chicken sandwich.” I was in the mood, so I went for it. But for the most part, I try to eat as many vegetables and fruits and all that kind of stuff, and I’m actually semi-vegetarian. I would say 80 percent. I don’t always eat meat, but every once in a while we’ll have a chicken or a fish or even a steak.

I picked up lunch during a rehearsal break from P.S. Kitchen, which is a great vegan place in midtown. I had their buffalo maitake sandwich, this amazing fake chicken (sort of) sandwich, and the truffle artichoke soup. The texture of the mushroom was just like chicken, and it was on a pretzel bun. It’s really, really good, and I will be going back there.

I love mushrooms. I love, love, love mushrooms, whether they’re in raw form, cooked form, or as a meat substitute. There’s this one recipe I’ve found that has you mix up walnuts and mushrooms, it becomes like this texture of ground meat, and then you add certain flavors to it. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m so sure I’m going to love it because I love both of these ingredients.

I need to explore more of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants because, like I said, me leaning vegetarian is a new thing. Especially since during the pandemic, I decided to eat a lot more vegetables and not grub into the meat situation as much. I know this sounds weird, but I saw a lot of videos of animals, calves being born and cows that were acting like dogs and it was so cute. Then seeing pigs acting like a pet, which I know a lot of people do have pigs as pets, it kind of made me go, “Oh man, do I really want to do this to this animal?” I mean, I still like my bacon.That sounds so horrible. I sound like a terrible person, but I still like my bacon, and every once in a while I want a nice steak with red wine. But I’m rethinking a lot of my food intake just because I’m getting up in age and I want to stay as healthy as I can and try to live as long as I can.

Wednesday, September 29 
I ordered a chicken salad from Luigi’s on Eighth Avenue.

I wouldn’t say I went there regularly, but I would frequent Luigi’s back in the ’90s when I was in Miss Saigon up on 53rd Street at the Broadway Theater. It was a place to order from, or I would go there. And they have the greatest pizza. They have the greatest garlic knots. They have an amazing chicken salad. And the calamari with penne, which is fantastic. I love that so much.

There are different kinds of chicken salads. The one that is from Luigi’s is more of a fried chicken, like a fried chicken breast on top of a salad. And then they have this amazing vinaigrette dressing that goes on it. That salad was just so good, and I was in the mood for it. I hadn’t had one in so long and it happens to be down the street from the theater.

It was a place that I used to frequent years and years ago. Because I don’t live in that area anymore and because I was not necessarily at a theater near there, I haven’t been there in a long, long time. Every once in a while I would go, “Oh, there’s Luigi’s. Let me go and get something.” Right now it’s just because I keep seeing it as I’m walking to the theater, so the past week or so I’m like, “Oh, you know what? I kind of want to revisit it again.” That’s what happened this past week.

Thursday, September 30
I had the same chicken salad. The portion is so large so I ate half on Wednesday and the remaining half on Thursday.

During COVID, there were certain days I didn’t even know what day it was. I had to ask someone, what day is it? I thought a Thursday was a Sunday because I didn’t have any obligations per se. Granted, I’ve been lucky enough to work. And I’ve been lucky enough to do certain things. I did a lot of stuff on Zoom in the beginning, and then later on was able to get out and shoot a couple of things.

I did cook more over the last year and a half. I ordered Daily Harvest, which delivers just vegetables and fruit. Most of the time it is in a cup and you make them into a smoothie. They also have these bowls where you could either make them into stir fry or you could make them into soup.

I would cook a lot of the Beyond Meat and have that as my protein, quote unquote. But then I would also have some chicken breasts in the freezer that I would defrost and cook up as well. I try to do a lot more stir-fry stuff, nothing fancy. I didn’t become like a major chef ready to open a restaurant.

Friday, October 1
I picked up a poke bowl from Poke Bowl on Eighth Avenue around the corner from the theater. I like mine with some heat, so I had spicy salmon, spicy tuna, and spicy shrimp, with white rice and seaweed.

I love sushi. I love poke bowls. I definitely love cooked fish as well. I love my salmon medium. I haven’t had a grouper in a long time, but growing up it was one of my favorite, favorite things to eat. And also to cook, especially for a romantic dinner.

My ex-fiancée’s mom used to cook that a lot. I just remember watching her do that and she would cook butter and herbs and throw it in the oven. It was an easy meal, but it looked like an expensive meal. You throw some vegetables on the side and maybe some bread or maybe some potatoes or something, and you’ve got this amazing meal to eat.

Saturday, October 2
It was a two-show day, so I grabbed Dig Inn on my dinner break. I had their spicy lime-leaf salmon with farro, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and avocado.

It is more intense to do two shows in one day, but you sign up for that. I’ve been doing it now for 30 years. You just expect that when you’re on the schedule. What’s been interesting about this, because it is a play, is that I don’t have to be as precious about my voice as I usually am.

Even though I have some vocalese in this show, it is not as taxing as if it were a musical. I don’t have to be as precious. I can go and drink a glass of wine or have a glass of beer and not worry about it the next day. Whereas when I was in the musical, I would be a little bit more like, You know what? I’m not going to drink. For instance, with Phantom, I did not drink, literally did not drink any alcohol for nine months. I wouldn’t talk. I would only do what I needed to do, vocally, for the stage. When I was doing Phantom or Porgy and Bess, I was living like a monk.

See All

https://www.grubstreet.com/2021/10/norm-lewis-grub-street-diet.html