When in space, dip the Tatranky in the Nutella
Jaroslav Kalfař has spent a lot of time thinking about Nutella in space. That may seem pretty strange, but these things happen when you've spent the last few years writing and editing a novel set mostly on a spaceship bound for Venus, with late nights occasionally fueled by jumbo-sized jars of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Maybe like Jakub, the contemplative astronaut at the center of author Kalfař's debut, Spaceman of Bohemia, you, too, would want to make sure that whoever stocked the cabinets for your solo mission to Deep Space didn't skimp on the Nutella.
If this all sounds delightfully strange, then good. You'll like Spaceman. The novel is a supercharged, voice-driven romp that brings readers to the outer reaches of the galaxy as well as into the Czech countryside for love, fame, and freshly slaughtered bacon. Twenty-eight-year-old Kalfař joined Extra Crispy on the morning of his book release at Industry City's Extraction Lab, not far from his Brooklyn home, to talk breakfast and unexpectedly defend his preference for Canadian bacon. ("Fuck the haters," he says, with the utmost respect.)
Extra Crispy: I want to start with Nutella.
Jaroslav Kalfař: As a child growing up in the Czech Republic, my family would have these buffet-style breakfasts with salamis, cheeses, rolls, butter, tea, coffee, and the staple was Nutella. One of my favorite breakfasts when I was a kid was to take a roll and just slather it with Nutella and then put a bunch of Swiss cheese on it. It sounds weird, but I recommend trying it. It's that's sweet-savory kind of thing.
Do you do that here?
I don't do it in public.
I read in an interview with Flavorwire that you write late into the night. When do you end up eating breakfast as a result?
Usually between 11 a.m. and noon. That's my first hour of the day. I don't look at my phone yet. I get up, I make black tea—Earl Grey, English Breakfast with honey—and it really depends what day it is. On workout days, I make four-egg omelets and eat them with bacon or Canadian bacon usually to get the protein going. On non-workout days, I can be a little more flexible. I can splurge on a bagel. Not very often because my youthful metabolism has gone. I just had that transition in the past year where carbs are suddenly an issue. Or I like soups for breakfast once it a while—French onion, which is kind of odd, I guess.
Heidi Julavits did a piece about soup for breakfast for us for our launch. Is this a writer thing?
Maybe! It's delicious and it's comforting in the morning when you have to get out of bed and get out into the world and do whatever it is you do.
Wait, though. I want to go back to Canadian bacon. Why Canadian bacon?
Because it's leaner. It's got a little less fat and a little more protein. And it's still delicious.
Can you explain it? We asked a bunch of Canadians, and it didn't go perfectly well.
It comes a different part of the pig... and that's all I know. I should know, because my grandfather used to slaughter pigs, and I used to help him carve them up. He would be ashamed of me. I think it's from the butt somewhere?
If your grandfather used to carve up pigs, much like the scenes with Louda in Spaceman of Bohema, do you have an iffy relationship with eating bacon?
I have a great relationship with eating bacon. During the pig killings, we would cook it all as it was happening—the pig would be sniffing around at you, and then two hours later you would be eating parts of it. So I'm very comfortable with it.
You were in your teens when you came here. How is American breakfast different than Czech breakfast?
It's more gluttonous. It's big. Going to Denny's or those classic American breakfast places and eating mounds of pancakes. I never had a pancake before coming to America! I never had waffles. I call it heart-attack breakfast.
Did you keep Czech habits for fall into Americanized ones?
I landed somewhere in between. I definitely eat a bigger breakfast, and I eat the American staples of bacon and eggs, but I've had to take it easy on the waffles. But cereal—that's the strangest thing to me. There's a whole aisle of cereal, and a culture built around it, and that parents give it to their kids thinking that it's something healthy. But then again, my parents gave me Nutella thinking it was healthy because the commercials said that it has the calcium your kids need.
Do you always have Nutella around?
These days, not as much. It's a splurge as well. I definitely have it now—I bought it last week, one of those jumbo jars because I'm letting myself go a little bit.
And tell me about the idea of taking Nutella into space.
Well, I just thought about if I were shot into space all by my lonesome, what would I be wanting to eat? What would be my comforts? I came up with Nutella and whiskey, and at the beginning Jakub also mentions that candy, Tatranky—those are pretty much my three favorite things in the world. I regret that at no point I have him dip the Tatranky in the Nutella. That's a missed opportunity.
Is that something you do?
As of last week, yes. Stress eating.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.