How Leslie Antonoff Went From Aspiring Attorney to Inspiring Culinary TV Host
Photos: Courtesy of Leslie Antonoff
Leslie Antonoff may be the comical co-host of ASPiRE's cooking show Butter + BROWN, but she almost didn't realize her TV potential. The Fashion Mamas LA member reveals that it was her friend and Insecure star Issa Rae who convinced her to give the entertainment world a shot. "It may not have been what I thought I wanted, but it turns out it's exactly where I need to be," Antonoff says.
Now a mama of three (she recently gave birth to her third child!), Antonoff tells us that although she was on a path to becoming a lawyer, she "ended up" in the world of PR instead. Driven by her desire to break out of the 9-to-5 world and pushed by Rae to seriously consider a career on the small screen, Antonoff wrote and starred in her own cultural commentary web series, Let Leslie Tell It. Fast forward to today: Now, Antonoff's show Butter + BROWN is in its second season and has welcomed guests like the legendary rapper Rick Ross, wine makers the McBride Sisters, actor Lorenz Tate, and others.
That's not all: The stylish entrepreneur is also the creator of Sweet Knowledge Clothing, a collegiate apparel brand for graduates of historically black colleges and universities to show their HBCU pride. In 2016, Antonoff founded her blog The Haute Mommie, where she shares everything from style and beauty tips to candid (translation: REAL) insights on parenting and life.
Here, we asked the LA-based mama to share her unexpected career journey, why it's okay to trust others' faith in you, the secret to crafting the perfect show pitch, her favorite LA spots, and much more — read on below.
What are the names and ages of your kids?
Dreux, 10; Clarke, 2; and Emerie, 1 month.
Tell us more about your career path: How'd you get to where you are today?
First, I guess I have to accept that I have indeed created this career but also I'm still on the bus trying to get to the path, at least in my head. However, to answer the question, a series of perfectly imperfect moments is what'd I say. I attended college at Howard University in D.C., and had every intention of becoming an attorney but ended up in public relations. That trajectory took me from studying for the LSAT to working in multiple boutique publicity firms and realizing I had no desire to work for someone else. That had never been my desire but it took me a while to realize it.
I was working at a firm when my friend Issa Rae asked me if I would do a show on her YouTube channel. I promptly declined, haha! I had done a couple cameos on her hit series, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which is what prompted the request. But I am of the belief that others will and can see the gifts we possess even if we do not. She asked again and this time I said if you get me a camera man I'll do it. She got me one and the rest is history.
That show, Let Leslie Tell It, a cultural social commentary web series, was my initial foray into entertainment and proved that I could draw an audience, write comedy, and be on the pulse. I filmed 50 episodes of that show which each amassed between 10,000 to 30,000 views. It was great; I loved every week creating that content and having a space to give my point of view on what was happening in the world. From there I knew she was focused on building the channel even more so I approached another friend of ours, [Seth Brundle], to see if he'd be interested in creating a culinary series. He, myself, and our great camera guy Theo Macabao went on to develop Butter + BROWN. After only six episodes online we were approached by ASPiRE to bring the show to series on television.
In all of this I realize that if not for Issa pushing me, [former Essence magazine editor in chief] Angela Burt Murray for sharing Let Leslie Tell It on CocoaFAB and ultimately pitching Butter + BROWN to ASPiRE, or Chef G Garvin taking an interest in developing our show, I wouldn't be where I am. I never had the goal of being on television but clearly the plans we make for ourselves are not always what The Creator has in mind.
We're so curious — How'd you meet Issa Rae, and what was the pitch process like for Butter + BROWN?
Issa is a friend of mine, she went to Stanford with my best friend so we've known one another for years. Haha, pitching the show was great actually because the team (my co-host and camera man/producer) and I decided early on to develop an entire episode rather than just pitch the idea. We wanted her to SEE what we had in mind. Thankfully she saw our vision and that meeting went from a pitch session to production meeting in ten minutes. We left that day with plans for an entire season.
What are your top tips for crafting a successful show pitch?
SELL IT! Obviously, right? But by "sell it" I mean make the network, production team, whomever feel like if this show isn't made it will be a detriment to society. Know your stuff! [For example] there is a litany of culinary shows, but Butter + BROWN is wholly different. It's not about recreating the entire wheel, but changing the wheel to fit the car. Even if there are ten shows already like yours, it's YOUR involvement, YOUR twist, YOUR voice that makes it new.
We've been compared to [Food Network show Down Home with The Neelys] simply because we're a black duo in cooking. But Seth and I aren't a couple, we're not classically trained, and we incorporate sketch comedy into a cooking show. Those elements make our show something new. What is your something new? That's the key. Sell your something new.
Speaking of cooking, what's your go-to dish to whip up for a last-minute dinner party?
Roasted chicken thighs or a grilled salmon. Both of those proteins can handle any seasoning you may have on hand, cook fairly quickly (chicken will take a tad longer obvi), and can be served in a way to look pretty. Those are the two things I always have in my freezer.
You're a mama of three now, congrats! How do you carve out self-care time, and what are your favorite ways to treat yourself?
WHEW! Hahaha, thank you. I wish I could say that I do. This definitely is something I needed to work on even when I was a mother of one. I don't relax well, when I have idle time I get anxious or feel like I should be using my time more wisely. It's not the best habit and I am working to change my mindset. Lately I've been working on my yard and tending to the plants, it's been surprisingly calming. But I'm still goal-oriented overall, so certainly not a treat.
I used to enjoy seeing a movie by myself on Friday mornings. It's the best: No one is there, but all the new movies are out and you can catch them before the crowds. I may bring that back. I also love dining out, it's glorious. My husband and I enjoy trying to places and the experience of it all. I'm looking forward to getting back to it.
You're tasked with giving first-time LA visitors a kid-friendly tour in a day: What's on the schedule?
As an LA native, and someone who was raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, my first suggestion would be to explore beyond LA proper. Long Beach is such a great area for dining, it has the Aquarium, the beaches (Rosie's Dog Beach is our go-to), and some awesome parks to hang out in. Some of my favs places to eat are Simmzy's and Nick's on 2nd. Both have delicious food and I'm a believer in teaching children early how to love mealtime so I don't hesitate taking my girls to restaurants.
If staying in LA is more your speed, head to LACMA. There's always something happening that the entire family can enjoy, the La Brea Tar Pits are there and you can walk to The Grove too. If your kids are like mine, they're always inquiring about plans for the day but then only want to spend a few hours out before they're asking when we're going home. So keep the running around to a minimum, stick to one activity, get some grub, and let it be.
As parents, it can feel like we're experiencing information overload in this social media age, and you often get *real* about this topic. What advice do you have for others who are overwhelmed with it all?
TAKE A STEP BACK. I'm a firm believer in just hitting pause: Meaning I'll skip looking at Twitter for a week, or I won't post on Insta, or I turn the TV off. I think we've reached a moment when there are so many ways to consume information that we've become gluttons for it. We're almost lost if we don't have something siphoning updates into our brains. I am so grateful that my mother was big on learning to be quiet; because of that I can disconnect and not feel like I'm missing out on something.
As a parent you have enough to worry about with simply keeping your kids fed, housed, and clothed; you don't have to be informed about every school tragedy or the latest political faux pas. For me peace is my priority, if anything is interfering with that then it has to go. That goes for people, places, or things. Keep that top of mind and you'll have a better grasp on what needs to be removed from your situation.