Action Bronson is a man of culture and taste.
Born Arian Asllani, he is a critically acclaimed rapper, television host, actor, gourmand, chef, humorist, pro wrestler and man about town from Flushing, Queens. He’s become a noted purveyor of life’s choice delights.
Among the NBA references in his lyrics: Terry Porter, Tom Gugliotta, Robert Horry, Chris Childs, Derek Harper and Anthony Mason. He throws oops to his brothers like Curry and cites Arvydas Sabonis as an example of enlightenment.
He was raised on playground courts with no nets and grew up learning to cook from his grandmother — and worries that similar wisdom isn’t being handed down. Bronson spent many days considering the root of experience, the feeling of flavor and has created the #NBAXMas Grub Guide.
Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
NBA.com: Why did you want to make this Grub Guide? What were you thinking about when pairing the games with recipes?
Bronson: This is what I do with my life. I love pairing things together for big events, ceremonies, celebrations — none bigger than the NBA. So it was an honor. And I just like to bring a little sazón to life, you know?
I was (originally) trying to be too cute — I-95 Cheesesteak Eggroll. But that wasn’t the way to go. It was to go straight up and down elegance, flavor-forward, delicious, thoughtful … and I think that I nailed it, out of the box.
What do you think people should know about your taste, as a chef, as a renaissance man, as they consider whether to read the cookbook?
You should understand that there’s complexity to life, but it’s very simple. The simplicity is actually ridiculous when you break everything down.
I want to give you some things (in the Grub Guide) that are easy to do, some things that have a couple more steps, but in essence, it’s all to the root.
My palette is all over the place — but it can guarantee you one thing, that it’s going to give you flavor. It’s a feeling, you know? It’s more than a flavor, it’s an overall feeling.
When you eat something, you don’t just taste it. It brings you somewhere — it transforms you.
Did the individual players affect the recipes? Was there a flavor that came to mind when thinking of Luka, for example?
Initially it did. I was beating my brains out, trying to come up with some cute (stuff), just things that aren’t me. Then I was like: ‘it doesn’t matter what they like. I’m going to tell them what they like.’ I don’t know what LeBron likes. You’ve just got to go for it. I think there’s something for everybody on the menu.
We’re in the season of Christmas. Are there any holiday traditions that you carry from being part Albanian? Any that you keep close to you as you celebrate with your family?
I learned everything from my grandmother. I think I’m the only one, from all the grandchildren, who knows all the traditional Albanian dishes. Everything is done to spec — my nona’s spec, you know? This morning I made kunguj te mbushur, which is straight-up stuffed zucchini with a little bit of yogurt, a little bit of kos (yogurt in Albanian). Everything I try to do – I try to bring back the traditions I grew up with and bring them into the modern era, because everything’s lost.
Everyone’s mixed, everyone’s lost in the sauce, no tradition is still there. So the least that I can do is bring you the food and the emotion that I felt when I grew up, learning from my grandmother. I swear, I’m the only thing who knows these things. I stayed there and learned from her.
How do you feel about becoming a part of the NBA’s Christmas Day tradition?
I’ve been watching the NBA my entire life. I used to think I was going to be in the NBA. You’ve got to understand how big of a deal this is for me, from collecting cards to wearing the outfits — full, head-to-toe New York Knicks, authentic shorts and jersey — and the fake jerseys from the Aquaduck Flea Market.
My lifespan’s so crazy with the NBA. I grew up in the golden era, and that’ll always be with me. This is honestly an honor, and something I never thought could even be possible — but here we are. Just a kid from Flushing. NBA. Christmas Day. Knicks-Sixers. You already know — it’s a tradition at the Garden.
How were you introduced to the game of basketball?
I grew up in New York City — that’s good enough for me. My first instinct was to go outside, go to the park and shoot basketballs, you know? Do dribble moves and 360s, crazy layups. We used to play basketball every morning before elementary school. We would wait at the door when we were about to be let out for lunch to run to go play basketball. Basketball afterwards.
It was the heyday of the Knicks. I had all kinds of designs in my hair like Anthony Mason — Cutty’s on Jamaica Avenue. He used to do his thing.
This was a big influence on my life. I wore knee pads like [Patrick] Ewing. I threw elbows like [Charles] Oakley. The women loved me like [John] Starks.
What does basketball mean to New York City?
It’s everything — it’s the game of the city, that and handball. You don’t need money. You don’t need anything. You just need a ball, a couple of heads, or alone, or as you saw in “Above The Rim,” you can play ball without a ball, run drills. It’s everything!
The city is not the city without you seeing a basketball court somewhere, a row of basketball hoops, sometimes with the net, sometimes with the net half off.
I grew up with zero net in my neighborhood – only the rim. You had to go (imitates the sound of chain net) when it went in to let people know.
What are your favorite Knicks memories, from growing up to now? What about them made you love the game even more?
The representation of the team. The excitement that the city felt — all the Starter hats that I had. It was crazy at that moment.
My Knicks fandom is filled with a lot of depression. It’s not filled with a lot of great memories — the great memories are from yesteryear, and that’s a long time ago.
Every time I see Latrell [Sprewell] it’s always big love — I love Spree. We had a good team, fairly good, when Melo [Carmelo Anthony] was here.
Overall, it’s been a bunch of hectic years. I hate to talk down, but I’m just a fan, I’m just the voice of the fan. Grew up frustrated, listened to WFAN all day long, Mike and the Mad Dog. Joe Benigno, he’s my guy, because I’m a Jets guy. Shout out to Joe Benigno. Shout out to Frank Isola.
You’re more than a decade into a successful career. How do you feel about where you are on your journey, as a person, as an entertainer, as a guy from Queens?
That’s a heavy question to link up with a cookbook from the NBA. (Laughs)
From an emotional side, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m in the best headspace. I feel like I’ve grown significantly, just in my decisions, my intentions. I’ve always been a good man, but I feel like I’m more in tune with everything around me.
Enjoying myself everyday, taking things one day at a time. My mind is iron-clad.
I feel like I’ve done nothing but grow in my career. I’ve done things my way. I feel happy. I feel great. I feel fulfilled.
I like painting, I like listening to good records, I like drinking wine. I like good food, olive oil, sweating unbelievably every day, lifting very ridiculously heavy objects in unique ways. I like training all kinds of martial arts with different people.
I just like learning. At this time in my life, I’m a sponge. I want to do everything I’ve always wanted to do.
I love the ocean — bro, we could spend nonstop hours on things I love. I love the NBA.