Astoria Characters: The Guy Who Cooks Up Clever Content

Declaring that he likes to eat more than he likes to cook, David Manrique fires up the iron skillet.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
David is from Colombia.

He drops dollops of butter into the pan and stirs in chopped onions, scallions and tomatoes.

When everything is sauteed to his satisfaction, he cracks open the eggs, scrambling them.

He’s already made the arepas – yes, you can buy them in the store, but they just aren’t as good.

Cooking this dish, arepas y huevos pericos, makes David feel closer to home, which is thousands of miles away.

David, who is 37, was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia, the city that was the home base of the notorious cocaine cartel of the same name.

He’s a big, gentle, caring guy with a soft voice and cascading curls and a burly beard the color of a Halloween cat.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
He came to New York four years ago.

The word “humble,” in lowercase letters, is tattooed along the length of the inside of his right arm.

David’s a writer, filmmaker, photographer and a digital content creator for food establishments, and he chose its font – Courier 12 – because it’s the industry standard for screenplays.

“To tell your story or stories in general, you have to be humble and serve the story, not the other way around,” he says, tracing his finger along the tattoo. “Your ego has to be down. It’s also a life lesson, to remind me that even when you’re telling your own story, the ego will come in as you reveal aspects of yourself.”

Long before David and his ego were born, his father came to New York City, leaving his wife and three sons behind.

The plan was that he would send for them when he had saved enough money.

He got a job as a cook, and a decade or so later, he made arrangements for his wife to join him.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
David cooking breakfast.

At the last minute, however, she decided that she couldn’t leave her three sons behind.

So it was he who changed locations, which was a very good thing for David because he was born after they reunited.

The marriage, however, didn’t last, and his parents separated when David was only a month old.

“My dad, though, was always part of my life, and he remained close with my mom,” David says.

Early on, David showed interest in the arts, embracing painting, ceramics, music and photography.

(The shelves of his apartment are filled with cookbooks and interior design volumes.)

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Add butter and queso fresco.

“I started taking photos when I was 10,” he says. “I used my niece as my model.”

At 19, he got a digital marketing job, and in college, he earned a degree in screenwriting and film.

Later, he studied film.

He put all his studies and skills to use as the marketing manager of a software company.

When David’s mother died in 2017, he decided he needed a change.

He thought about moving to Mexico and even spent two months there trying to figure out his future.

“I needed to build something of my own,” he says, adding that the transition to the United States was eased by the fact that he’s bilingual. “I never saw coming here as a goal, I didn’t have visions of the American dream. But I felt at home, in a strange way, as soon as I came to New York.”

This isn’t to say that everything was easy.

David held a series of what he calls random jobs.

His first was working in the kitchen of a chicken restaurant, which is where he realized he’d rather eat than cook.

“It was torture – I only stayed 10 days,” he says.

A walk along Steinway Street changed his course.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Arepas and eggs.

“I was looking for work and saw Rizzo’s pizza,” he says. “The sign said it had been in business since 1959, so I went in and told the owner about my digital marketing experience and told him I wanted to help him tell his story.”

He was hired – immediately – as a delivery person, a job he was uniquely unqualified for.

“I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle,” David says. “I had only been on one a couple of times in my life, and it was the middle of winter, and I didn’t have any warm clothes. I saw this as a challenge, and I got on the bike and survived. I lasted three weeks, but I developed a love for the bike.”

Next, he worked the counter at Rizzo’s as he transitioned the pizzeria to the digital age, posting on social media and creating marketing plans.

“I also started working for other restaurants in the area and doing photo shoots for DoorDash,” he says.

This year, David made more changes in his life.

He got married – his husband is a photographer he met on a dating app  – and he started his own business.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
David creates content for food businesses.

Food as Content, which is what he named it, works on marketing and branding strategies for food-related businesses.

“I’m working on a green production framework that’s proprietary,” he says. “I want to have business clients, but I also want to partner with community organizations that can connect me with people I can train for tech jobs.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
David’s seat at the table.

The idea, he says, is to create a hyper-local talent pool of independent contractors that Food as Content and other companies can call upon for projects.

“I see the trainings as an investment in the community,” he says. “Giving back is part of what I have to do.”

Beyond the immediate future, David hopes to create original food-themed content, including documentaries.

“I want to explore human stories,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Breakfast is served.

But first, breakfast.

The eggs are done; it’s time to dig in.

David sits down at the table.

He spreads butter on the arepa and adds a wedge of queso fresco.

He takes a bite.

Ah, it just doesn’t get better than this.

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling