Have you considered growing a vegetable garden in your windowsill, keeping a beehive on your roof or brewing fermented tea in your kitchen? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there’s a good chance you live in Brooklyn!
It’s no surprise that Brooklyn is home to Chautauqua, a new event series that aims to create community through food. Presented by Farm City, an educational organization that supports sustainable food practices, Chautauqua features art exhibits, history lectures, cooking classes and a book club. The series runs from February through mid-summer.
I attended the launch of Chautauqua on Friday at 61 Local, a new pub on Bergen Street. After a brief subway ride from downtown Manhattan, I sampled an array of craft beers and spoke with a passionate group of local foodies. Read on for an inside peek at the event series.
I was struck by the layout of 61 Local, which has only been open for two weeks. The space is huge by Manhattan standards, but the long wooden tables, warm lighting and brick walls give it a cozy feel. An unusually long bar makes it easy to strike up a conversation with other patrons. “Our intention is to allow people to feel comfortable wandering around the space” and meeting people, explained owner Dave Liatti.
The 61 Local staff is small– just 2 to 4 employees per shift– and does not include a chef or traditional waiters. Customers are encouraged to pick up their food and drinks from the bar; Dave, the owner, takes drink orders and provides detailed explanations of the local brews.
61 Local does not cook any of its menu items but offers small plates: cured meats, fruit and cheeses from regional farms. Dave reveals without hesitation the names and neighborhoods of his food sources.
One of Chautauqua’s most exciting offerings is the Community Cooking Club. Unlike a traditional cooking class, the club has no expert instructor. Participants work in groups of 2-4 to figure out the recipes for themselves. There are 8 recipes per class, so you will end up making– and eating– a full meal. Picture a potluck dinner, except you make the dishes at the event instead of bringing them from home.
Artist Tracy Candido founded and runs the Community Cooking Club. She noted that these experimental classes are less wasteful than traditional classes, where every student makes the same meal and more food is produced than can be eaten. All ingredients are purchased at the local greenmarket and most recipes are vegetarian.
The act of cooking with other community members is also important. “I’m interested in the way food can bring people together and act as a social lubricant,” Candido said at the event.
The Chautauqua launch attracted bloggers, artists and members of the community who are passionate about the local food movement.
“I grow as much [food] as I can. In 2009 we grew enough onions to last us the whole year,” said Cathy Hadley-Samia, a registered nurse who lives in Ohio. A former Brooklyn resident, Cathy prefers local and home-grown produce since “you know where it comes from and you know it doesn’t have all kinds of junk in it.”
While standing at the bar, I met a group of New Yorkers with solid foodie credentials: Nichelle Stephens, blogger at Cupcakes Take the Cake, and Nicole Taylor, a community outreach organizer at Brooklyn Food Coalition and the host of Hot Grease on Heritage Radio Network.
“I don’t drink beer, just cider, so having kombucha is a good thing,” Nicole noted as she sipped the hand brewed KBBK tea. While not a huge kombucha fan, I have to admit the tea’s ginger taste was refreshing.
Nicole liked the space and was curious to see the rest of the venue. (Apparently there is a loft upstairs, out of view). “It’s the Jimmy 43 of Brooklyn. I love the crostinis and make the same ones at home.”
What: Chautauqua food-themed event series
Where: 61 Local Public House, 61 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY
Getting there: F and G subway to Bergen Street
When: February 22-July 20, 2011
Cost: Varies by event
For additional photos of the launch party, visit the Downtown Traveler flickr page.
For information on locavore dining in other cities, check out this post from Santa Fe Travelers: “Eat like the locals in Santa Fe“