For those who missed it, “Brooklyn Eats,” Brooklyn’s first food and beverage trade show, just held in South Williamsburg pretty much had it all: fame (rock-star chocolatier and Brooklyn patriot Jacques Torres pumping the BK economy), history (Edible Brooklyn editor Stephen Munshin reminding everyone that the BK food scene barely existed in 2006, the year his magazine launched), beauty (glorious displays of products), and most of all, food—excellent, innovative, delicious, locally produced BK food.
Did It All Begin in Dumbo?
Some aficionados date the birth of the new BK manufacturing food scene to the year 2000, when Chef Jacques Torres opened his first chocolate factory at 66 Water Street in Dumbo. He and his business partner, Chef Ken Goto (together below at Brooklyn Eats), built the factory by hand, installing the drywall, restoring the tin-plated ceiling, handling the mechanicals, etc. Their streetscape ideas (pedestrians can see directly into the appealing retail store as well as the chocolate workshop) fit brilliantly into developer David Walentas‘s concept for Dumbo–lively, fun, glamorous mixed-use activity, compatible with a formerly industrial neighborhood (which the New York Times once called “gritty”). Soon Jacques Torres will be transferring his manufacturing operation to Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal, which will host chocolate tours in what the Daily News described as a football-field-sized space. Post-move, the Dumbo site will be expanded and remodeled.
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Carlo Scissura was sanguine in his remarks on the move to the assembled food vendors, “All we ask is that if you grow, grow in Brooklyn, which is just what Jacques Torres is doing.”
Growing in Brooklyn
And indeed, Brooklyn has plenty of space for growth–much of it built and marketed for an earlier industrial time of big government orders, big machinery, and big work forces. Brooklyn Eats itself was sponsored by Scissura’s Chamber of Commerce in an old-time manufacturing plant, the Acumen Building, at 630 Flushing Avenue (below). The site had been owned by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals for 160 years.
Acumen bought the eight-story plant from Pfizer in early 2011, planning to reinvent it for mixed-use as it has done with its other industrial buildings. The roof may well eventually hold a farm, as does the Brooklyn Grange, and the ground floor, a farmers’ market. In the meantime, Acumen leases space (mainly at $15 per square foot) to many food manufacturers and producers, including exhibitors at the trade show.
Famed chef pâtissier, Olivier Dessin of Mille-feuille Bakery Cafe, for example, who sells his renowned croissants and macarons (top photo) at 552 LaGuardia Place in the Village, makes many of his products at 630 Flushing. He offered me a French Donut, his take on Dominique Ansel’s Cronut (sold at 189 Spring Street in Soho), with instructions to eat it immediately. It was so warm it must have just arrived from upstairs, and it was extraordinary–crispy layers of pastry with a luscious chocolate mousse inside. In the “guerre du French Donut” which was recently “déclarée à New York,” I would pronounce Olivier le gagnant (though the Cronut is indeed sublime).
Sweet pastry chef Jana Keith-Jennings (below) and partner Preston Bailey make their astonishingly delicious, nutritious, gluten-free, healthy cookies and ice cream sandwiches at 630 Flushing. Building their business on raw-cooking methods and ideas, they aim to strike “the perfect balance between nutrition and flavor.”
There’s so much more, of course, all over Brooklyn–Bruce Cost Ginger Ale, Kombrewcha, Pie Corps, Brooklyn Winery, Raaka Chocolate, Soul Snacks, Villabate, Eli & Ali’s, Fatty Sundays & Co., Brooklyn Bangers, Grubstake, etc.
Brooklyn is the scene. Or, as Stephen Munshin said in his keynote talk, “Brooklyn tastes great, and will be even more delicious in the future.”
Julia Vitullo-Martin is a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association and director of its Center for Urban Innovation. Get in touch with the author @JuliaManhattan.