When you think “communal table”, you might imagine family, friends and neighbors sharing food and happy times together. Or if you agree with the Zagat team, you might think it’s the most annoying recent trend in restaurants. No matter what your opinion is about sharing table space, Brooklyn Commune Executive Chef Chris Scott is here to make your experience in communal dining the best ever.
Chef Scott appeared on The Food Network’s Chopped in June 2011, and has seen his business grow leaps and bounds in the past year with more family-friendly events added to Brooklyn Commune’s already diverse repertoire. If the kudos from Yelp.com are any indication – with a cumulative 4 out of 5 stars – Scott’s movement toward neighborhood unity isn’t slowing down any time soon.
As it turns out, Scott is a romantic kind of guy underneath that business mind, so we tapped him for some perfect Valentine’s dinner tips. But can you make it healthy? And what exactly is healthy on a day of love and indulgence? That is the question!
In this exclusive interview, UrbLife.com also learns more about the communal table philosophy, what Chef Scott is doing to heat up business, and how to prepare the perfect oyster!
Tell us a little about the philosophy behind the community tables and what that means to you.
Chris Scott: Well me and my girlfriend Eugenie run Brooklyn Commune together. It’s a community based restaurant focusing on organic foods, locally grown products, a lot of things that are manufactured, grown, and created in Brooklyn such as syrups for sodas, coffee, juice, salsa, on and on and on. We carry about 10-12 products that are made right here in Brooklyn that we sell at the store, as well as the ingredients we get from farms in Long Island and upstate New York that goes all over the place on our menu.
We’re very focused on the community, we hold cooking classes for the kids, soon we’re going to be doing Pilates classes here in the store as well. There are a lot of the new moms in the area who can now come in on the day that we’re closed, on Mondays, and do some Pilates.
How do you feel about community tables becoming a trendy situation? Do you feel that people have been inspired by what you’ve done?
CS: I think it all depends on who you talk to. Even though we’re in Brooklyn, even if we go to Manhattan, there are probably so many places that do the communal table. Where we are on our block, we’re one of three, and one of them is about to close, so in order to get anything good you have to jump on the train and go about four or five stops out of your way, or pick it up as you’re going home. Plus, the people in our neighborhood don’t necessarily have a place where they can come together.
There have been people that have come in and said to each other that, “I didn’t even know that you lived next door to me” or “I didn’t know that you only lived down the street, I only saw you on the train or bus.” This is kind of like a meeting place for everyone, and, at least for our clientele, they really dig it. Not only do they come together and sit there and eat and read and communicate with each other in the area, but our place now has become the meeting center for different events in the neighborhood.
There were some guys in the area that were messing with women in evening, groping and raping and all of that. The people in the neighborhood came here to get together a group of people that would meet women and walk them home from the subway, because we’re right next to the subway (F and G). We hold different meetings and events based on that. Just yesterday we had some 5th grade kids from PS10 come through, and they made scarves.
I think that the whole table thing is a small part of the community thing that we’re trying to put together. It’s truly what we’re all about, so if it’s a trend to some, it’s more of a lifestyle to us and the people that live in this area.
Given the rate of obesity of kids, what are you teaching people about how to eat right through your menu and events?
CS: A lot of the things that we teach them is about growing things that are sustainable and things that you can grow right in your backyard, you don’t have to go down the street to [fast food], or even go to the bodega and get tasty cakes or what have you. You can create a diet and a lifestyle based on good food that you create.
Now I know that everyone can’t put a seed in the ground and grow it – they just don’t have the time – but you can begin to eat well. A lot of things that we have here, just coming to our place looking on the menu selections as far as whole grains and organic vegetables, even if they aren’t organic, they are local and healthy. Down the way you can’t even buy a good head of romaine lettuce, let alone iceberg or apple.
I try to instill mainly to eat right, and then show them how to eat right, and then cook with them directly and take it even further in the summertime with the community gardens and the farm that we have across the street to grow your stuff and eat well. Eating well is important.
What type of classes do you offer people?
CS: During the holidays we had an entire class based on spice; spices that you can make on your own, spice rubs, the origin of various spices, how to make curry. We had one recently on knife skills and then we had one on gifts that you can make in your kitchen. We had one where we would make a hot chocolate mix, and then we had one where we made various spice rubs and marinades. We had one where we made preserves, jams and jellies.
They’re all over the place, but what I’m going to move into for 2012 is keep this as a primary class, we’re going to have others, but this I want once a month, I’m going to call it “Kids Feeding Kids” and what that’s basically going to be is introduction to food for young kids and teenagers showing them the nutritional values of various ingredients and how to prepare them. With the finished product, we’re going to give that to homeless shelters for women and children.
The more that we do that, then we’ll invite those women and children shelters to come by and they can be involved in it, as well as summer programs with the farms across the street, just getting everybody deeply rooted into it. It’s in the making right now, I’m going to try to have it complete by March or April.
Can people sign up for your classes online?
CS: They can. With the Kids Feeding Kids, that’s going to be a free class. We’re trying to get as many kids in here as possible. With the knife skills and jams and jellies, and different things we might have moving forward, they can go onto the website and check us out and see what’s up and coming. Our place isn’t so large, the maximum space is up to 8 students, but with the kids thing I’m going to try to make it from 12-15.
With Valentines Day coming up, are there any suggestions you have for preparing a cool, healthy romantic dinner?
CS: What’s really good about Valentine’s Day is that it’s also my girlfriend’s birthday, so I really have to be extra special. Usually around here it’ll be very cold but we just bundle up and we’ll take a walk around the park, she likes that. I’ll have different [gifts]in my pocket that I’ll pull out in various parts of the park.
But healthy? Wow. When I think about it, I kind of indulge; indulge with the food, indulge with the love, indulge with the words. Valentine’s Day is definitely a day to indulge. I guess if I had to indulge with the healthy aspect, I guess healthy being healthy words of the mind, healthy food for the body, healthy vibe for the spirit.
Of course I would hit all of the traditional things, the oysters and the champagne. My girl actually enjoys carrot cake, so every year I make her a carrot cake with honey rather than sugar. She likes that with the normal cream cheese frosting. It’s not as deeply rooted in sugar like most, it does have a little bit of a healthier aspect to it. We do the oysters and tons of flowers all of the time.
How can I tell a good oyster from a bad one? What is an easy way to prepare them?
CS: There are different types. There is the Kumamoto, there are Malpeque oysters, there is this whole thing going on with east coast versus west coast, but the colder the water the better tasting and sweeter the oyster is, at least that’s been my experience with it. When choosing them I’ll speak to my [supplier]about it and he’ll tell me what he has available, and usually I’ll know the region where they’re from and that’s how I’ll select them with that.
Then I usually go with the basic tobassco, lemon, and horseradish, but a lot of people, like my girl for example, she likes various vinaigrettes, and that’s made from Champagne vinegar. When I make them for my clients, I usually make various gelées, almost like a little jello square on top of the oyster, but when you shoot it that jello melts in your mouth. [You can use] jasmine tea, rose water, champagne vinegar, or a balsamic. When you shoot it, that little cube no bigger than your pinky nail will dissolve into your mouth and kind of has the gooiness and freshness from the oyster, but at the same time this burst of flavor.
If it feels good in the mouth, then it’s perfect for Valentine’s Day. When you run out of love, you gotta stop and make some!