T A K I N G T H E P L U N G E I N T O 2 0 1 8 . . .
2017 has been a doozy. A tumultuous twelve months, rife with chasms, both political and personal, and bearing an excess of individual loss and grand disaster. Yet, in spite of the division and disquiet across the globe, this too, has been a year of opportunity, of breaking broken standards and calls to action, of rebuilding and of new beginnings.
On a personal level, our inaugural season has brought with it an avalanche of exciting possibilities. As the word on our little Prospect Heights studio spreads, thanks to features in the New York Times, Medium and (one of our absolute faves) Goop, among others, our already burgeoning Cook Space community is expanding at an astonishing rate which, blissfully, shows no sign of slowing in 2018.
At the close of our first season, Cook Space founder, Michelle Mannix and Culinary Director, Nini Nguyen take a moment to reflect on the year past and to look forward at what's next.
M I C H E L L E M A N N I X
C o o k S p a c e F o u n d e r
"In the food industry I’m extremely inspired by all the great chefs out there feeding people in crisis and in celebration and using food as a platform for social justice and change.
How Massimo Bottura took the waste from the ’16 Rio Olympic Village and saw it as an opportunity to feed people, and then quickly did it, I think really propelled our food culture - and its stars - to a new place and gave the spotlight to a different aspect that was sorely needed. The example shows us firsthand how we can tackle hunger, think about food waste, and the nourishing of human dignity.
For Massimo Bottura its not just a pop up opportunity either. He’s been doing refetterio’s since before the Olympics and continues to develop them, and other culinary philanthropy’s - all while his restaurant continues to top the charts.
Alice Waters also comes to mind for a variety of reasons beyond just the obvious as a pioneer in our industry. I love the way she talks and teaches people about food. Her soft languid speaking voice spills onto the pages of her books and recipes and makes you want to listen and learn from her. You feel like you are being spoken to and taught by someone who cares about you, food, the importance of cooking for ourselves, and how that all supports not only ourselves, but sustainable food systems.
She’s passionate and she not only walks the talk - she puts her money and energy where her mouth is.
I love the simplicity of her food, style, and approach to life. I also love that she seems to value and cultivate a beautiful personal life.
She’s also a do’er ( I love do’er’s!). Chez Panisse has been opened for 46 years and she’s still there daily when she’s in town. Not just idly tidying flowers either but involved, speaking with purveyors, staff, tasting the food, speaking to guests, and I don’t doubt running food or doing whatever task is always needed at a restaurant.
Out of the food world Im super inspired by music (anyone that knows me knows I have it playing anywhere I am - all the time) and by the pursuit of an evolved spiritual life. I’m a sucker for self-help!"
On what's next for Cook Space
"The beautiful thing about Cook Space is that it is so much more than a cooking school or an event space. Cook Space was planned and built with the idea and intention of bringing people together around the celebration of food, cooking, and cooking from a different place, in addition to using it as a platform for connection, action, engagement and leading a new conversation. We’re on a mission!
We also want to take a lot out of the the conversations around cooking and food that can sometimes involve fear, pretension, and a distance and feeling of “other.” That said, casting a wider net on what we talk about, what we’re inspired and driven by - and of course food, cooking and the magic it - helps us to build a community beyond the walls of our studio for those who may not be able to join us.
The beauty of having an actual space is the ability to connect in real life through our classes and If our ‘students’ walk away with even the slightest ‘aha’ moment related to cooking or food - that to me is a victory in so many ways and in building community. When you gain skills, comfort and enjoyment out of something you naturally share and encourage others to join you. Our relationship with food and cooking is so personal and is an on-going development over your lifetime - hopefully. We hope to be the beginning of people feeling confident in developing their own relationship to food and cooking for themselves from a different place.
That being said! We are super excited to produce 4 of our own events this coming year that raise awareness on issues we care about where food plays a greater role in both engaged conversation and in breaking down either barriers or thoughts we may hold. These events will also raise funds to put the money where our mouths will be.
We also look forward to using Cook Space as a platform for Chefs and Culinary Entrepreneurs that come in to guest host classes, launch their products to the press or engage with influencers
If people see Cook Space as a place to learn, be creative with food, celebrate or engage in important issues than we’re on the right path."
Her Tunes of the Year
"A Seat at the Table by Solange Knowles was on repeat for me for months. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper, and the latest National album got a lot of play from me as well"
N I N I N G U Y E N
C o o k S p a c e C u l i n a r y D i r e c t o r
On "Authenicity" in food
"Chef friends always ask me about my opinion on Caucasian chefs cooking Southeast Asian cuisine. My opinion is that if it tastes good, I’ll eat it. Food doesn’t have to be “authentic” to be delicious. It is nice that so many chefs want to cook with the ingredients that I grew up eating. It is exciting to see chefs use these ingredients in different ways.
The big problem is when chefs don’t understand the food they are mimicking. If anyone is adapting a certain type of cuisine into their cooking, they should understand the history of that cuisine. Not only the ingredients but the balancing of flavors and the techniques that makes it tastes good. I once saw a noodle soup dish that looked like a rich bowl of Japanese style ramen and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when the chef called it PHO. It didn’t look anything like pho and it upset me because I am Vietnamese and it felt like the chef was careless and disrespectful to the cuisine he was appropriating.
The most successful inauthentic restaurant in my opinion is Little Serow in D.C. It is still my absolute favorite Thai inspired restaurant. The chef, Johnny Monis, comes from a Greek background but applies the Thai flavors and techniques to American ingredients. I had a corn salad there that tasted like if a papaya salad and tom yum soup had a baby. They also serve the complete meal with a basket of vegetables like you would find at any Thai dinner table. I think that Little Serow excels in the balance of honoring and respecting the flavors of a cuisine but adapting it to local ingredients in season. It takes real talent and dedication to truly learn and understand a type of cuisine and apply that mentality to new ingredients. I strongly urge anyone to go to Little Serow, it is so traditional and not at the same time."
On Holidays at Home
"The holidays at my mom’s house can be very different. For our Thanksgiving meal, we usually keep it traditional. Being from New Orleans, we have a few regional dishes like shrimp and mirliton dressing or crawfish pies. Our Christmas table is my favorite because we get really Asian. Depending on how many people ends up coming over, she normally gets a roasted pig (a section or a whole), peking duck, bbq quail and all kinds of Asian salads and rice dishes. I love seeing everyone’s dinner table during the holidays because it says something about your family. No two tables are quite the same. "
On Kitchen Conundrums
"Recently, I made a steamed chicken with a ginger and scallion rub. I steamed the chicken in a bamboo steamer and didn’t realize that the water that steamed the chicken would turn into the most delicious broth ever. I thought that I would have to boil chicken on the side to obtain that style of broth. This wasn’t really a mistake but more of a discovery instead"
Come discover with us! Wishing all of you a happy, healthy (and hopefully hilarious) New Year's Eve. May it be the start of a year filled with passion, collaboration, change and, of course, bursting at the seams with deliciousness.
W E C A N ' T W A I T T O S E E Y O U I N T H E N E W Y E A R !
U P C O M I N G A T C O O K S P A C E