By Sarah Zorn
While the formative establishment he co-founded requires little introduction (that would be Noma , a two Michelin star-holder and regular “Best Restaurant in the World” designee), and the guiding tenets behind a cuisine he popularized are treated like the gospels in NYC (embraced at “New Nordic” restaurants like Agern , Atera , Acme and Aska , and leading to the widespread proliferation of juniper, sea buckthorn and skyr), Claus Meyer has only recently become an internationally recognized name.
Sure, the sous chef he plucked from obscurity (René Redzepi) went on to achieve Ferran Adrià-level infamy, and he himself is a certified celebrity in his Copenhagen hometown, but awards and accolades are largely besides the point to the impassioned entrepreneur. Instead, Meyer’s governing focus has been using food as a medium for enacting change — so while Noma may have mutated into a bucket list venture for well-heeled, culinarily obsessed jet setters, his original mission was to reintroduce local, traditional and artisanal ingredients to the everyday Danish diner.
“I actually began a career in this industry because I wanted to transform food culture in Denmark. That goal was a guiding light for me since I was 20 years old,” Meyer said. “But it was only in 2010, when Noma was first voted Best Restaurant in the World, that I began thinking about what could come next. And I got the idea that maybe deliciousness could be an instrument to combat poverty.”
That initial brainwave led to the eventual creation of the Melting Pot Foundation ; an organization that teaches inmates and other marginalized youth how to cook. Amongst its greatest successes is a culinary school and high-end tasting restaurant in La Paz (utilizing exclusively Bolivian products, and counted amongst the best eateries in Latin America), which ended up serving as blueprint of sorts for another upcoming venture, in the similarly disenfranchised Brooklyn community of Brownsville.
“My partner, Lucas Denton, and I thoroughly researched which neighborhoods were struggling with public health crises, and assessed which were most in need of resources,” explained Meyer. “We were lucky to hone in on Brownsville, whose residents have already embraced the program and guided us so skillfully.”
Tentatively slated to debut this fall, the ambitious complex includes a full service restaurant, a café and bakery, a basement-level coffee roastery, both a production kitchen and a teaching kitchen, and a flexible space to be alternately used as a classroom, demonstration staging area, and community gathering place. Because while Meyer certainly isn’t opposed to the prospect of attracting Noma-sized attention to the project, his overarching intention remains abundantly clear; to serve, engage, and empower the local populace. “I believe that every individual deserves a fair chance to succeed in life, and Brownsville seems to have been totally let down by society,” said Meyer. “It felt meaningful to me to try to do something about that.”
So in anticipation of the game-changing (not to mention potentially life-changing) opening, Taste Talks is thrilled to host both Meyers and Denton in conversation with Eater Editor-in-Chief, Amanda Kludt, for an illuminating discussion concerning gentrification and entrepreneurship, as well as their efforts to effect economic, political and social change through food.
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