The stranger turned out to be Claus Meyer, the chef and co-founder of Denmark’s Noma, frequently hailed as Restaurant Magazine’s “Best Restaurant in the World.” He’d recently moved to New York to open a food hall, but his heart was mostly in philanthropy. Through his non-profit, Melting Pot, Meyer elevated vulnerable and oft-ignored communities in Denmark and Bolivia via culinary initiatives. Denton, who’d been volunteering with substance-abuse programs in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, had some ideas for a New York-based initiative. Four years later, they opened Brownsville Community Culinary Center (BCCC).
Part culinary school, part cafe-restaurant, the center aims to amplify the long history of grassroots organizing that had already been taking place in Brownsville, particularly as it relates to food injustice. Four times a year, 12 Brownsville residents take BCCC’s culinary training program, a paid 40-week course teaching participants everything from knife skills to non-verbal communication in the kitchen, with the intention of landing them jobs at New York City’s top restaurants. Students apprentice at BCCC’s restaurant, cooking healthy multi-course meals that reflect Brownsville’s predominately African and Caribbean residents. Intended as a neighborhood restaurant, BCCC offers a 50 percent discount to SNAP recipients.
The nonprofit funds its program primarily through grants, catering gigs, and benefits—the next of which, titled Brownsville Now!, takes place on Tuesday March 12 at Brooklyn Bowl. Featuring performances by Talib Kweli and Brownsville-born John Forté, and food from the award-winning chef JJ Johnson, proceeds from the benefit go directly to funding BCCC’s initiatives.
The Standard spoke to Denton, BCCC’s co-founder and content director, about his mission for the program, how food injustice specifically affects Brownsville, and creating a restaurant not intended for foodies.