Eat is an intimate, artisanal, and forward-thinking restaurant in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Its enlightened managing chef and curator, Nicholas Nauman, is one of its driving forces.
He recently stopped by Travel Gluttons for a two-part interview. First we meet Nicholas, find out how philosophy led him to food, and learn more about the painstaking care that Eat puts into sourcing local ingredients.
Let’s see. I’m 28 years old. I was born in a clay hovel to extremely loving parents. I wound up at Eat in 2010. At the time, my primary ambition was to be a professional musician. I did pretty decently with that, playing blog-friendly electrical pop music around the world with my band.
Eat offered a wonderful job. They were flexible enough to let me leave to tour and record, and the uniquely intelligent approach to food that founder/owner Jordan Colon established was right up my alley. I had long been interested in food as a locus for creative and philosophical concerns, and here were others with compatible ideas and a space to let them grow.
Why is Eat’s philosophy (Local organic food is best for the community, the environment, and your body) important to you?
In a lot of ways, I came to food through philosophy. I never had ambitions to be a chef, and I still don’t. When I was a young teenager, I got real interested in food politics and the attendant punk aesthetic. I had a proper middle finger for the “system” and the structures behind the way food can be seen as an emblem for all that is wrong with contemporary culture and society: unjust distribution of resources, destruction of the environment, commodification and corporatization of all pursuits. I declared myself a vegetarian, annoyed my family, and had to learn to cook if I didn’t want to have my mom’s desiccated chicken for dinner.
“Eating is a profoundly basic way to engage that most mysterious of human quandaries: the relationship between the self and the other.”
I’ve since grown up a bit. The formulation above, that local food is best, is just one element of what we’re up to at Eat. Eat is a space for incubating ideas, for creative engagements with any human activity we might call “practice”: art, craft, meditation, intellect, conversation, performance, cooking.
The local foods movement is a vital starting point for countless possibilities: by politicizing food, we can address the mechanics of a fundamental alienation between humans and what we eat, locating the alienation’s genesis in industrial agriculture and the social and physical structures of capital. “Local, organic food” is, primarily, a great way to minimize our involvement in the egregious patterns of environmental degradation that allow so much “food” to end up on 21st century plates.
Beyond that, my interest is in the ways the aforementioned alienation extends to (and/or arises from) our experience as selves. What do superstructures like “industry” and “agriculture” have to do with something as simple as swallowing salad? Eating is a profoundly basic way to engage that most mysterious of human quandaries, the relationship between the self and the other: by eating, the outside world literally becomes a part of us. Our culture allows us little opportunity to address that – it almost feels like a secret.
And individual experiences of eating run the gamut from glutfest to trifling requirement to spiritual ecstasy to eating disordered anxiety session. So I’m asking: how can a space in New York City – where the notion of “restaurant” is so steadfastly codified, and people’s expectations dictate their spending habits – persist as a venue for the earnest re-imagination of what it means to serve food?
From who or where does Eat source the ingredients you cook with?
Our sourcing is meticulously “local.” When I started at Eat, even our salt and oils came from the Northeast U.S. In those days, we had no coffee, no black pepper, no sugar – nothing imported whatsoever. We’ve since loosened our maniacal grip on locality, and welcomed things like responsibly sourced olive oil from some friends in Italy and Greece, and we do serve coffee.
We realized it’s a positive choice to nurture the founding ideas and ideals without being perceived as ideologues. But the vast majority of our ingredients come from three different farmers, one in the Catskills, one in the Hudson Valley, and one on Long Island. Jordan also grows many of our vegetables (he also makes the ceramics we serve on.)