We recently met Nicholas Nauman of the Brooklyn restaurant Eat and he shared why Eat’s philosophy that “local organic food is best for the community, the environment, and your body” is important to him.
Today we get more personal, discovering why Nicholas is looking for connectivity within the daily grind of life in New York City, how travel has inspired his creativity, and his passion for lentils.
What is your life in New York City like?
My life in New York is a daily attempt to navigate the rampant commodification of all things, dodging the melee of faces and demands, to find the sliver of space it takes for connectivity. There are so many people here, and the engine of capital is so loud, that it can seem impossible to do anything but objectify and be objectified.
The woman in front of me on the subway steps becomes nothing but an impediment, the man doing his job with a jackhammer becomes an [idiot] out my window, and the diners at Eat are totally accustomed to their role as consumptive vessels of money. Money, money, money – the entire city is built on the premise of financial productivity, and so the full potential of our consciousness is deferred.
How many interviews have I read with New Yorkers who answer this very question with, “A day off in NYC? No such thing!” BUT! I am hardly the only one seeking connectivity in the cracks, and that’s what keeps me here, enjoying the countless moments of good-humored fellow feeling with all the other denizens, irrepressibly subjective and human in our own crowded bedlam.
How have your travels inspired your creativity at Eat?
Since I started our much ballyhooed Silent Meals, the press has been enamored of the fact that I lived for a spell in a Buddhist monastery in Northeastern India. Well, I did do that, and it was certainly an inspiration. We ate silent breakfasts every morning as a way to move fluidly from meditation to the mundane necessity of the day.
I’ve been looking for ways to integrate what I was up to in India since the day I returned, which was the better part of a decade ago. Everything we do at Eat is in line with that.
Traveling is a great thing for creativity – to displace the signifiers of my identity, to delve into other people’s customs on their own terms, that’s a beautiful way to rejigger my own tried and true routines. Hey look, the Injuns put chili and salt on their mango! So I go home and put chili and salt on my own local fruit, like a peach, etc. Of course, that can happen anywhere, as long as I am open to the internal logic of anything that’s different from my usual way of doing things.
What destination is at the top of your travel to-do list, and why?
I often say “Patagonia,” because I do want to go there – I’m interested in landscapes as alien to my familiar paths as possible. But I also, obviously, love people, and what I can learn from them, and since this is a food-themed interview, I’ll also throw in that I’d love to see some gnarled old trees and learn food things from rural Japanese folks. And from Italian farmers, and Scandinavian foragers. TAKE ME THERE. I’m also down to open the first restaurant on the moon. Or is there one already there?
What do you like to cook when you’re not working?
Lentils. You can do anything with lentils, but a lentil is a hard thing to grow in the Northeastern U.S., so we don’t usually serve them at Eat. I could rhapsodize about the versatile, umami-blasting, elegant lentil for a while. I’ll spare you.
We know Eat’s menu changes daily, but do you have a favourite Eat dish? Or more than one favourite?
There was a pretty killer monkfish stew the other night. It had Jerusalem artichoke, pickled garlic scape, fresh mustard greens, and a white wine and herb broth. In the spring, the purple, flowering pea shoots are my favorite. I love roasting eggplants in the summer, and pureeing them into all kinds of silky iterations. Parsnip pie in the winter. It’s all great, and all of our cooks bring inspiring ideas to the table.