STORY BY APRIL BAPTISTE-BROWN @warriorsaint213
WORDS BY MICHELLE MANNIX @cookspacebk
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANISHA SISODIA @anishaspice
STYLING BY KEEON MULLINS @keejermain
PIECES BY VANIA & DAVID @vaniaanddavid
Bonding over food and Southern roots, Chef Lazarus Lynch decided to pick the brain of former restauranteur and Cook Space founder, Michelle Mannix, to find out how she’s infusing culinary confidence back into the bellies of home cooks everywhere.
CHEF LAZARUS LYNCH:
So Michelle, what is Cook Space?
Michelle Mannix: Cook Space is a culinary studio and private event space where our whole focus is on building culinary confidence. I think, which is interesting because I’ve had all these influences and it doesn’t always land that well when I say this but, I think the culture of food has hijacked the culinary confidence of a lot of people.
And what I mean by that is there’s 80 million posts on Instagram of food, but are the people cooking for themselves continuing to climb? I think that the quality of what we see on television and how restaurants are scored have made people think that it has to be that way. So what I want to do is to connect people back to the joy of cooking from a place of improvisation. From fishing in your refrigerator and throwing things together from what you have, and what’s in season and what speaks to you. I feel that cooking connects you to your past and to your future. Like you: you bring your history, you bring your dad, you bring your Southern-ness, but you also connect to Queens [New York] and the current world. You only do that when you get your head out of a recipe and you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. I think recipes are a guide; I’m not anti-recipe, but if that’s your only place and you’re still ‘What do they want me to do?’ You don’t learn balance, you don’t learn season, you don’t learn what happens to food when you just play with it.
[Cook Space] is basically the brick and mortar space of what I'm talking about [in my book]. Mastering a new mindset and taking an approach to cooking that's different: ingredient driven first vs recipe driven. Because I feel like that's coming from a place of ‘What does somebody else think I should make with this?’ versus ‘What do I got? What do I have?’ But then maybe it's like ‘What does Laz do with okra? Let me see what he's got going.’ [I realized] when I follow recipes, I'm not as loose. It doesn't taste reflective of how I normally cook if I truly follow it. I season every layer. I’ve never in my life measured salt and pepper to go into a recipe; I think it's bizarre to do that. I get how people have to do that, but if you continue to do that your whole life, you're not cooking, you're just following instructions. So I feel like you're figuring out how to master instructions versus figuring out how to feed yourself in a way that reflects who you are. That’s why I have things like ‘Develop your own voice. Develop your own culinary expression.’ I have things like ‘Think, then don't.’