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.’
Last Friday, I experienced one of the single most impactful days of my life volunteering at public school 21 in Brooklyn, New York for the 4-H National Youth Science Day (NYSD). NYSD is a global event focused on youth-led interactive science experiments. The annual event reaches thousands of youth across the country, with hands-on design projects in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This year's theme was Drone Discovery! This engineering design challenge was created by Cornell University Cooperative Extension and taught students how drones are being used to solve real world problems.
The event started with students gathering in the elementary school's cafeteria. Students were welcomed by New York City 4-H Leader, Lucinda Randolph-Benjamin, then led in the 4-H pledge by your's truly. To my surprise, I could recite the pledge with as much fluency as I did in my 4-H club in high school. The students were then led in a mini lesson on drones and things that fly by 4-H Youth Development Educator, Charles "Chip" Malone (photo below). Chip demonstrated the four forces of flight using a foam drone: lift, gravity, thrust, and drag. Chip used interactive dance moves to further explain how these four forces work in real life. Students were rallied up and led into the gymnasium for a full day of engineering and fun!
I managed the station, Drone Discovery: Things That Fly. At this station, students were taught what drones actually are, what they do, and how they are used in our world. Students also learned the basics of flight dynamics and motion, then they got to apply it. I led students in building two types of aircrafts and wing types: rotary wing propcopters, made from two plastic pieces, and fixed wing gliders, made from styrofoam plates. The best moment for me was when the students actually got to fly the planes and test how far they could go before falling from the sky. The students were encouraged to think as engineers and keep their planes in the air longer with better control.
One of the greatest joys I have is serving as a trustee for the National 4-H Council. As a trustee, I get so excited when I meet youth whose lives are being positively impacted by the work of 4-H. I am so fortunate for my 4-H experience and it is my desire to see more kids have 4-H in their lives, just like the students in Brooklyn.
Giving back causes my perspective on life to be fuller. I feel so blessed to have met these students in Brooklyn, and hopefully inspire them to one day become scientist, engineers, or even chefs! No matter what they do, I know they will be successful because of 4-H. Learn more about 4-H today.