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.’
by Lazarus Lynch
Heads were turning, and kids were snickering as the glistening fat dripped down my colorful fingers, down to my elbows, and straight to the ash pavement where my feet stood in Flushing’s Chinatown. Heads kept turning and kids were pointing. As though I were giving an encore street performance, or as if I were mishandling something very precious in my hands, I looked into the eyes of my captivated audience, smiled wide, and took a daring bite into its flesh; I was eating Peking duck.
I suppose I did look crazy—holding an entire Peking duck in my hands as though that was standard behavior. I suppose no one with their good senses had ever done such a thing, and certainly never in public. I was completely mesmerized, and I showed it.
Flushing, Queens – Home to the New York Mets baseball team, and the USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing is one of New York City’s booming neighborhoods in commerce, finance, transportation, and recreation. Known as, “The Chinese Manhattan,” Flushing is one of the most ethnically populated neighborhoods with two-thirds of its population being foreign born, according to a 2013 Department of City Planning report.
Flushing is also home to great, authentic Chinese food. Local street vendors, immigrant-owned restaurants, and neighborhood fruit and vegetable markets makes this community a cultural microcosm.
If you’re ever taking a stroll through Chinatown, you are bound to see windows of hanging Peking duck. The aroma alone hits you from a block away. I was introduced to the glories of Peking Duck in 2011 when I moved to Beijing, China. The succulent, crispy-skinned, ancient food hung most places food was sold. I knew I had discovered what would become a lifetime favored food.
The origins of Peking duck dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, and made its first debut at a restaurant in China in the 15th century. The beloved dish used to be served by professional chefs for high dignitaries, in palaces, and in wealthy households. Over the centuries, the dish has become an accessible and common dish found on menus around the world in Chinese restaurants.
Surprisingly, Peking duck isn't that expensive (at least not in Flushing). I paid $20 for an entire Peking duck, head on and everything. The average price for a duck breast is around $8-10. I was pleasantly surprised that for a duck so delicious, it costed so little, and was enough to serve four.
I especially love the crispy texture of Peking duck skin which is achieved by a three-day process of dressing the duck, seasoning with a soy sauce mixture, pumping air underneath the skin, hanging it to dry, and ultimately roasting the duck in a hot oven until the fat is beautifully rendered and crisp, and the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Traditionally, Peking duck is served with rice, scallions, Asian pancakes, hoisin sauce, and cucumbers. However, there are really no rules about how to approach this tasty bird of thing IMHO. You've just got to commit and go innnnn, just as I did on the streets of Flushing.
If you're planning a trip to NYC, be sure to hit up Flushing, Queens, and of course, make time for some Peking Duck!
by Lazarus Lynch
Tacos are indefinitely the ultimate Mexican street food. The messiness, the meatiness, and the crunchiness of any taco are just some of the noteworthy things that come to mind when I think about the perfect taco. In my New York City hometown, there are a plethora of family-owned taco food trucks, and street vendors serving up hundreds of tacos each day. I've had my share of late-night tacos when I get the munchies, and I've taken notes on what makes great tacos great tacos.
This Cinco de Mayo, I've attempted to answer the question of what makes for the perfect taco. I get it, building a taco isn't rocket science, yet, few seem to do it right these days. I'm sure there are many who would disagree with me, but having my fair share of tacos, I've come to the conclusion that perhaps building a taco isn't as simple as one thinks.
What Is a Taco?
Though tacos are universally loved, its origins are largely unknown. Taco expert Jeffrey M. Pilcher explains that a taco "... dates from the 18th century and the silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word “taco” referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore," according to an online article in Smithsonianmag.com. That sort of helps us, but generally speaking, tacos are native to Mexico, and a popularized street food that's made its way around the globe.
A modern take interpretation on the taco is essentially a tortilla (fried or steamed) filled with assorted mixtures of meat, beans, rice, cheese, herbs, and salsa. Many tacos also include sour cream and guacamole. If you really want to break it down and get technical, a taco is a corn tortilla filled with "stuff." Tacos come in all sizes and kinds, but the best are the ones done right.
The Right Tortilla: The shell/tortilla/or vessel is arguably the most important part of every taco. The tortilla is the package that must perfectly encase every part of the filling. Traditionally, yellow or white corn tortillas are used for tacos and are often steamed or fried. Steaming or warming the tortillas allows them to be more pliable and prevents them from cracking when folded. Different varieties of corn tortillas have different textures; some being more dominant in corn flavor and dryer (typically yellow corn tortillas) while others are more neutral and moist in flavor (typically white corn tortillas). Sometimes, two tortillas are necessary to support a taco depending on how the portion and wetness of the filling.
I love a fried corn tortilla taco shell for its crunchy quality. If you use taco pre-cooked taco shells, I suggest placing them in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 10 minutes to warm them before filling. The heat will awaken the corn flavor.
The Filling: The second most important aspect of the taco is the filling. Typically the filling would consist of a protein (beans, poultry, meat or fish), rice, and some medley of toppings. It's important that the filling is not overstuffed. Filling overload will result in a sloppy taco that could only be eaten with a knife and fork. Using a combination of meat and beans are classic and adds richness to the taco.
Use Acid & Herbs: My favorite part of a taco is the acidic punch you get from biting into a pickled red onion, or a tangy salsa with bright citrusy notes running throughout. I love pickled items (radish, fennel, onions, grated carrots, etc.) to add both texture and acidity to the taco. The acid also works well to balance the sometimes overwhelming flavors of the filling. Using herbs such as cilantro (or coriander leaves) as a beautiful freshness to the taco. If one has aversions to cilantro, parsley is a great substitute.
The Toppings: The toppings are sort of like the decorations you put on Christmas tree once it's all set up and ready to go. The toppings should vary in texture, flavor, spice, and temperature. Toppings usually consists of something creamy like cheese, sour cream or greek yogurt, avocado slices or guacamole, something spicy and tangy like salsas, tomatoes, or tomatillos, and something crunchy like iceberg lettuce. I like to have guest assemble their own tacos and serve themselves toppings as desired. Toppings are best when stored at appropriate temperatures to give great contrast between the filling and tortilla.
Remember TEAM TEXTURE is everything! Use the right tortilla(s), don't overstuff, and have your acid, herb, and toppings game on lock. Now that you have some tips for making a great taco this Cinco de Mayo, get yo taco game on!
Try two of my taco recipes below:
Jerk Chicken Caribbean Tacos
Margarita Shrimp Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/where-did-the-taco-come-from-81228162/#SVro2XSpBWr3iOij.99
by LAZARUS LYNCH
I recently took my first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana in search for some of NOLA's best places to eat and drink. I arrived just the week before Mardi Gras and got to experience the parades, and of course, the great city. Truthfully, my trip was very short so I was determined to explore. Here is the list of my top five places to eat and drink on your next trip to NOLA!
1. SoBou: A Spirited Restaurant South of Bourbon
Located in south of Bourbon Street in the French quarters, SoBou is a spirited restaurant serving up unique and inspired flavors and cocktails. Named the "Best New Restaurant in 2012" by Esquire Magazine, SoBou is New Orleans' modern saloon or tavern with crave-worthy dishes and drinks. The menu is curated by chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez and is a combination of authentic New Orleans street food with influences of his Spanish upbringing. And while you're grabbing a bite, you must try one (or more) of SoBou's incredible cocktails.
French Quarter 10 Rue Chartres New Orleans, LA 70130
2. Red Fish Grill
If you're in the mood for amazing seafood, Red Fish Grill is the spot. The award winning restaurant in the French Quarters has an array of fresh seafood options on its menu including a raw oyster bar, shellfish, finfish, as well as classic creole seafood dishes. Two of their signature dishes are the BBQ Oysters, and the Wood Grilled Redfish and Louisiana Crawfish Tails.
115 Bourbon Street New Orleans, LA 70130
3. Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits
I nearly lost my mind when I showed up to Bacchanal. It is the ultimate food, drink, and music venue in the Ninth Ward neighborhood. When you first walk in, there is a wine and spirits shop. As you proceed through the shop, you enter into another outdoor bar. Just around the corner from the outdoor bar is an open outdoor seating area with live music. Upstairs, there is another bar and balcony area. You order all your food at the bar and your order is brought to you by the wait staff. I recommend starting out with some wine, a cheese board, olives, bacon wrapped dates, and several other small plates to share.
600 Poland Avenue New Orleans, La. 70117
4. Effervescence Champagne Bar
Effervescence is one of NOLA's newest restaurant on the historic Rampart Street. Chefs Brenna Sanders and Evan Ingram designed a small plates menu to pair with champagne. Several sparkling and still wines are available on their and range in price. Wines can be sold by the glass, half glass, and prosecco is on tap. The inspired menu includes items such as pommes frites, caviar with creme fraiche and potato chips, and grilled octopus. The restaurant opens in the afternoons on most days and stays open until midnight or later.
1036 N. Rampart Street New Orleans, LA 70116
Bacon just got better!! The praline (pecan and sugar mixture) coated bacon is just a starter on the comforting menu, and a great way to whet the appetite IMO! The homey and neighborhood spot serves up classic dishes such as Italian sausage with red gravy, fried chicken livers with pepper jelly, and fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce. If you're looking for NOLA's creole and southern classics with an elevated and modern spin, Elizabeth's is a great option.
601 Gallier St New Orleans, LA 70117