By Ezinne Mgbeahuruike, Contributing Writer (@Ezylivin)
One of the first things you notice when you walk into Cook Space Brooklyn is the aesthetics and ambience. Yes, it’s a cooking space that teaches everyone and anyone the art of cooking, with confidence, but the space transcends into much more than that. If it’s nighttime, you might think you’re in a romantic comedy scene where something magical happens because the lighting is so eloquently dimmed. Or if you visit in the daytime, the natural light welcomes you to the openness of the space and its artful aesthetics.
Cook Space Brooklyn, located in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, is managed by three brilliant women: Michelle Jackson Mannix, Nini Nguyen, and Lara Southern. Michelle Jackson Mannix, the founder, decided to attend the New School’s Culinary Arts Master Class after being laid off from a job. She gained industry experience managing the restaurant Ted and Honey Parker Red with her brother. One thing I love about Michelle’s spirit is her ability to transfer her wittiness and warmth into her classes and food. She truly understands that cooking is intimidating for some and makes it comforting to make mistakes along the way. “Eating is soulful to me. If I can create a community around the food I make, then I’m happy, but I’m also aware that people don’t understand how to cook and that’s why I’m here,” Michelle said. Her concept of the space came about as she was writing a cookbook and realized that it’s not cooking that is intimidating – it’s that the culture of cooking has stripped away the natural process of cooking food. “People see cooking steps as hurdles instead of thinking through the process, which is the fun part.” In addition to classes, Cook Space Brooklyn can be rented out for private dinner parties or workshops. The options are endless.
Cook Space Brooklyn teaches the fundamentals of cooking with the terms and methodology explained. The building of ‘culinary confidence’ is one to note because it starts with the basics of how certain elements of food fall together. Nini Nguyen is the chef that can whip up a well-balanced meal with three ingredients or less. She’s the genius behind the menu. The 30-year-old chef landed her first job at Eleven Madison Park where she worked for the Dinner Lab. Nini worked with Michelle at Ted and Honey, so their chemistry is great to witness. “I like to teach people why they are cooking the way they are,” Nini told me. “Cooking is very scientific, so I understand that broiling can affect food differently than baking. Teaching here has allowed me to simplify food so the students can understand the ‘why’ more than the ‘what’.” Watching Nini cook, I was inspired. I saw her make a chicken broth with just chicken, onions and carrots and it tasted delicious. The vegetables, meat, and poultry is always carefully picked from the freshest farms. They go to a local butcher for their meats because they believe cooking simple starts with where the food is sourced. However, the space wouldn’t be as delicious as it is if Lara Southern wasn’t around to create an soulful ambience to accompany it.
Lara was raised in London until she moved to New York three years ago. Her background is in English Literature, but Lara magically fell in love with food, landing her at Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory. Lara’s keen eye and attention to detail is what cultivates the exact ambience of Cook Space Brooklyn. She’s in charge of curating the vibe and aesthetic of each dinner party, cooking class, and team meetings. When Lara’s not listening to Anderson Paak or Tom Petty, she’s lost in a book in her quiet Brooklyn apartment. When I asked Lara about her ultimate goal for Cook Space Brooklyn, she said “I hope I can create a space where people feel safe to come in and out of. I want to foster a community through food because that’s what inspired the ambience.” If you are just as impressed as I am with their Instagram account, you have Lara to thank for that as well.
Cook Space Brooklyn is magical. I had the pleasure of eating and connecting with the team twice and I felt warm and full both times. There is something relaxing and unassuming about people who genuinely want to boost your confidence in the kitchen, and that’s the experience I had at Cook Space. Take a load off your busy schedule and bring a friend; you’ll enjoy the food and you’ll most definitely enjoy the company you’re in.
(L-R) Founders of Cook Space Brooklyn: Nini Nguyen, Michelle Jackson Mannix, Lara Southern