In the shadow of the BQE, steps from a collision shop and an iron works, may not be the first place you’d expect to find a culinary megacenter, but Harry Rosenblum, Taylor Erkkinen, and Tom Mylan of The Brooklyn Kitchen Labs are betting that if they build it, the food-obsessed will come. Recently I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the space, and the chance to chat with Rosenblum and Mylan (Erkkinen was minding the store—the original store).
Opening this Monday, November 16, the center will be a cooking school-cum-butcher shop-cum-bulk foods store-cum-cookbook store-cum-kitchen tool museum, sprawling over 7,000 square feet in a former rag warehouse. This seems like a risky proposition given the times, but the partners have reason to be confident: They’ve got impressive pedigrees. Rosenblum and Erkkinen are the owners of The Brooklyn Kitchen, a 700 square-foot kitchenware shop that has become the hearth of Williamsburg’s culinary community, and Mylan, who Julie Powell called “the Hunter S. Thompson of butchers,” was the tip-to-tail genius behind Marlow and Daughters until his departure this summer.
The three bonded when Mylan taught a series of exceptionally popular pig-butchering classes at the store, in which a dozen customers would crowd around a small counter and watch the master at work. The store’s nightly classes, all aimed at home cooks (other subjects include pickling, soufflé-making, and kombucha) led directly to The Labs; as Rosenblum said, holding them in-store “was detrimental to the classes—we couldn’t even advertise them, they were so popular—and also detrimental to retail sales in the store during classes.” [I can attest to this, having taken their hands-on cake decorating class—seven of us (plus our cakes) squeezed around that small counter, directly in front of the store’s knife section as well as its cash register.]
Once the partners decided to create a separate space for teaching, they seized the opportunity to build something much more ambitious. When all the work is finally complete, The Brooklyn Kitchen Labs will offer:
- Two classrooms with full kitchens, one a soaring, 1200-square foot space, the other intended for hands-on teaching. “If we want to do a bread demonstration for 60 it’s going to be in the big space, but if someone wants to have a private bread class for 12 people, we can do it in the smaller space,” Rosenblum said. They’re hoping to grow beyond the single-session classes they’ve become famous for, and develop building-block series of themed classes. For example, Mylan explained how his butchering series might work: “If they take one class and they’re just like, ‘Oh man, this is fascinating,’ and want to learn more about that, they can go and take the other classes; sort of flesh out the whole process.”
- A full-service butcher shop called The Meat Hook, offering Mylan’s head-to-hoof meats and house-made, meat-based products
- The Bulk Room, which will sell carefully curated oils, vinegars, spices, beans, and other dry goods in bulk
- A room selling supplies for beer- and wine-making
- A cookbook center that includes both a store featuring hard-to-find cookbooks like the UK’s River Cottage Handbooks, and a research library filled with classic and out-of-print cookbooks and food reference works
- A kitchen tools museum, which will display Rosenblum’s collection of “weird, esoteric, vintage cooking tools, like an original Twinkie filler press, patented in 1915 for filling pastries,” he said.
I asked Rosenblum and Mylan if they were nervous about opening such a huge operation in this economy, and both were optimistic. Rosenblum said, “I think that as long as we can be very careful that the product we are supplying is the best product that can be supplied, at what is viewed as a decent price for that product, there is value and people are aware of the value.” As far as The Meat Hook is concerned, Mylan told me, “One thing we’re going to try to communicate to people is this: You don’t need a bunch of pork chops. You can get one pork shank and braise that out in a bean stew and feed just as many people for a fraction of the cost.” And for those who aren’t sure they’re ready to spend more for meat that’s sourced as carefully as Mylan’s, Rosenblum wants to educate them. “You should buy the whole chicken at $4 a pound because it tastes better and it’s safer and you can do a lot more with it, and here’s how you use all of the parts,” he said.
Rosenblum, Erkkinen, and Mylan are creating what could become the epicenter of Brooklyn’s New Culinary Movement, and they’re doing it in keeping with the ethos of their comrades—this is very much a home-grown operation, using Erkkinen’s background in engineering and Rosenblum’s carpentry skills and contractor contacts. Much of the material for the space, everything from The Meat Hook’s band saw to the walk-in refrigerator, is bought second-hand or repurposed from its original use. The walls of the Bulk Room, for example, are paneled with the warehouse’s original flooring, and some of the cabinetry, lighting, and other building materials come from Build It Green in Astoria.
The Brooklyn Kitchen, Rosenblum and Erkkinen’s original store, opened in November 06. Just three years later, they’re at the vanguard of a home-cooking revolution that promises to be every bit as exciting as Brooklyn’s specialty foods explosion.
(If you need visuals, Grub Street’s got a slideshow with pictures of the work-in-progress that look an awful lot like mine.)
The Brooklyn Kitchen Labs
100 Frost St., entrance on Meeker Ave.