BROWNSVILLE — An international restaurateur who co-founded the world-famous eatery Noma is the mastermind behind a new cooking school and restaurant opening in Brownsville, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Claus Meyer, whose eatery Noma in Denmark has been named the world's best restaurant three times and is currently listed at No. 3 worldwide, is involved in all decisions in the Brownsville project, which promises to offer free courses to locals and a restaurant with a 40-person dining room, according to organizers.
The project is the latest in a string of culinary endeavors for Meyer in New York. He is set to open a Nordic food hall and restaurant in Grand Central Terminal later this spring and will also open a branch of his Danish bakery, Meyer's Bageri, in Williamsburg, according to reports.
The Brownsville project was born after a chance meeting at Bed-Stuy bakery Scratchbread in 2013 between Meyer and Lucas Denton, 30, who moved to Brooklyn after graduating from Bard College to work at the NYC Commission for Human Rights on a study about the racial dynamics of the housing market.
The two, who didn't know each other, struck up a conversation while standing in line, Denton said.
"[Meyer] said that he would be doing a project in Manhattan and he was looking to do some nonprofit work," Denton said. "I told [Meyer] a different approach would be necessary to make a positive impact in a struggling neighborhood in New York City."
Over the following months, the two started bouncing ideas off each other, with Meyer asking many questions about inequality in the United States.
"We knew that if we were to develop a restaurant, as had been requested by the neighborhood, the wrong thing to do would be to appeal to people from outside the neighborhood," Denton said.
"We knew it would have to be priced affordably and that the food would be representative of the traditional cuisine of the neighborhood."
The pair worked with residents of the Van Dyke Senior Center to learn about the culinary traditions of Brownsville's residents.
Denton went on to become the project manager for the U.S. wing of Meyer's Melting Pot Foundation, which aims to open its culinary education center in Brownsville this year.
He explained that they have been underplaying the presence of its star founder in order to keep the focus on the project's programs.
"What we believe the important part of the story is, is that Brownsvillians are capable and interested in making this change for themselves and their neighborhood," he said.
Meyer's foundation in Denmark runs a culinary school to train prisoners to cook and, in 2013, he opened a restaurant and school in La Paz, Bolivia that's similar to the Brownsville project.
That eatery, Gustu, is now listed 17th on the list of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants, a tally that's a spin-off of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.
The Brownsville restaurant is intended to double as a culinary school serving the local community. Attendance in the year-long program will be free of charge for neighborhood residents and graduates will get a New York City food handler's license.
Applications for the first class, open to 18- to 24-year-olds, are due by Wednesday.
“We’re excited to join the Brownsville community in this endeavor to bring a non-profit bakery, coffee bar, restaurant and community center to the neighborhood late 2016," a spokeswoman for Meyer said.
"We are still very much in the development phase of this project, but have embarked on this journey with the goal of making an impact in the community through food. Ultimately, we hope to become a catalyst in a process of change that goes far beyond the walls of our physical premises.”
Additional reporting by Suman Bhattacharyya