SVG PM commends top Vincy restaurant owner

Rawlston Williams, Vincentian-born owner and head chef of The Food Sermon in Crown Heights, was ranked no. 1 by the New York Times.
Photo by Nelson King

It is not unusual for St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves to hail, in a very special way, Vincentians at home and abroad who are doing well generally.

But it is even more extraordinary when the nation’s leader takes time out to personally pen a letter commending the Vincentian-born owner and head chef of a restaurant in New York that has been ranked no. 1 by the illustrious New York Times.

“It is with great pleasure that I learnt that your restaurant, Food Sermon, was rated by The New York Times as the top place in New York City ‘to eat well and cheaply in 2015,’” wrote Gonsalves in a letter to Rawlston Williams, owner of The Food Sermon Restaurant in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

“I am most impressed with your entrepreneurship, management and culinary skills,” Gonsalves added. “You are a splendid example of our nationals in the Diaspora who have done well in their adopted homes.

“The next time that I am in New York, I would find myself in one of your ‘pews’, enjoying ‘the Food Sermon’,” he quipped.

“Please do not forget St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves continued. “Please keep in touch. All the best to you, your family and staff! May Almighty God continue to bless you!”

An elated Williams, 38, who migrated to New York, when he was only 10 years old, told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview, that the prime minister’s gesture “goes a long way.

“It speaks of the type of person he is – that he will take the time out to reach out,” said Williams, as he hustled, at the same time, to prepare meals and serve customers in his small but very busy restaurant, located on 355 Rogers Ave., at the corner of Sullivan Place. “It’s a human gesture, and he didn’t have to do it; but I’m glad that he did.

“In addition to that, it even more solidifies my love for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the people there every day,” Williams added. “Every day, all I do is think of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s what gets me up every day — makes me work harder.”

In stating that The Food Sermon, in the epicenter of the Caribbean community in central Brooklyn, is the top place to eat well and cheaply in 2015, the New York Times also placed it as the leading restaurant, among 10, to dine.

The restaurant, which opened its doors in early 2015, serves a clientele that is largely white.

The Times noted that Williams, who once dreamed of becoming a Seventh-day Adventist minister, is the one “presiding under high windows at this bright Caribbean counter spot, with reverence for fresh ingredients and the patience to coax flavors to fruition.”

It said dishes are “generous, details exacting, as with goat curry (otherwise known as curry goat) under a nimbus of cumin, presented alongside roti skins folded like pocket squares, or oxtail surrendering its soul to the rice below, blackened by sofrito and burned sugar.”

The Food Sermon was first opened as a catering kitchen, “with a few dishes for standing guests, who quickly shared the word,” the Times said.

“Now there are stools and, painted across old electric meter boards, a phrase — ‘We believe in you!’ — that is both an injunction and a promise,” it said.

Other restaurants on the Times’ top 10 list are: No. 2 Mr. Curry in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn; no. 3. Plant Love House in Elmhurst, Queens; no. 4. Okonomi in Williamsburg; no. 5. Kopitiam, Canal Street (Orchard Street), Lower East Side, Manhattan; no. 6. La Morada, Willis Avenue (East 141st Street), the Bronx; and no. 7. Haldi, Lexington Avenue (East 27th Street), Kips Bay, Manhattan.

The others are: No. 8. Izakaya, East Sixth Street (First Avenue), East Village, Manhattan; no. 9. Patacon Pisao, Essex Street (Rivington Street), Lower East Side, Manhattan; and no. 10. Crêpes Canaveral (no current address; 347-278-5342).

Williams — who been creating quite a stir in Brooklyn, with rave reviews from many publications in the New York metropolitan area — has been serving up delicious, bellies-full to predominantly white patrons.

No doubt, Caribbean food is a mainstay of Crown Heights; but “the extraordinary brightness of the flavors, as if a veil has dropped,” elevates the Food Sermon, according to the New York Times.

“With each bite, I experienced a kind of sinking in, as if I were the one yielding to the dish and not the other way around,” writes Ligaya Mishan for the Times, adding that Williams has a “gift for meat,” despite being raised as a Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian.

Williams still subscribes to the faith — the Food Sermon is closed from sundown Friday through Sunday afternoon — but to the dietary restrictions “not at all,” according to the Times.

It says the menu at the Food Sermon is built around “island bowls” of rice and beans, to be topped with a choice of protein and sauce — lush coconut milk and ginger, versus tomatoes pricked with gochujang.

The Times says Williams is a theology-school dropout “who found salvation in the kitchen,” and Classfare.com adds that he has “taken a circuitous path to owning his own restaurant,” stating that he was “uniquely exposed to cooking at a young age.”

“I studied to be a pastor,” Williams said. “But after a while, I had this feeling it wasn’t something that I was going to be able to do long term. I was sort of restless.”

Combining the influences of his upbringing with a haute culinary expertise not often seen with such simple Caribbean dishes, Classfare.com says “these plates are to be tasted and seen.”

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