Vincentian-owned restaurant ranks high

Boone Rodriguez

A major publication has rated a Vincentian-owned restaurant in Brooklyn as the “top” place to eat well and cheaply in 2015.

The New York Times said that The Food Sermon in Crown Heights, in the epicenter of the Caribbean community in central Brooklyn, is the leading restaurant, among 10 to dine.

The restaurant — which earlier this year opened its doors and serves a clientele that is largely white – is owned by Rawlston Williams.

The Times said that Williams, 38, who migrated to New York, when he was only 10 years old and 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 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, Brooklyn; 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 (Jean-Christophe has left his ticket-booth-sized kitchen attached to the William Barnacle Tavern since the review but he has plans to open in a larger space, perhaps as soon as February or March; no current address; 347-278-5342).

Williams, who is also the head chef of The Food Sermon, has been creating quite a stir in Brooklyn, with rave reviews from a large number of publications in the New York metropolitan area.

He 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.

It says oxtail comes not collapsed in a stew but in hunks still whole, half-hidden under broad leaves of watercress and garlanded in chickpeas.

“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.

Mishan says 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.

“A salad of mango and apples with a tracery of walnuts and blue cheese is beautiful and ephemeral, its season soon to end,” the Times says. “But macaroni pie, a richer, firmer mac and cheese, is forever.”

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.”

Since he couldn’t afford to pay tuition for culinary school at the time, Williams instead watched YouTube videos and listened to interviews on National Public Radio (NPR).

Subsequently, Williams graduated from culinary school and learned on the job at several kitchens around town.

Williams is proud to call the Food Sermon — and its unique menu — his very own, according to Classfare.com.

“It’s basically how I interpret Caribbean cuisine,” Williams said. “We don’t need more of the same.”

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.

“Whole lamb shanks perched in the middle of perfectly cooked rice, surrounded by chickpeas and coconut ginger sauce tinged with lemongrass; roti skin that’s light and airy; stewed chicken that’s tender and steaming,” it says.

“It’s a privilege to cook for someone,” Williams said. “Someone is taking something I’ve made with my hands and trusts me to put it in their body. Yes, it creates pleasure and nourishes you, but at the core of it, food is intimate.”

The Food Sermon is located 355 Rogers Ave., at Sullivan Place, in Crown Heights.

The Chicken Island Bowl with chickpeas, sautéed kale, white rice and coconut ginger sauce.
Photo by Boone Rodriguez

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