On Saturday, I was gleefully partying it up in Bushwick on a rooftop, when I checked my watch. It was almost five, time to go. My friends chided me, “This is just getting good! Don’t leave!” I regretfully said my goodbyes and took the train into Union Square, and walked down 3rd Avenue to the Standard East Village.
The Standard East Village is a newly renovated skyscraper of culture and food at 6th Street and Cooper Square. There’s the Narcissa restaurant on the ground floor, which I accidentally wandered into when I made the mistake of walking in what looks like the main entrance to the hotel. No, the entrance to the hotel is in the gutted and renovated tenement house attached to the side. Crafty.
But I wasn’t there for Narcissa’s vegetable-driven cuisine. Instead, an elevator whisked Lauren and I up to to penthouse, where we were meeting up with Juliette, Emma and Elizabeth for the 2014 Makeshift event, part of The Standard Talks.
The guest of honor was chef Ashley Christensen, who just won the James Beard award for her down-home, North Carolina cuisine reimagined with local and seasonal ingredients. She has five distinct establishments in downtown Raleigh, from a proper restaurant to a cozy diner. She was introduced by CFDA member Natalie Chanin, who’s sustainable practices for her label Alabama Chanin won her the 2014 CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge and Eileen Fisher 2013 Grant for Women.
As the intimate group of guests finger-wove excess fabric into small scarves and stitched the reusable canvas bags we had been given, Christensen and Chanin had a fascinating conversation about food, fashion and running a small business. Like the recent Zady/Whole Foods event, there is a sense that food has come so far, and fashion is just starting to catch on.
“The best thing you can do with a restaurant is earn your customers’ trust,” Christensen said. “The restaurant business is a tough business. We could buy something for less and sell it for whatever we can get away with. But we have a commitment to represent our growers. It all comes down to the things these folks grow for us which inspires us to do something … I don’t want to say greater, because what they give is is already great.”
“It’s neat that folks are so excited about where things are from. Connecting folks with the beginnings of food has been a huge inspiration for us. One of or roles is not just to buy these things, but to share why it’s important to pay for them.”
I can’t want to get back down to Raleigh (I have extended family there) and try her cuisine. But for now, I’ll just have to be satisfied with trying her pimento cheese, which was included in the gift bag. Pimento cheese is a much-maligned southern food, a yellow goop with pepper that you spread on white crackers. But Christensen took it a apart and put it back together again with aged cheddar cheese, French cider vinegar, and house-roasted peppers. “We think about every element that goes into it. They take the first bite of it, and the look on their face is everything we’ve been wanting to hear,” Christensen said. “We take things that are meaningful to us and elevate them.”
After the talk, everyone wandered outside to mingle take in the sunset over Manhattan. When they finally kicked us out, I headed back to Bushwick. “You missed out!” my friends told me when I saw them. “Nope,” I said. “I think I win on the rooftop event.”
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