The first time I remember seeing an Asian person, she was standing behind thick, bulletproof glass. She was taking my food order. We would place our money in the carousel, she would rotate it, take the money, put the food inside, and rotate it back. I remember it being on the corner of Rockaway Avenue and Fulton Street, in East New York, Brooklyn. It was a mom & pop Chinese restaurant. I remember the parents looked young, and had young children we could see playing behind the glass. The family always seemed to be there, working superhuman hours. I never saw them leave at night – it was always very late – but I imagine it was a very nervous affair in one of the country’s most violent neighborhoods.
Before the Chinese family arrived there was only the neighborhood convenience store, at least that was all that was left after we burned down the local supermarket during the NYC blackout of 1977. I never got to know the Chinese owners, but I remember the mom always had a kind face that neither fatigue nor the haziness of the thick glass could suppress. It was my first neighborhood restaurant experience, and my family appreciated them being there, especially my mom who sometimes needed a break from cooking.
Years later, in my newly adopted neighborhood across the country, there is farmerbrown. The moment I walked through its front door, farmerbrown was a revelation to me. It was a restaurant, but it felt like home. It sounded like home. The people looked like home. The owners were a young brown and black couple. I came to love farmerbrown; it became a refuge for me whenever I needed a dose of home. I hosted many of my important meetings with government officials, nonprofit organizations and foundation executives there so we would be surrounded by the spirit of the place, the good vibe and food. The spiritual world matters, and you could feel it at farmerbrown. You still can.
I applaud the culinary and creative genius of its founder Jay Foster. I thank him for creating a refuge and place where all people – particularly people of color – can celebrate the warmth, richness and beauty of a people’s culture when so much outside at Turk & Mason evidenced despair. And I wish him and his family well in their new endeavor Isla Vida. It’s a Caribbean joint, so I imagine it will taste and sound and smell even more like home. Bring on the sofrito brother Jay. Home is where food and family are.