Chef Elise Kornack has tried her hand in a lot of kitchens, most famously, April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig, Midtown’s beloved Aquavit and the studios of Food Network’s show Chopped, where she won Season 10. Now, along with partner and fiancée Anna Hieronimus, she has opened Take Root, a place where she can feel grounded and showcase the type of food and style of eating she has always wanted.
On top of all the edible goodness, the new Brooklyn restaurant also has a yoga studio in the back room. Hieronimus handles the yoga — right now, the facility’s main focus is kids — and acts as the server for the 10-seat eatery while Kornack runs the entire kitchen.
On a bright, freezing afternoon recently, I stopped into Kornack’s Carroll Gardens restaurant to find out more about what they have planned. The smell of fresh bread permeated the air and the young chef had to interrupt our interview a few times to pull steaming loaves from the oven. The menu Kornack offers is chock-full of local, organic and seasonal dishes. At one point, the chef said she wanted guests to come to Take Root and feel like they were coming into their home. Based on the charming, Hieronimus-designed décor, the collection of plates from their grandparents and the owners’ overall warmth, they seem to have nailed it.
Most of the time, when you think of yoga and food, you think quinoa, smoothies and vegetarian fare. How is Take Root different?
This is the only place here, ever, that has opened with yoga and real, real food. People’s perception of yoga and food had been so effed up, for lack of a better term, because of media. They have commercialized yoga into being only for skinny people to lose weight or what ladies who lunch do in their free time, but it’s been around for centuries.
The idea here is that we are encouraging a sustainable mindset. In terms of the yoga aspect, which is weaved into the food aspect, we are trying to encourage people to appreciate yoga as a lifestyle. It’s a sustainable mindset, a collective mindset of saying “Hello” to people, saying “Thank you,” being patient and sharing those teachings.
This kind of leads into the food; it’s not vegetarian or quinoa salads for a reason. The yoga lifestyle is about being sustainably minded and mindful of your surroundings, the animals giving you their life, the vegetables you are picking and the farmers rearing the animals and cultivating the crops.
Where do you get your food?
Here, we get everything possible from upstate [New York]. We have an awesome cooperative called Lancaster Farm Fresh, and it’s picked to order. So, what’s coming out of the ground there is on our menu here. We don’t have anything on the menu that’s not grown [this month].
Is it hard to cook with seasonal vegetables in the winter?
I think what keeps me excited is that we have a constantly changing menu. It depends on what’s good that day, what’s good in the market and it pushes me as a chef to keep up with my game and creativity. I mean, in the winter, root vegetables are going to appear on our menu, how could they not? But they are going to be used in a way that isn’t just roasted and pureed into a soup.
What kind of produce does March feature?
March slowly starts to trickle in some late-winter lettuce, some early beans and some cold crops. Some later cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli will continue. So there are some opportunities to have some greenery.
This project seems like such a different world from your past endeavors on Chopped and Spotted Pig.
Before here, I was the sous chef at Aquavit restaurant. I am kind of like a little sponge when it comes to the food world. I like to soak up every possible opportunity to see what they have to offer. I had a blast working at Spotted Pig, and it honed my speed. Aquavit honed refinement and some seriousness, and all the restaurants previous had their inspiration and mark as well.
But I really think it was meeting Anna that solidified what and how I wanted to express this kind of stuff and who I wanted to be. I think education is part of your job as a chef, and you are really the liaison from the earth to the plate. That’s your responsibility; it’s not to just go in — be a human microwave and heat up food to put on the plate.
Would you define yourself by your restaurant?
Yeah, I do. It’s funny, recently, I went to help Food Network run a pilot for a new show they are producing. One of the producers said, “Okay, we are ready to hear it, what’s your style, what are you saying?” I didn’t know how to answer, and I was up late thinking about it. Take Root is my style now, and it’s really about mindful cuisine and the community, too.
Speaking of the community, why did you choose this for your location?
Actually, it chose us. We were searching for a place for, like, eight months. We really wanted it to have some charm and be in the right price range. We wanted it to be in a residential neighborhood that was up and coming. One side of this area is up already, and the other is coming, so, we wanted to be part of that process. We built everything in here. The whole kitchen is brand new, and all the electric, plumbing.
Where do you guys like to go to eat?
I would say my favorite fine-dining restaurant is surprising enough, Riverpark. The chef is a friend of mine and he is the most modest chef, with a brain full of amazing ideas. They also have a rooftop farm, so all their vegetables and herbs are coming from up there.
My favorite food to eat is probably from Fatty Crab. I love Southeast Asian cooking because I don’t cook it. In this area, I love the décor at Colonie, and Pok Pok has delicious food, which is Southeast Asian again. We like Brucie, because the owner is really sweet and they have really good brunch. We go to Seersucker a lot for brunch, too, and they have the best Bloody Marys in the neighborhood. Another place from our old neighborhood [of Prospect Heights] is 606 R&D, which we miss greatly. They make fresh doughnuts and have a backyard. It’s like Jewish-deli-style-food-meets-farm-to-table. It’s really cool.
Photos Courtesy of Linnea Covington and Take Root