Dear Bon Appétit: We Are Not Brooklyn

Dear Bon Appétit:

You don’t know me, so it’s only fair that I introduce myself. My name is Allyson. I’m a twenty something line cook who lives in Minneapolis. You may also not know much about Minneapolis. Perhaps all you know is that it shares a suffix and a region with a city you recently profiled, Indianapolis.

And what a profile it was. I was certainly hungry while reading descriptions of Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth’s food. A dutch baby topped with oatmeal dukka streusel? Wild rice biscuits with persimmon butter? Yes please. But I was taken aback by the condescending tone of how exciting the food in Indianapolis was. And I cheered when Brooks straightened out writer John Birdsall, who was looking for Brooklyn in Indianapolis, with this gem: “it’s not fucking Brooklyn. It’s Indianapolis.”

You see, here in the Midwest we’re used to being overshadowed. We’re used to being dismissed as “Middle America” or as “flyover states”. We’re subject to all sorts of assumptions about our politics, our health, our personal biases, and our food. During college I did a short internship with an artist in Seattle. When I introduced myself to another artist of her acquaintance, who had come to Seattle from California, I told him I attended college in Iowa.

“I’m sorry,” he said, in evident sincerity.

“Why?” I shot back. He had no good answer and resorted to vague talk about repression and gay marriage. (I hasten to add that at this time same sex marriage was legal in Iowa but not in Washington or California.) I am not alone in experiencing this reaction from non-Midwesterners when talking about home. And we’re sick of hearing it.

An important part of the human condition is that in order to understand people we have to imagine the lives that are not our own. It’s a complicated undertaking and is easy to get wrong. Without this imagining being checked, one could easily imagine that Brooklyn is only populated by white kids who live off of their parent’s largess while selling knit mustaches on etsy. They would survive on artisanal pizza and PBR, and eat ramen when they’re in the mood to wait in line for two hours. Hopefully as a member of the national media, you would never be so careless to print such an article. Besides, being based in Manhattan, you know Brooklyn well enough to recognize this as falsehood.

So why do you not apply the same caution while profiling other places?

If you looked from afar you could see Brooklyn in my life. I shop predominantly at a coop. I drink at coffee shops that roast their own beans. I cook in a restaurant that you would likely  claim as Brooklyn inspired, but that is actually modeled from the warmth of French-influenced Montreal. I eat as many millennials eat- voraciously, with wide interest.

Or you could look closer and see Minneapolis. You could see the proliferation of local ingredients- wild rice in beer, maple syrup in lattes, bison tartar. You could see University of Minnesota apples such as Honeycrisp and SweeTango, and local wildflower honey. You would find breweries in every neighborhood, speakeasies that serve complementary hot chocolate on cold nights, and some of the best bakeries in the country. There are inexpensive farmers markets, miles of waterfront, and small farms nearby.There is a strong Nordic influence, from locally distilled aquavit to the proliferation of dill. There are both award-winning restaurants and affordable apartments. It is part of what makes our city good and interesting, and different from Brooklyn. It is an exciting place to work, because we have such a strong pool of talent, and a good place to live, because I can afford to live graciously on a line cook’s salary. Would you see this if you came to Minneapolis? Or would you see our pourover coffee, our excellent bakeries, our local breweries, and our housemade kombucha and claim we were attempting to recreate Brooklyn?

I do not know if you would see this, because after reading your article I got no sense of what made Indianapolis unique. All I got was that the food was good and the chefs were cool, that this was reminiscent of Brooklyn. This is not helpful. I was left, if you’ll pardon the pun, hungry.

Brooklyn is not everywhere. Brooklyn is its own place . There is nowhere in Minneapolis or Brooklyn like Milktooth, and this is a great thing. Milktooth has joined the long list of restaurants that I long to eat at. One of the great things about our growing food economy is that people everywhere are doing exciting things. There are restaurants around the country that I long to try, from Nashville (Russ and Daughters, The Catbird Seat) to Seattle (Delancey, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Cafe Lago) to Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Lantern, One). And yes, Brooklyn is on the list. I dream of trying Roberta’s. But Brooklyn is not unduly represented on this list. There are too many beautiful options out there for me to spend excess time dreaming of Brooklyn.

To paraphrase one of Brooklyn’s favorite sons, America is large. It contains multitudes. To ascribe our burgeoning food scene as an attempt at Brooklyn is wrong. Brooklyn did not create pickling or homebrewing or regional Thai cuisine. It created a hub where enough people were interested in such things that it became profitable to open such restaurants. How lucky we are that there are so many hubs in this country, with such infinite variations. We are all richer for this.

From one hub to another I wish you the best.




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