"The simplest change in approach can make an ordinary meal unforgettable."

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BRYAN CALVERT opened James restaurant in 2008 on a residential corner of Prospect Heights Brooklyn, after cooking for years in fine restaurants. His food quickly became synonymous with the new Brooklyn dining scene. Calvert is also cofounder of Cecil & Merl, a national brand of artisanal home and kitchen goods.

THIS IS ARTISANAL FOOD at its most elemental and delicious: Melted Romaine; Heirloom Tomatoes with Gin, Feta, and Dill; Savory Stuffed Skillet Chicken with Lemon-Miso Sauce; and Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Sea Salt and Caramelized Apples. Setting these recipes alongside beautiful essays in the tradition of Alice Waters and David Tanis, Calvert shares an original and meaningful way to cook.

CALVERT'S FOOD BUILDS on staples that are available nationwide and adds flair with ingredients you'll discover in your market. Brooklyn Rustic shows how the simplest change in approach can make an ordinary meal unforgettable.

Brooklyn Rustic: Simple Food for Sophisticated Palates




A Learned Skill

"I'm a horrible cook." It's a comment I hear frequently when I tell people I'm a chef. I used to just shrug my shoulders and feel sorry for them for having to eat all that bad food. But then I got curious and started asking questions: "Do you cook a lot?" "Have you ever taken a class or had someone teach you?"

It's okay if eating is more your thing than cooking. But if you're passionate about cooking and just don't feel successful, get some help. Cooking is a learned skill. Some people are truly gifted and make heavenly food from the start, but most cooks learn the craft. Watching cooking shows on TV doesn't really do it. Yes, they can be informative, educational, and entertaining - but they are mostly just entertaining. Watching a cooking show and trying to learn how to cook is like listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Bach or Jimi Hendrix make love to his Stratocaster and believing you can replicate those emotionally stirring sounds at will.

One of the best ways to learn to cook is by helping out good cooks (such as friends or relatives) when they host a dinner party, or volunteering your time to work with a community kitchen. It's a win-win deal: They get an extra set of hands and you get to learn some new skills. Take a class, help a friend, and learn to be a better cook. It doesn't always come naturally.  ~ Bryan





Black Kale and Cabbage Salad 

ONE OF MY EARLIEST cooking jobs called for making batches upon batches of cold sesame noodles at a gourmet food shop. The dressing, with tamarin, ginger, and sesame oil, is what made it so good, so I started using it in salads. You can serve this right away, but I find that it is best after a few hours in the fridge - the raw kale softens a bit and soaks up the flavors. It's a simple way to turn reluctant kale eaters on to this amazing green.

Serves 4 to 6 • Active: 30 min • Total: 30 min
Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Toast the sesame seeds on a baking sheet in the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes, tossing them once halfway through.

Meanwhile, remove the ribs and stems from the kale. Ribbon-cut the kale leaves and finely chop the stems and ribs. Quarter the cabbage and compost or discard the core. Slice the cabbage into 1/4-inch strips.

In a blender, blend half of the toasted sesame seeds until finely ground. Add the ginger, olive oil, sesame, oil, vinegar, tamarin, and mirin and blend until well combined, about 2 minutes. Toss the kale, cabbage, dressing, and the remaining sesame seeds together in a larger serving bowl. 

  • 1/2 cup white sesame seeds

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale (about 1 pound)

  • 1 small head red cabbage (about 1 pound)

  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil

  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons tamarin or soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon mirin or honey

Grilled Branzino

GREAT GRILLED BRANZINO needs little more than a squeeze of lemon, but dressing it escabeche-style makes it especially refreshing and summery. Instead of marinating the fish before grilling, the acidic dressing goes on afterward, when the branzino is hot and able to drink up more of the bright, salty escabeche. Keeping the skin on the fish is key because it protects the flesh while it grills.

Serves 4 • Active: 20 min • Total: 30 min

Prepare a hot grill and oil the grill rack.

Coat the fennel in a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on each side for about 2 minutes, or until you see charred grill marks. Dice the fennel and toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the olives, roasted peppers, lemon, parsley, capers, and two turns of black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. 

Pat the fish dry. Lightly brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. On a medium-hot area of the grill, cook the fillets skin side down, covered for 4 to 6 minutes. The flesh should be opaque and firm to the touch. It's okay if the skin gets slightly charred - in fact, that's what you want. Transfer to a serving dish. Spoon the escabeche over the fish and let marinate for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

  • 1/2 small fennel bulb, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch wedges
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oil-cured black olives, pitted and finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons diced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon seeded and diced lemon segments
  • 1 tablespoon sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 4 (6 to 8-ounce) skin-on branzino fillets

Venison and Ramp Stew

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IN EARLY SPRING, the most coveted vegetable at the farmers’ market is the ramp. There’s good reason for the mad scramble to get them - not only do ramps have a fleeting season, but they also have a fantastically pungent, garlicky flavor. They’re especially well suited to the bold flavors of lamb and venison and add sharpness to this hearty, warming stew. Venison is becoming easier to find, but if you can’t get your hands on it, beef or lamb stew meat would also be delicious.

Serves 4 to 6 • Active: 30 min • Total: 2 hr

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Dry the venison with paper towels and toss in a bowl with the flour and a large pinch of salt. Shake off any excess flour and sear the meat in the oil until lightly brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. 

Reduce the heat to low and add the ramp bulbs, carrots, radishes, and potatoes. Throw in a pinch of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ramps start to brown. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the tomatoes, venison, 4 cups water, juniper, thyme, and parsley. 

Cover with the lid slightly ajar to let steam out and place on the middle rack in the oven. Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring about every 20 minutes. 

Add the ramp greens, return to the oven, and cook uncovered for 10 minutes more. The meat and vegetables should be tender and the liquid should be fairly thick and a rich, reddish brown color. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 pounds venison stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Fine sea salt
  • 24 ramps, greens and bulbs separated and sliced
  • 1 cup baby carrots, mixed colors and sizes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup mixed radishes cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup baby potatoes (like red bliss or fingerlings)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 12 dried juniper berries
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 4 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • Freshly ground black pepper