Spring is a season of new beginnings, so it’s only fitting that with the warmer weather comes a fresh perspective on fine dining in New York. Or, in The Culinary Collective’s case, Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood.
Indeed, this innovative vegetable-forward dinner series — which launches on Thursday — proves so promising that the brains behind the bespoke operation are confident Manhattanites and dwellers of other boroughs will travel to dine at a private townhouse, just steps from the Franklin Avenue A train.
And why wouldn’t they? Not only are multi-course meals served in style as guests bask in a beautiful brownstone, but the cuisine just so happens to be delectable.
Chef Jay Astafa, 22, has long been honing his kitchen skills while simultaneously amassing a loyal following. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, Astafa got his start dreaming up vegan dishes for his father’s Farmingdale, Long Island eatery, 3 Brothers Pizza Café. As a teenager, Astafa’s outlook on life completely shifted after viewing undercover footage of a factory farm. Never before had he thought to eschew animal products, and never before had he thought to pursue a career in the culinary arts. But these two prospects took root, together evolving into a platform from which Astafa would build his career.
From creating a menu worthy of The New York Times to transforming 3 Brothers into a true destination restaurant, Astafa has for roughly six years demonstrated a natural talent for making magic happen with inventive approaches to classic favorites. He’s mastered melt-in-your-mouth egg-free pasta and gnocchi, while wowing vegans and non-vegans alike with his cashew cheeses — from chévre to mozzarella and more. On the heels of a successful pop-up he executed on the Lower East Side in April 2013, requests for his food took off and a catering business began.
Chef Angela Lowe, a seasoned fashion entrepreneur, is a newcomer to the cheffing field, though she’s no less adept at churning out edible delicacies. Lowe also studied at NGI and has since worked alongside top chefs at the New York City Wine & Food Festival and launched her own bakery and catering business, called Lolly’s, and Angela Lowe Catering & Events.
Though she hails from the fashion world, Lowe has forever been a food aficionado, learning to cook from her grandmother while growing up in Minneapolis. Five years ago, Lowe traveled to Africa, which put her on a path away from apparel, retail, and runways and got her thinking about her deepest passion — sharing lovingly prepared homemade meals with family, friends, and even strangers. A vegan herself since 2002, the professional plant kingdom beckoned. It was only a matter of time before she was sporting an apron and, as of January, plotting an upscale dinner series over which even cosmopolitan crowds would pause and awe.
Lowe and Astafa wasted little time hatching a plan, uniting to form The Culinary Collective, which is so far a series of prix fixe dinners scheduled throughout April (9, 10, 14, 18, and 22), with the intention of announcing more dates in May and traveling in June to San Francisco and LA. As the endeavor becomes more established, the pair plans to invite fellow chefs to join them at the stove, so to speak, to showcase their respective visions, capabilities, and tastes.
Tickets for The Culinary Collective are available via Eventbrite and range in price from $80 (7 courses) to $150 (15 courses). Upon purchase, ticketholders will learn the exact address of the event and can plan to spend from 7 to 10 p.m. indulging in the heavenly delights imagined by Lowe and Astafa. Think crostini with mint sorrel pesto, English peas, and pea tendrils; white asparagus panna cotta with shaved asparagus, morels, and ramp vinaigrette; globe artichokes with crushed fava beans, preserved lemon, and ramp yogurt; stinging nettle ricotta gnudi, English peas, eggplant bacon, pea tendrils, and butter; and — it goes without saying — liquid nitrogen caramel popcorn. Duh. Seriously, though, can you manage this menu?
Each seating — which is communal, to encourage connection — accommodates up to 24, so space is limited and the atmosphere is intimate. And for those who enjoy vino with their vittles, complimentary glasses are available. (Though this is far from the main attraction. Refresh memory in previous paragraph. Swoon.)
Apart from seemingly straightforward dinners, The Culinary Collective will likewise host themed meals. For instance, the dinner scheduled for April 22 will honor Earth Day by boasting salvaged ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. Inspired by Josh Treuhaft’s Salvage Supperclub, a pioneer in conscientious consumption, the lineup will be designed in partnership with salvage chef Celia Lam. Efficient and delicious — there’s nothing not to love when it comes to truly ethical eating.
Receive 10 percent off tickets to any of the first three dinners (April 9, 10, or 14) with discount code TDM.