Lighting a Brooklyn food center brightens more than the cuisine.
When it comes to healthy eating, The Brownsville Community Culinary Center (BCCC) knows what it takes to teach young, aspiring urban chefs to prepare sensible, yet delicious, food and serve it to residents in its New York neighborhood. To do that, the new center in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood needed an appealing lighting scheme that illuminated kitchens and dining areas for the community’s developing gourmets and gourmands and to showcase the center’s thoughtful architectural features.
The BCCC is a collaboration between co-founder and director of content and communications at BCCC, Lucas Denton, and chef Claus Meyer. One of the most celebrated chefs in the world, Meyer founded a philanthropy called the Melting Pot that taught prisoners how to cook. He later opened a restaurant and a number of cafeterias in Bolivia to train poor young people for jobs in the food world. Meyer wanted to do something similar in New York.
Established to educate and inspire participants to excel in food service, the 5,000-sq.-ft. culinary center hosts a bakery, cafeteria, and space for organizations to provide education relating to public health and fitness.
Opened to the public in early August 2017, the center—housed on the site of a former dollar-merchandise store—features a restaurant with seated service. Residents in the neighborhood with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards can receive a 50% discount for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, six days a week. According to a New York Times article on the center, residents say this is the first full-service restaurant in the neighborhood for close to 50 years.
The crux of the initiative is an educational program that will put students, most in their 20s and early 30s and from the community, through 40 weeks of kitchen classwork and apprenticing, for which they are paid a stipend. BCCC seeks to prepare them for careers in the food and restaurant industry as they make the meals to be served at the center, which is run as a nonprofit. The center also works with local residents to improve their knowledge about fresh and healthy food and various mission-aligned programs in the community.
Through its on-site eatery, the center and its students already have served more than 1,000 healthy meals to the community members. Denton explained the center creates a true connection between the students and the surrounding neighborhood. “We support our program participants as we help them cultivate and work toward their dreams,” he said. “At the same time, we serve as a forum for the Brownsville neighborhood to address and organize around issues of food injustice. We strive to collaborate with resident-led initiatives. Our greatest successes are the connections we make on a daily basis.”
To make these vital connections, these visionaries needed a facility. They turned to architect Ali C. Höcek, principal of AC Hocek Architecture (ACHA), New York, brought a strong, simple, and articulate design aesthetic to the project. To further develop the spatial articulation of his design, Höcek brought in lighting designer Hervè Descotte and his firm L’Observatoire International, New York. The firms wanted to create a balance between intimate lighting in the dining room and café areas, while creating a connection with the service kitchen and bakery.
For Höcek, intimacy in the front-of-house areas, for everyone involved, was about building community, giving a positive space for residents to be close with one another and build relations with friends and family. He said, “We have to remember that while Brownsville continues to transform itself for the better, it still experiences urban trauma for a variety of reasons. The Culinary Center is certainly part of that healing and ameliorative process.”
Höcek added that lighting played a very important part of helping students create a relationship with the community. “With Hervè and his team, we discussed Claus’s desire to make very real connections between the students behind the counter in the kitchen and bakery, with their family and friends in the dining room,” he said. This meant creating larger openings to the service kitchen and bakery, than commonly practiced in restaurants.
The designers specified a minimalist design, surface-mount linear fixture from Bartco Lighting, Orange County, CA. The fixture has a unique form factor that produces seamless, indirect illumination to eliminate shadows and create a warmer appearance. Its elegant shape and engineered light source produces a high color rendering for general illumination and vanity lighting.
Available in a variety of nominal lengths, the Bartco line can be used as a single fixture or continuous-run configurations and is UL/ILC listed. Its fully assembled housing is formed and welded with 20-gauge steel, and chemically treated to resist corrosion and enhance paint adhesion. It is available as a standard in brushed stainless steel, polished stainless steel, or architectural white, black, silver, platinum, and bronze powder-coat finishes.
Not Just Food
Lighting also plays an instrumental role in the center’s main 30-ft. corridor with tall ceilings that connect the dining halls with demonstration rooms. The corridor provides access to the kitchen and public restrooms and features paintings from local artists depicting the cuisine of the African diaspora.
Höcek said, “The lighting in the corridor highlights the artwork, while guiding the person both visually and spatially between the rooms in an engaging manner. The lighting here brings a sense of measure and pace to what is otherwise, without the artwork and lighting, a long corridor. The fixtures are mounted to brackets, which extend out from the wall above each artwork. In this way, they also bring a sense of elegance and attention to each painting in the narrative.”
The Bartco BAM290, a miniature, tubular-line, aluminum LED task-light fixture was selected for the corridor. Constructed of an extruded aluminum housing, steel lamp liner, and sheet-aluminum end caps, the fixture housing rotates 332 deg. for precise lighting control. Its arms for single and continuous runs allow fixtures to project from a wall or ceiling 3, 6, 12, or 18 in. The fixture is UL/C-UL listed for dry and damp locations. The lighting quietly guides students and the community through the facility.
According to Denton, the combination of the lighting systems has created a healthy recipe to help connect students and the community, through food and art—embracing Brownsville’s unique culture.