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Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit that empowers refugees, asylees and survivors of human trafficking through culinary education, recently opened at 345 Smith St. Shown: Culinary director Alexander Harris (left) speaks with a student. Photos by Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
By Scott Enman
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn’s latest restaurant is bringing a lot more to the table than just delicious food.
Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit that empowers refugees, asylees and survivors of human trafficking through culinary education, recently opened a permanent space at 345 Smith St. in Carroll Gardens after starting as a pop up in Red Hook last June.
For Kerry Brodie, 27, founder and executive director of the social enterprise, Brooklyn was the ideal location to launch her dream of changing the world one meal at a time.
“Many people in Brooklyn have the attitude that diversity is a real value and that welcoming a stranger is something that makes us stronger, it’s something that makes us great,” Brodie told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We really enjoyed the feeling of being in some ways in a small village even in the context of New York City. What we loved about Carroll Gardens and Red Hook was this idea that when you walk around, people smile at you, they know your name, and that’s a nice feeling.”
With encouragement from her husband, Brodie quit her job in public policy at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., moved to New York and took culinary training before opening Emma’s Torch.
“I thought that food could really be a beautiful conduit of helping people rebuild their lives but also showing that food and cooking is a universal experience,” said Brodie, a Park Slope resident.
“The hope is that sharing meals can help people recognize the common humanity in the newest members of our community.”
The two-month culinary program pays its students to learn how to cook, teaches them English and helps its graduates find employment at other restaurants.
For the first month, students are taught preparation skills such as taking stock and learning how to dice vegetables. During the second month, students work on the kitchen line, gaining experience with and learning the skills associated with each dish. “Everything that they’re creating ends up in some capacity on the menu,” Brodie said.
Magedda Arreaza, 56, a student from Venezuela, said she wants to one day teach people how to eat better and eliminate unhealthy foods from their diets. From working at the organization, she has gained skills using kitchen knives, learning English and understanding the dynamics of a professional kitchen.
"When I'm learning new things at Emma's Torch, when we're working like a good team, it's like a dance," Arreaza told the Eagle. "There's good communication, it's something magical happening."
Culinary director Alexander Harris oversees the menu. At a press preview dinner on Thursday, attendees were served black-eyed pea hummus, heirloom tomatoes, butter lettuce salad, herb roasted chicken, summer cavatelli and pistachio bread pudding. The verdict? Absolutely delectable.
The front-of-the-house staff, paid separately from the students, was quick to refill empty glasses and was very knowledgeable on wine pairings. Rachael Ray’s home designer Michael Murray decorated the interior of the eatery, which sits on the corner of Smith and Carroll streets.
Rachael Ray’s home designer Michael Murray decorated the interior of Emma’s Torch.
Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus,” which has served as a beacon of hope for the millions of immigrants who sought and continue to pursue a better life in America, was the inspiration behind the organization’s name.
“We’re passing the torch, carrying on the legacy of something that’s always been an aspiration of the American people,” Brodie said. “It’s a hat tip to Emma Lazarus and what she stood for.”
Emma's Torch serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.