SMALLTALK WITH SANA JAVERI KADRI, PHOTOGRAPHER, FARMER AND EATER
First things first, Sana Javeri Kadri is twenty! (Which makes me old enough to be her.. older sister. At twenty two, I was a full-time dinosaur mascot in Melbourne so I don't even want to think about twenty.)
I discovered Sana's work when she shot a lookbook for my dear friend Sonia's inshadycompany. Her eye for detail and mastery of light make for incredible photos and her exceptional food shots have the sort of magic that only somebody who cares deeply about a subject can impart. Oh and she's interested in the same things I am!
Bombay born and bred, Sana now lives in Southern California where she's double majoring in Studio Art and Environmental Analysis. And though she's loved food from a young age, it was learning to grow things at the Pomona College Organic Farm that introduced her to a world of sustainability and food justice from which she says there's no looking back.
I knew from instagram that Sana was spending her summer in Brooklyn. When I approached her about an interview and perhaps a little food tour, she immediately invited me over to hers for breakfast and suggested we start there.
A few days later I found myself in her ridiculous backyard in Crown Heights (Pool! Hammock! Compost!) and she made me delicious buckwheat pancakes and my first kale smoothie while also sprouting seeds and roasting bulbs of garlic in the oven and generally making me look bad. Apart from this, she's precocious and lovely and generous and her smile is always on high beam. We spent the day zigzagging around Brooklyn to a few of her favourite food centric spots. Here are some edited excerpts from our conversations.
What brought you to Brooklyn for the summer?
Honestly, I came to Brooklyn for the food. I'm really interested in sustainable food systems and just all this local, organic, fair trade, ethical, hipster everything world and wanted to come here and wiggle my way into it. I also came here to work as an apprentice at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, which is a super cool and very heart warming urban farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that I could talk endlessly about.
What have you been doing while you're here?
A little bit of absolutely everything. Work at the farm has been equal parts chores and daily farm upkeep and equal parts field trips and lessons from Annie, Eagle Street's mamma. I was also initially doing some waitressing because, you know, moniez. But skipping dinner, late nights and schmancy high-stress restaurant proved a bit much for me (wrote about that experience here) so I finally wormed my way out of there and very luckily, bagged a job as Assistant Baker at Ovenly, a small and slightly adorable bakery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I've always baked (I'll be honest, I basically stress baked my way through high school), but I'd never worked in a commercial bakery environment so that was a pretty crazy learning curve and series of realisations. I also did a little bit of freelance photography work here and there, went to talks and potlucks and made foodie friends via instagram (but actually) and filled up my moleskine with pages of notes and diagrams and half-baked future plans. It's been a summer of hustling and hoping and in bursts, being very, very happy.
We discussed that this would be a bit of an excursion to some of your favourite cultural food spots in BK. Where are you taking me?
The Park Slope Food Co-op. I'm gonna take you there first.
We leave her apartment for Park Slope and pass a small local grocery store on the way.
Sometimes I'll buy an apple from there just to talk to them. The Korean couple that own it are absolutely adorable and make their own kimchi and Korean hot sauce. We've swapped a couple bottles and theirs are always undeniably better.
What is this place?
It's probably the most wonderful cult of vegetable and earth loving Brooklyn hippies and foodies and freelancers you'll ever find. It's actually hilarious how quickly we all become obsessed with the cult and try to indoctrinate everyone we talk to into our cult (100% guilty of that one). Basically, we all volunteer at the co-op for 2.5 hours a month- which given our huge membership and given that labor is usually the most expensive part of running a supermarket- works out wonderfully for everyone involved. We mark up all goods by the same amount, which means that you can really see the difference between what a normal supermarket marks up hugely, and what they're pretty average about. I've found that it allows me to buy organic veggies for about the same price I'd otherwise be buying regular veggies, and then save large sums of money on things like cheese, chocolate and spices - which for this cacao and spice fiend works out just perfect.
What are some great Brooklyn vendors and where else do recommend shopping?
The Meathook is great for whole animal butchering and though they are terribly expensive - it's really the true cost of meat. Eat less meat, eat cheaper cuts, fix the system, everybody's happy. HURRAY.
I love the Grand Army Plaza farmers market, mainly just to wander around and the Flying Pigs Farm bacon there, also absurdly expensive, is without a doubt the best bacon I have ever consumed. Otherwise, I shop entirely at the Park Slope Food Coop so I really have nothing to offer!
Where are we headed now?
We're going to Mast Brothers in Williamsburg. They started out as one of the first bean-to-bar chocolate makers, and are a huge part of the artisanal chocolate world. The fact that the two brothers are both bearded hipster men who sail their cacao beans to Brooklyn from around the world hasn't hurt with making them an absolute sensation. They just opened a brew bar, which is basically cold brew, but using cacao nibs instead of coffee. It's pretty damn awesome. As are their chocolate bars themselves- my favourites are the Brooklyn blend and the Madagascar single origin.
The golden liquor produced from steeping cacao nibs tastes like chocolate but not like I know it. The refreshing cold brew is light and aromatic and almost tart. A few doors down, at the Mast Brothers factory, Sana buys a huge bar of chocolate to experiment with in the kitchen (not before sharing it with me first).
What are your fave places in NYC to eat at?
I went to Okonomi when it was brand new and only doing brunch (they're now also doing exquisite ramen dinners) and it has been my go-to ever since. Simple, light, beautiful Japanese brunch done very, very right.
The Fat Radish is another favorite. I used to hate raw tomatoes until I tried their heirloom tomato salad and now I should probably just be called the little Indian tomato fiend. Nobody does vegetables quite as well as them.
I first visited Roberta's as a field trip with the farm, which gave me the perfect back story and introduction to their garden and to how they function as a company. All that aside, their pizzas are wonderful and their seasonal sides may be even better.
I love the tacos at Kimchi Grill so much I don't even know where to start. They do a lot of take-out but I can't stress enough how much better the whole dine-in experience is. Their pork and beef tacos are where its at, and I mean, $10 for three tacos? Sold.
If you're on a date, or want something deeply romantic- Buvette in the West Village makes my heart pretty happy. It's adorable and has the best, most French of intentions, and also does a damn fine coq au vin and accompanying Cab Sav.
What's our last stop?
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm! AKA happy land/veggie land/the best view of Manhattan.
The view is truly spectacular and it has all the trappings of a great farm. In the many rows of fruit and veg, I spy squash, corn, tomatoes, peppers, nasturtiums (my favourite edible flower) and plenty more. I spot berry bushes in one corner, and a beehive on an adjacent rooftop. There are hens! There are bunnies!
What's the story with the farm?
Annie Novak started Eagle Street Rooftop Farm six years ago, and whilst I wasn't around then, I have a feeling it was just as wonderful then as it is now. It's a learning space, and a space that's deeply committed to helping people understand where their food is coming from, and most recently - home to a delicious tree of peaches. We grow veggies for restaurants like Alameda, Torst, and Marlow and Sons, firstly because it's great for chefs to be able to feature such local produce on their menus, but also and I think most importantly, the produce is just really, really good.
Instagram has also played a part in creating a community for you in Brooklyn. Who are some of your favourite instagrammers?
Yeah! I came to Brooklyn knowing about 1.5 people, the 0.5 being my aunt in Long Island. So Instagram has really just been a great place to meet people, who's work I admire, whose food I've tried, or simply who seem to be dynamic, passionate, super exciting people! My favorite grammers are a little scattered and it's actually very hard to choose because my relationship to or appreciation for each of them is so different but here's a highly adored top five
1. @lilystockman @blockshoptextiles - Lily is an artist, badass biznez woman and all round vunder-woman living between LA, Joshua Tree and Jaipur. I can't love her work enough.
2. @mycookingdiary - Sharon Hwang works at Instagram but also makes delicious, simple food.
3. @gkstories - Yummiest of foodagrams out there.
4. @leahgoren - Leah's also an artist and I love her illustrations and textiles and ceramics and maaaaan, everything.
5. @oliviaraejames - A lovely, somewhat girly photographer from Charleston whose instagram is often my daily dose of pink.
Lastly Sana, can I have the recipe for the excellent pancakes you made this morning?
PSHH TOTALLLY. I'm gluten and dairy free, at least most days, but my pancake habit rages stronger every day. These buckwheat pancakes save me every day. They're great topped with pecans, cacao nibs and maple syrup, but some fruit (especially if its caramelised) is also pretty delicious.
1 cup buckwheat
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp butter for the frying pan
Blend everything together until smooth and frothy. Heat the butter and pour in the batter when it begins to brown. The batter should make three pancakes worth. Flip them when they're golden brown and eat with all of the deliciousness mentioned above!
Make them and thank you Sana!
More: Brooklyn mag just posted this list of Brooklyn food influencers!