Have you been to Foragers Market in Brooklyn? It’s one of my favorite markets in New York – not only is their selection consistently amazing, fresh, and thoughtful, but the people involved are so knowledgeable and inviting! You can really tell they love what they do and give it their all. I recently had the opportunity to speak with their immensely talented butcher, Greg Brockman, about his involvement with Foragers, his love for food, and a
exciting new venture they’re starting in Downtown Brooklyn! Read on and enjoy.
1. What brought you into the food world?
After moving to New York and working in the periphery of both the film and publishing world (and I mean far periphery), I found myself unemployed and broke and rapidly losing weight as I was eating canned fish and rice and beans pretty exclusively. I had studied both film and literature at university, burnt myself out trying to pursue anything related as a career, and was in desperate need of work. The only other thing I really knew anything/was passionate about and could hopefully get paid doing was food. As much as I love cooking and the restaurant world, a proper brigade-style kitchen was out of the question for me, as that’s a really difficult life with crazy hours and I can’t stand heat (I’m at home in the snowy northeast, can’t function without AC) and also I’ve got creaky knees. So I was looking into working for purveyors or importers, as well as upscale grocers, but looking back I can’t believe how presumptuous I was for thinking I could just hop into that. Luckily, though, Foragers was looking for a deli guy/sandwich maker and I jumped on it. Been working here ever since.
2. I have been shopping at Foragers since I moved to DUMBO over five years ago and you have been a staple in the store. What makes the grocery so successful? Tell me a little bit about the motto… and your longevity there.
There are a couple of things that makes Foragers successful to my mind, and they’re interrelated. Firstly, from the ownership on down through to management and the rest of our employees, everyone is passionate about some aspect or aspects of the business. It’s not always the same — some of us are super into sustainable business practices, some of us have bottomless stomachs for delicious foods, some of us are health nuts (totally not my bag), some of us love creating a neighborhood-y feel and working with customers, some of us just like doing a job and doing it well. And that breeds a willingness to change and make things better for our customers and co-workers. Personally, I get a lot of ideas from my crew on what’s not working during service, for instance, or suggestions on products to get in, or better ways to arrange the schedule, etc. And if it works, it works. We go with it. I think that lack of ego makes us adaptable, and that adaptability keeps everyone engaged and makes it a pretty fun place to spend 8 hours a day, even though it can be hard, messy work.
I’m not sure Foragers has a motto really, haha! Do we? Maybe I haven’t noticed, that would be just like me. I mean, we have a goal — and that’s to get the best food we can to our customers with the smallest amount of damage done to the planet, as well as supporting the folks who make/grow the food and the communities that are affected by the whole food production system. It’s not an easy goal to achieve, but we do the best we can. As for my longevity here, I guess that’s hard to pin down. I love what I do, so I’m sure that helps. I love to learn, and I love experimenting, and Foragers really makes that fun and easy. But mostly, I think it’s the people I work with. Anna [Castellani] and Richard [Lamb] are phenomenal owners and really listen to suggestions and are passionate about our mission and the store. The other two managers in DUMBO, Andrew and Cassidy, are a blast to work with and we’re all super close and I’ve learned a lot about being a manager from the both of them. My crew is just too great — Nate, the other butcher, is an awesome, creative dude who I rely on a huge amount and I love working with him. The morning supervisor, Joe, is a great presence — calm, collected, really funny, and every idea he’s had has been dope. Seriously, you should try some of his biscuits one morning. Romualdo, one of our closers — I’ve been working with him for four years now and he’s just the goddamn best. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be. And that’s only three of them, but I doubt you want me to go on and on and on about each person back there. I totally would, though. Suffice it to say that they’re all beyond fun to work with and make me look good.
2. I know you are quite the butcher. Do you have any advice for the home cook on butchery?
Mostly to not be afraid. It seems to me that a lot of my customers get nervous when cooking a new cut or type of meat. Which is understandable, but silly! At the end of the day, there’s really only four or five methods of cooking that a home cook is ever gonna mess with. And as long as you know which one to choose for which cut, you’re all set. If you don’t, I’m always happy to make suggestions, and the internet is on your phone. As for actual butchering at home, people seem to be afraid of making a bad cut or screwing the meat up somehow. As long as you have a sharp knife, by and large you can’t really screw up. If you make an errant cut, or maybe a piece of meat you’re working on isn’t looking so pretty, the cooking process is going to make that mistake disappear, and no one will notice anyway.
3. Tell me about this exciting new project you are heading in downtown Brooklyn!
First of all, I’m far from heading this project up — that would be my boss, the owner of Foragers. I’m just lucky enough to be working on the creative end of things. But it’s a really cool project — basically, we’re managing the return of the DeKalb Market to Downtown Brooklyn.
4. What is the vision for the project?
What we’re really keen to have is a kinda throw-back market hall. As much as we like some of the new food halls that have opened up in New York recently, we all really love the Laguardia-era ones (Essex Street, Moore Street, Arthur Avenue) as they’re a lot more neighborhood-centric and organic feeling. So we’re absolutely reaching out to “new Brooklyn” restaurants and purveyors, but it’s important to us to get “old-school New York” vendors in there as well — we want the space to be lively and loud and fun and welcoming. Not just for yuppies or hipsters or foodies, but for all of New York. We’re planning on having live music and events there, and a lot of the vendors who have expressed interest will be having booze as well as food — which is just what you want with a loose and loud market hall. Even visually we want it to be a marked departure from other market halls — every vendor is going to have their own build-out, and no one space is going to look like the next.
5. What is your ideal meal to cook and to be served?
My favorite meals to cook are anything that goes low and slow — stews, braises, pot roasts, tagines, etc. Part of it is laziness (they’re so easy!) but there’s also something just so comforting about that kind of cooking. The whole apartment smells good, and you always make too much, so it’s easy to invite people over, and the way flavors come together, man. I love cooking stuff like that.
Maybe it’s because I’m from New England, but I could eat fish every day, so that would be my favorite meal to be served. Literally, anything seafood, I can’t think of a seafood-based meal I didn’t like. One of my favorite parts of my job is testing an oyster every day — just to make sure that they’re fresh, of course, not because I’m greedy.
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