Let’s just take a minute and talk about something totally outside of the purview of this blog: ice cream sandwiches. Think about an ice cream sandwich. We all have the same picture, right? Mushy chocolate cookie with rock-hard crappy vanilla ice cream? Let me just clear that image right out of your head. Here, my friends, are some freaking ice cream sandwiches:
I hope I blew your mind a little bit with those. Because Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center, where I took the Artisanal Ice Cream Sandwich class that produced such loveliness, totally blew mine.
Ger-Nis—like so many of the spaces I’ve profiled—has a lot going on. In addition to a whole slew of incredible cooking classes—like Indian Street Food, New Nordic Cooking of Iceland, and a Make Your Own Take-Out series, to name a very few—they’ve got social clubs and supper clubs and meetups and all sorts of festivals. It’s a warm, incredibly welcoming space, and I can’t wait to go back to cook something else. You should too! But first read my interview with Nissa Pierson, the space’s creator.
brooklyn spaces: Give me a quick history of the space?
Nissa: About seven years ago I started a business called Ger-Nis International, which is an importing business for organic, fair trade fruit and vegetable. We were looking for a new space for the business, and we found this one. Honestly, the moment I saw this place, I said, “I’m going to open up a culinary center,” even though it was just an empty room then. I’m very quick to do these kinds of things. Luckily, my brothers are builders, and they were amazing, building everything out for me after I designed it. I think of the theme as “modern French farm.” I really like a kitchen to have a homey feel. Kitchens that are too modern make you feel very icy, very culinary school, big chefs with their hats, and so the modern edge here is for the artistic side, and the farm-y feel is for the culinary side. I think the place has really nice energy, because it’s all been done with love.
brooklyn spaces: How long have you been teaching cooking classes?
Nissa: Thirteen, fourteen years. I’ve taught for the city of Santa Monica, a bunch of Whole Foods in different cities; I’ve done lost of private classes, I’ve taught at culinary studios across the country. I’ve also written a lot of herb recipes. But I’m 100 percent self-taught in everything I do.
brooklyn spaces: Do you also take a lot of cooking classes?
Nissa: Not really. I’ve taken a few and been bored to death, because most of them are just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Cooking classes are all so technique-based, and I’m not such a believer in technique. I think you can cut an onion a million different ways. I travel a lot, and when you travel, it’s not so much about technique, it’s about ingredients. So that’s what I try to emulate.
brooklyn spaces: How do you decide what to teach here?
Nissa: Listen, my head is filled with so much stuff. Creating the classes is the exciting part for me. I get bored super easily, so it’s really important that we have a variety of classes. We first opened in the summertime, so we started with a lot of ice cream and gazpacho. Our bestselling classes are my Latin classes; our pasta classes are popular too. We have such a laid-back feel about the place, and great people come in who really want to learn. And it’s a really social thing. People leave exchanging numbers and come back again together, which is really nice to see.
brooklyn spaces: Give me a quick rundown of all the different components of the space.
Nissa: Well, of course there’s the cooking classes. We also have a couple of series. One is Brooklyn Conversations, with local chefs, which is a nice way for people to get to know the chefs, and for the chefs to get to just talk about food. We have one called the Brooklyn Artisanal Kitchen, so like Salvatore Brooklyn will teach people how to make ricotta, things like that. We also do supper clubs, with a local chef and all the different local artisans, farmers, and purveyors. We did a social club this summer, sort of like a meetup for foodies, where we organized events and brought food, like we did “Opera in the Park” and brought antipasto. I’m doing one in a couple of weeks called “Lettuce Shred It” at Rockaway, which is free surf lessons—I’m a surfer—and lettuce sandwiches. Then we also have Kids in the Kitchen, and we go into schools, or have school groups come here. We’ve done programs with developmentally disabled adults. We do all different kinds of things, so long as it’s about food education.
brooklyn spaces: What’s your relationship with the community?
Nissa: I’m a strong believer in supporting the community. We do as much as we can to work with neighborhood businesses, to collaborate and cooperate. We work with Union Market quite a bit, and a lot of the restaurants around here, like Miriam, Franny’s, Al Di La. We arranged one of our meetups at the Sycamore, which is a bar and flower shop. We try to bring our customers to the people and businesses we believe in supporting.
brooklyn spaces: What are your goals for the future?
Nissa: I’d like the space to be profitable because I’d like to pay my rent. That’s number one. I’d like this to become a place where people in the community come to socialize, to learn to cook, to play. I’d like it to become a domain for local chefs, food artisans, people with a food education message. A lot of people tell me that I take on too much, that there’s too much going on. But I believe that if you have a good grasp of how to connect it all, then it’s easy. So that’s my goal.