Brooklyn Brainery Offers Classes on Everything From Thai Cooking to Tie-Dye

Photographs: Shannon Sturgis

What does dumpling assembly have in common with tree identification? On the surface, not much.

But while tucking shreds of pork and scallion into dough or walking through Greenpoint with your neck craned up in search of leaf-classification clues, there’s an inherent sense of camaraderie. Which is why Brooklyn Brainery, where anyone can teach or learn, aims to be a mid-borough gathering place as much as a kimchi test kitchen.

The Brainery proudly offers “Classes on anything and everything,” and that description’s not hyperbolic; topics range from poetry to poker and from Thai cooking to tie-dye. The crowd-sourced classes, organized by Jonathan Soma and Jen Messier, allow anyone with a knack for, say, sock-darning or fermentation to play professor. As a result, Brooklynites with holey undergarments or a surplus of string beans are much the wiser.

Lifelong learners, Soma and Messier had attended other classes around the borough and launched the Brainery in 2010 in an effort to combine the best aspects (affordable, accessible) without the less-fun ones (big commitments and high prices). The pair’s devotion to neo-hippie lecture series like Secret Science Club and Observatory, both based in Gowanus, is evident in the Brainery’s ever-evolving roster of classes on everything from Serial Killers! to Sichuan cooking to Scotland’s Royal History.

Even when subjects are obscure, response has been strong. On a recent Saturday morning almost a dozen people showed up at their new Prospect Heights HQ to learn about the life cycles of moss.

“New York is a really big place, you’ll find 15 people that will take this real esoteric class,” Messier smiles.


And it’s not just classes. Dabbler, an e-mail supplement launched last year, is the home-school version of an evening in the Underhill Avenue space. For $2 a month, super-accessible, witty e-mails land in your inbox, formatted like flashcards (“So hopefully even if you don’t actually end up collecting coins you’ll be able to discuss mint marks when cornered at a housewarming party”) with tidbits about history, projects and further reading on that month’s topic.

Food remains a favorite muse, and Soma, along with Sarah Lohman, is hosting the Masters of Social Gastronomy series, which covers the intersection of food history and food science, through topics like “Taboo Foods” (think monks abolishing garlic).

Classes average just 20 bucks, and if packed attendance to talks like the “Cuisine of Kashmir” or “Trash: New York City’s Battle with Garbage” (“I feel bad for anyone who followed me on Twitter during that one” says Soma) is any indication, their fifth year is going to be another A+.

Find out more: Click here for the recipe for The Brooklyn Brainery’s Daikon Kimchi.

Photo Credit: Shannon Sturgis

Jan Greenberg

Jan Greenberg is the author of Hudson Valley Harvest: A Food Lover’s Guide to Farms, Restaurants, and Open-Air Markets. She splits her time between the Upper West Side and the Hudson Valley, and has a freezer full of Fleisher’s meat in each place.

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