One of Brooklyn’s most compelling kitchens is now operating inside the public library. Emma’s Torch—a nonprofit designed to provide restaurant training to refugees—cut the ribbon on its new café inside the lobby of Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch at Grand Army Plaza on April 16.
The second location will allow Emma’s Torch to reorganize its programming and deepen its benefit to the program’s participants. The organization takes six students at a time into its three-month training program, culinary director Alexander Harris said. Beginning with a month at the library, students will receive classroom and hands-on training before moving on to the Carroll Gardens restaurant, a petite space open for dinner and weekend brunch. Students will round out their experience by spending their last month at the brand new café, where they’ll shift between front- and back-of-house duties.
“We’ve been the beneficiary of all kinds of food here,” Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson said at the ribbon cutting, “Some good, some not so good.”
But it isn’t just the butter cake on the café’s menu that convinced Johnson and others at the library that this partnership made sense; more than anything, it’s the aligned mission to improve the lives of Brooklynites.
Emma’s Torch founder Kerry Brodie noted that the expansion to the public library would allow the nonprofit to “dramatically expand” the number of students it could serve, with Harris telling us that they’d have 18 at any given time, split between the three phases.
Most of the students—maybe 75 percent— have just arrived in the U.S., Harris said, with another 10 percent having been here for less than a year and the remaining 15 percent slightly longer. Their kitchen skills, English proficiency, ages and country of origin vary wildly, he said, something Emma’s Torch addresses by teaching an assortment of skills.
The project began as a pop-up and only expanded to a brick-and-mortar restaurant last summer, Brodie said. But program graduates are already finding their way, thanks to a network of restaurants and food-service professionals.
Among them: Terricka Hall, a 2018 program grad who came to the ribbon cutting to celebrate the café’s launch.
“I was always a chef inside, but they bring it out,” Hall said. “They teach me how to be confident.”
Hall, who is from Jamaica, found catering work, thanks to Emma’s Torch. She’s also running her own catering company serving “Jamaican food with a twist” and dreams of opening her own restaurant.
Luckily, the social mission isn’t the only part of Emma’s Torch proving worthwhile. The restaurant’s pistachio bread pudding with honeycomb and crème anglaise is one of the best desserts around, and the menu showcases an array of delicious dishes from refugees’ home countries. The café offers a range of quick bites, from a sausage, egg and cheese to salads to a meatball pita sandwich, as well as the satisfying date syrup butter cake.
The café covers different ground than the restaurant. It will serve as an ideal spot for a quick bite at the edge of Prospect Park, while the restaurant remains a must-visit destination for a dinner date.
Visit Emma’s Torch Café inside the Brooklyn Public Library at 10 Grand Army Plaza or make plans to visit the Carroll Gardens restaurant at 345 Smith Street. Find more info at emmastorch.org.