Bed-Stuy’s new Khemistry Bar (216 Malcolm X Boulevard, Brooklyn, 347-715-6458) is a long-planned venture for chef and owner Shana Cooper-Silas, who came to New York by way of Miami and Chicago. She studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago — specializing in French and Belizean cuisine — and finally moved to Brooklyn with her family five years ago to pursue a full-time culinary career. She opened Khemistry Bar on New Year’s Eve to a packed house.
Before making a brick-and-mortar debut, Cooper-Silas first worked pop-up food events, particularly at the DeKalb Market, where she became famous for her fish tacos and lobster mac and cheese. After doing that for a couple years, she eventually found the space for Khemistry Bar, and knew it was the right fit.
“I chose this space really for the backyard,” which comprises 3,000 square feet, she says. “The whole business model is built around the backyard, because it’s huge. When we saw it, it had trash to my waist — nobody was thinking about it, nobody was worried about it. I was like, let’s clear the backyard and center the whole business around the backyard.” Cooper-Silas plans on rolling out her fish tacos and other pop-up street foods when the backyard is finished in the spring.
As far as her outlook on vegetarian cooking, Cooper-Silas comes from a place of personal experience. “I was once a vegetarian and a vegan at points in my life,” she says. “It’s always an undercurrent in everything I eat — I’m a meat-eater now, but sometimes your body just needs to relax from digesting meat. I like to see more veggies on a plate than starches. I don’t think of it as something separate in food, other than the fact that not everybody eats that way. When I think of dishes, I always try to make them vegan and vegetarian, so we capture that without using cheese or dairy.”
Khemistry Bar was inspired by the chemistry that occurs between food, drinks, and people. So far, the restaurant’s menu has been built from customers’ suggestions. The vegan burger ($12), for instance, was created because a returning customer was bringing a vegetarian friend to the restaurant. The patty is a purée of black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, onions, and bread crumbs that is pan-seared and topped with a homemade Sriracha-laced garlic onion jam. Also featured is a fresh vegetable medley made of green and white beans, butternut squash, carrots, purple cabbage, and ginger.
The patty is soft, and the taste of chickpeas is very present. The bread is thick, but unbuttered and toasted. The onion jam has a kick to it because of the Sriracha; the onions are not overly pungent. The vegetable medley is a delight, since it is an unusual assortment of vegetables. It is lightly salted and tossed in oil, with a hint of ginger throughout.
A trace of Cooper-Silas’s Belizean training is evident in her food — she tends to use unexpected spices, herbs, and flavors. She calls her cuisine New American, since there are many recognizable dishes but the food is always cooked a little differently.
More:Vegetarian and Vegan