Sunday in Brooklyn's Jaime Young Goes from Tasting Menus to All-Day Dining
Jaime Young has spent years in the fine dining scene, most recently at Atera under Matthew Lightner, where he learned to redefine flavor and presentation while Manhattan diners devoted their attention to a 20-plus plate meal. He’s taken that passion and fused it with practicality as the chef/partner of Sunday in Brooklyn, a three-story restaurant with two outdoor spaces, a private dining room and an all-day (and evening) takeout window. Young spoke with us about how he satisfies cooks, diners and his creativity in an all-day format.
You moved from fine-dining restaurants to an all-day café. How do you stay interested and inspired?
Casual diners want to sit, eat delicious food and have a conversation. When we first opened, I was going a little too off the deep end as far as creativity was concerned, and it came off as too much. So I had to dial it back a little and think about a new strategy: how to keep my kitchen staff (and myself) motivated. We have to create interesting, fun food and, at the same time, make it accessible for the average diner who just wants to come in, have a great meal and just have a good time. That’s been really interesting—to find that line between creativity and accessibility.
Can you explain a dish that succeeds in both areas?
For our bison tartare, we marinate bison with salt, olive oil, pepper and a little fish sauce. Two of my chefs had this idea of putting the egg yolks in Worcestershire overnight to see what happens—they get this interesting texture like yolk jam. So now we have this amazing texture and Worcestershire flavor. My buddy sells me his mushroom seconds, and we pickle the chanterelles. Throw in some ramp capers we preserved from the summer, top the tartare with crispy beef [repurposed from a steak dish] and some crispy seaweed for salinity, and I’m combining traditional steakhouse and tartare while cross-utilizing my waste ($18, recipe).
The flavors are familiar, but the conceptualization and technique are different. It’s an experience where you’re traveling and discovering: with the egg yolk, without the egg yolk; two kinds of textures with the seaweed and crispy beef; the onion and mushroom giving dynamic pickled taste and acidity. There are layers of flavor, so the dish is fun as you eat it all the way through.
What was the trickiest adjustment for you as a chef?
It was about transitioning my mind frame from fine dining to something more casual and accessible. In the beginning we were à la carte, and for me that was tricky because it’s been years since I’ve done à la carte entrées [that have] enough protein, veg, starch and sauce on a plate for it to have this perceived value. I had a tough time conceptualizing entrée-style food like that.
So we started thinking about doing smaller dishes, where I can make a conceptualized idea. Now, my team and I are trying to infuse creative ideas in [the menu] so that diners come back a couple of times in a week, or for multiple meal periods: breakfast and dinner, or drinks and brunch. For that to happen, they need to feel they can come in here and eat and not stress out.
Is there an adjustment you’ve not yet conquered?
Midday is tricky. The restaurant never shuts down, but we need to maintain cleanliness somehow. Logistically, how does it work? People want something hot that I can’t quite offer because we’re cleaning the space. Where do I set up for that? Who do I pay to stand there and wait for a couple of orders? To staff one person, my labor costs go up. My food costs go up. It’s a large puzzle, so how do we move the pieces around to make it fit? The midday menu has to be something people want to sit down and eat. That’s been our challenge, and we’re on our way to putting that together.
You do a lot with smoking and preservation. Does that make execution easier or harder?
I have a myriad of interesting options to choose from for the person who just wants a pickle plate. The tricky part is I don’t have the walk-in space for Lexans and Lexans of preserved things. We tried that in the beginning, but then my inventory goes up and my food cost goes up, and I’m in a pickle at that point…no pun intended! So now I preserve things for specials during the season and roll with the next thing coming.
With those issues, do you get to be creative or do you have to be rigid when it comes to menu consistency?
My sous chefs and I have pages of ideas, and we change the menu as often as possible, because—especially as we have guests who come multiple times a week—it’s more inviting that way. They can come back for something that’s been on the menu for a while, or they can have something new. You gotta keep it moving. It’s also good for my cooks. I have to keep them interested or they’re going somewhere else. They need to be excited all the time. I need to be excited.
How does that idea work in your massive space?
We do up to 600 covers on weekends for brunch, so the design of any dish has to be foolproof in the pickup and also quick. The number of steps has to be limited. The preparedness of the mise en place also has to be foolproof and limited. For example, we make sambal in-house and make vinaigrette out of it; just adding it to lettuce makes that salad awesome. For dinner, it’s about limiting steps so that we can put food [out] and make those turn times, seat more people and make the experience excellent. The processes have to be trimmed down and exact.
Your space has morphed concepts already in your first year. Why?
Originally, we opened up with these refrigerated cases and had a market going, but it didn’t take. So we removed the cases and made a chef’s counter. On another note, we have this window where we do coffee, pastries and soft-serve to go, and people have taken to that.
I guess it’s funny. When you come into a space with a concept, you have to be adaptable. If the neighborhood doesn’t want something, you can’t force it. We’ve been good at adapting as we go, going from a serious à la carte to an affordable sharing menu where your dining time goes from three hours to an hour and a half; from where you could buy the meats and cheeses we smoke and cure in-house to now it’s gone, and we’re doing a chef’s counter. Every time we pivot, we make corrections, and the restaurant gets better. It’s a trial and error thing. You can’t bank on that your ideas will fit the community.
What do you see as the long-term appeal for the all-day restaurant? Is it a sustainable concept?
It’s an ever-evolving concept, so I’m figuring it out. The reality is that wages are going up. Rent and costs go up. The more you keep your doors closed, the more you’re limiting revenue time. A lot of restaurants are going to have to do this. I’m trying to make this midday thing logistically doable in a way that people are going to want to come here and help us stay busy all the time. It’s an opportunity to make more money, to pay for the things we want to do and to take care of our employees.
Jacqueline Raposo could snack on potatoes all day—home fries (extra crispy, please), really awesome shoestring fries or steak fries.