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On Our Radar: Talking with Neal Harden of M.O.B.

April 20, 2012
M.O.B plates are shaped in honor of the ionic Brooklyn Bridge. (Photo by: Neil Rasmus, Billy Farrell Agency)

From the walls down to its custom plates, Maimonide of Brooklyn (M.O.B.) feels inspired, well thought out and carefully executed. [Editor’s note: In fact, it just received the Clean Plates seal of approval!] But would you expect anything less from Cyril Aouizerate, the philosophical Frenchman behind the über-hip hotel chain Mama Shelter? His vision of avant-garde vegetarian food for carnivores came to life when he partnered with so-over-Michelin chef Alain Senderens and executive chef Neal Harden, formerly of Pure Food & Wine. Harden stepped out of the kitchen to tell Clean Plates about the M.O.B. philosophy, the restaurant’s eponymous comic book and how brunch just got better for vegans.

Q: What attracted you to M.O.B.?
A: I thought it would be a fun project. I liked that Cyril really cares about people and community.

Q: Can you shed some light on the connection to Maimonides?
A: Cyril studied and taught philosophy in the Middle East. He was drawn to Maimonides’ philosophy about people of all faiths exchanging ideas and living in harmony. Maimonides was also a doctor, interested in natural health. His quote [paraphrased]: “No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means,” is the core premise of what we want to do: Make medicine for the body and soul, and bring people together.

Q: Cyril clearly loves Brooklyn; does he split his time between here and France?
A: Yes. He’s incredibly busy between Brooklyn and the hotels in Paris and Marseille. It’s not easy—he’s afraid of flying.

Q: It seems like the team is inspired by the restaurant’s home in Boerum Hill. 
A: Cyril built the M.O.B. plates in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge arch because he loves Brooklyn. We’re by the old downtown area, near iconic buildings and the bridge. It’s an up-and-coming area, but lacks certain types of cultural outposts and really needed a healthy restaurant. Cyril wants to open a nice hotel here next.

Q: Can you tell us about the ingredients you work with? 
A: We use and sell products like honey and maple syrup from local purveyors. We have gluten-free bread upon request, but our standard is made with New York State flour, about 60% whole wheat and 40% all-purpose. All of our flour, soy products, corn and a number of other ingredients are organic, and everything is non-GMO.

Rather than rely on soy powders, we use real, fresh ingredients that any chef would have. We source what we can locally, which means greenhouse lettuce and a heap of potatoes and beets around March. We have some set menu items but leave room for seasonal changes so we can use ephemeral ingredients without feeling constricted.

Q: Is there a menu item you’re particularly excited about right now?
A: One of the most interesting things we do is create dishes based on traditional charcuterie, but use tons of mushrooms and veggies instead.

I’m excited to recreate traditional brunch flavors in creative ways. We make a biscuit sandwich with tomato, avocado and smoked, thinly sliced, marinated eggplant that gives you the smoky sensation of bacon; spicy, coarse Cayuga Pure Organics grits with shiitake mushroom sauce and kale; and an apple wood-smoked sausage with chickpea flour, shiitake mushroom and white sweet potato. The potato is cut into pieces to resemble bits of fat. It’s very aesthetic and textural.

Q: Can we expect more comic book adventures? 
A: When the first edition runs out, there will be a second edition to tell people how the restaurant’s evolved.

Maimonide of Brooklyn
525 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn
Open Monday through Friday noon-12:00am; Saturday and Sunday 11:00am-12:00am.

Image of (left to right) Alain Senderens, Neal Harden and Cyril Aouizerate courtesy of Neil Rasmus, Billy Farrell Agency.

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