While the Brooklyn Academy of Music has
had its own cafe inside its second floor Lepercq Space for some
time, the food had previously not risen above the plastic-wrapped
sandwiches and brownies found at other theaters’ intermission
bars where the focus was, not incorrectly, on the performances
rather than the victuals.
Now BAM is offering another option for ticket-holders in search of a great meal before a show. Great Performances, a full-service catering and event-planning company based in Manhattan, has been selected as the exclusive caterers for the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the goal of making the food available inside BAM as arresting as its urban-chic decor.
The change is in keeping with developments in the area around BAM, which has blossomed into a foodie destination, a relief to those who wanted to enjoy a dinner or cocktail with friends before curtain time. Directly across the street from BAM’s entrance is chef-owner Thomas Ferlesch’s Viennese bistro Thomas Beisl, while just a stone’s throw away are chef-owner Ian Grant’s worldly Restaurant Gia, chef Secundo Mendoza’s French-American Café Lafayette and owner Fabrizio Di Mitri’s Italian eatery Scopello among others.
Of course, Great Performances has obstacles that the restaurants surrounding BAM don’t have. While cooking up a storm, the staff must be aware of the fact that they’re in a performing arts institution. Anything that disrupts a performance, like dropping a dish or missing a curtain time, would have dramatic repercussions, to say the least.
And the menu should be eclectic enough to please the very different crowds attracted, for example, to the Wong Kar Wai film series now at BAMcinematek, as well as the jazz, spoken word, rock, pop and world beat live music performers on Friday and Saturday nights at the BAMcafe, or the Tony Kushner play "Homebody/Kabul," now on stage in the Opera House.
Celebrating its 25th year, Great Performances is no stranger to the unusual restrictions of dishing out entrees in performing arts institutions. Recently the company was selected as Jazz at Lincoln Center’s exclusive caterer for the Fredrick P. Rose Hall as well as the planned Dizzy’s Coca Cola club, that will be open 365 days a year.
Great Performances also regularly caters Brooklyn’s most fabulous galas with clients ranging from the Brooklyn Hospital Center - remember dancing in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park or in the outfield of Keyspan Park in Coney Island? - as well as celebrity-studded affairs, like the nuptials of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Judith Nathan.
Founder and CEO Liz Neumark says culture mavens can expect a lot more from BAMcafe now that she’s waving the baton, including more signature dishes, such as chef Carlos Gomez’s "BAM chowder" and his scrumptious dessert, "Breakfast Bread Pudding" [see dessert below], that doesn’t contain any bread at all - just pastries.
"Our clients are no less demanding than those in a traditional restaurant. They are always in the best restaurants," said Neumark. "But while catering is a series of one-night stands, here at BAM, this is a serious relationship. Consistency is the biggest challenge."
At BAMcafe, the diners currently clamor for the wasabi panko fried shrimp with spicy aioli appetizer and the traditional southern fried chicken with garlic smashed new potatoes and mustard greens or the Szechuan peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna with ginger-honey risotto entrees. But Gomez also offers lighter fare like the lobster club sandwich stuffed with large chunks of moist, fresh lobster meat, or a Caribbean Caesar salad with flavor-packed plantain croutons.
"It’s more than food. It’s hospitality, the service, the experience and how it makes you feel," she says.
The challenge for Neumark’s staff at the BAMcafe is for the restaurant to expand its reach beyond performance nights, because on those nights, every table is full and reservations are available only to BAM members. Getting the word out about the inspired chef working the stove at the cafe and his multicultural menu is the first step.
"Our affordable menu is competitive with the neighborhood. It reflects who BAM is - be inclusive."
It’s also discriminating, because Neumark is serious about fresh ingredients.
"I’m passionate about local Hudson Valley food. We have relationships with local farmers. We attended a garlic festival and it was unbelievable. I went on about the garlic for five months. The staff thought I had lost it," said an unrepentant, beaming Neumark. "That what’s nice about being a small company. We can focus on quality - not just purveyors with best price."
Neumark’s relationships with her clients are just as important as those with her suppliers.
"For us, it’s about relationships," said Neumark. "We want [BAM] to be successful. It’s a recipe, not a formula."
BAMcafe is located in the Lepercq Space in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene. Accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $8-$17. Open Thursday through Saturday, from 5 pm to 10:30 pm, and for two hours prior to BAM productions in the Opera House and the BAM Harvey Theater.
For more information about "BAMcafe Live" visit their Web site at www.bam.org or call (718) 636-4100.