A French Vegan Takes On Brooklyn
The man behind Paris's Mama Shelter's new concept
Update! There is now a Paris location of M.O.B. at 30, rue Charlot in the 3rd arrondissement, though it should be noted that it does not have a full kitchen and thus has a limited menu.
Warning! If you find any of the following to be insufferably pretentious, then skip this article: French people, vegans, philosophers, Brooklynites, Michelin-starred chefs.
Still with us? Great! Read on, and learn about the Parisian hotelier who, along with a (three-) Michelin-starred chef partner, quietly opened a vegan restaurant on an unassuming stretch of Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue in December, named, of course, after a pro-vegetable philosopher.
This ain't some random group of people and ideas. Cyril Aouizerate is the man behind Mama Shelter, the hip hotel designed by Phillippe Starck in Paris's far-flung 20th Arrondissement. Aouizerate opened that boutique spot, with rooms starting at a paltry 79€ per night, almost four years ago and the project was praised worldwide; The New York Times wrote, "The location gives you a new perspective on Paris; the design gives you a new perspective on the world."
So what did Aouizerate do for an encore? He planned two more Mama Shelters — one in Lyon and another in Marseille that will open next month — but his heart was set on Maimonide of Brooklyn. Who of Brooklyn?! The funky comic book logo featuring Aouizerate's likeness shortens it to a more manageable MOB, but the Maimonide refers to the 12th century Egyptian philosopher/rabbi/physician Maimonides. Ok, but what's going on here?
After an introductory lunch earlier this week that Aouizerate hosted along with his partner, the three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Senderens, Aouizerate invited us outside into the restaurant's courtyard (he needed a smoke) and explained everything. In a nutshell, he loves Brooklyn, wants to open a Mama Shelter here, but first found this space and decided to open a restaurant serving healthy meat and dairy-free fare. Ok, but that still leaves some questions, such as:
Why Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn?
"I have nothing againtst the hipster," he says, pronouncing it heep-ster, "but I never wanted to come to Williamsburg or something like that. I try to realize my projects in an unpopular area."
"Firstly because I'm a vegan," he says nonchalantly. Turns out he met a girl who was vegan, married her, and decided to join her in meat– and dairy-free bliss.
Why such a complex name?
"I was a professor of philosophy, and I began to think about the question of whether we have the right to eat animals," he says. Aouizerate says he abhors militant vegans, and he never tries to discourage people to eat meat. So he sought inspiration in Maimonides, a proponent of eating plants, vegetables fruits and spices for better health. Senderens loved the connection as well; they'd create an affordable vegan restaurant that didn't so much discourage meat eaters as "seduce them," as Aouizerate puts it.
So is it any good?
We tried a good chunk of the menu at the luncheon, and we have to say, it's awesome. Chef Neal Harden, previously of Pure Food & Wine, is creating entertaining dishes like oven-baked oyster mushroom and chick pea "nuggets" and vegan charcuterie ("fennel and sage saucisson of sundried tomato, porcini mushroom and sunflower see with aioli, pickled radish and whole grain toast") as starters, and a range of "avant-garde" pizzas, called MOBs, presented in pewter serving trays that nod to the Brooklyn Bridge, which Aouizerate nearly rhapsodizes about as a "beautiful monument."
Aouizerate went on to discuss the hotel he hopes to build around the corner from MOB, a Mama Shelter for Brooklyn with more affordable room rates than the borough is currently seeing. A place where visitors can come and see and interact with real New Yorkers, real Brooklynites—just as he did when he first came to the neighborhood back in 1986.
Of course, he may not be completely altruistic. Discussing MOB's location, he noted the nearby mosque had good synergy with his Hebrew/Arabic-named restaurant, and then — "and the stadium, the future home of the Nets."
MOB, 525 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 718.797.2555, MOB-USA.com