In 2009, Brooklyn Bowl New York prepared to open it’s doors. Among all the moving parts of opening up a new music venue, bowling alley, bar, and restaurant, we needed a grounded chef who’d be in charge of fueling our customers, artists, and staff. Luckily for us, we got a Blue Ribbon veteran and rockstar chef, David Kornell. After nine years, 1000s of shows, dinners, brunches, parties, we’ve been lucky enough to keep him a part of our ever-growing family. Below is his Brooklyn Bowl story from then to now and the introduction of our new Jerk Chicken Special being featuring Tuesday, November 7 and Thursday, November 9.
Brooklyn Bowl: Tell us what it was like being the chef to open Brooklyn Bowl? What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
Dave Kornell: Opening Brooklyn Bowl was a powerful experience, that has forever changed me. I was working for Blue Ribbon for two years when we were preparing to open Brooklyn Bowl and I was excited about representing the Blue Ribbon brand in this new establishment. I was getting pretty comfortable with the classics that would be the centerpiece of the Bowl menu, and knew that I had guidance and support from Blue Ribbon chef and owners, Bruce and Eric Bromberg (who founded Blue Ribbon 25 years ago). I was very fortunate to have a kitchen that was not only filled with shiny new equipment, but with cooks and dishwashers that had years of Blue Ribbon experience. My co-chef and best friend, Matt Deliso, came on to help lead the way, and together we embarked on a totally weird and wonderful trip.
For me, the relationships and friendships that I developed during these times were my biggest takeaway from Brooklyn Bowl. There’s a laid-back vibe with a rock and roll attitude, and a serious service-driven focus, but during all of it, a shared love of creating awesome experiences. Most of us were passionate about music, and open minded to share who and what we loved about it with each other. Owner Charley Ryan with his amazing stories about rock legends, traveling the world and the Wetlands, and General Manager Stephen Schwarz with his love of Ween, bacon, and life, was always there with love and support. Kevin Denham who has kept the place in one piece and the lanes clean since day one is getting married next week in Florida. Justin Bolognino, who was a driving force in creating Brooklyn Bowl as a brand continues to amaze me to this day with his new company Meta, and growing his family, whom I love dearly. There are too many names to name and amazing stories that go along with each of them, and for every one of a them I feel love… and somewhere at the top of that list is Pete Shapiro. It’s been a great privilege to see Pete and Brooklyn Bowl evolve, and I’ve tried to absorb, enjoy, and appreciate as much as I could during my time cooking for the venue. I saw Trey at Carnegie Hall and Black Sabbath at the O2 with Pete, as well as countless other amazing musical moments, but most importantly I went to my first “Dead” (Furthur) show with Shappy. That moment, along with the following years of Shappy’s, the Bowl’s and my friend’s LOVE of the Grateful Dead has forever changed me, and for that, I am forever grateful.
BB: What was your favorite items on Brooklyn Bowl’s menu?
DK: There were some items that we created specifically for Brooklyn Bowl, often incorporating elements of familiarity that Blue Ribbon is known for. The Knish at the Bowl was based on the pierogis that I had been enjoying at Blue Ribbon for years, so I was immediately drawn to them and found it hard not to taste test them often. We had a roast pork sandwich when we first opened that used the recipe from one of our prep cooks, Francisco, who had been working for Blue Ribbon since the very beginning, and it was delicious. It was awesome to be able to take a recipe that was most likely passed down through generations in Ecuador, and with respect and reverence incorporate it onto the Brooklyn Bowl menu.
Some favorites that are still on the menu are the San Gennero Pizza (great balance of flavors with house-made sausage), Mac and Cheese (would not be a great as it is without Mia’s suggestion to add caramelized onions) and our jumbo pancake, which I think holds up as one of the best around.
BB: We know you’re just as well versed in music as your are in food. Tell us about your favorite shows you’ve ever seen at Brooklyn Bowl?
DK: There have been so many. I can easily say what show I was most disappointed to miss. I was in London when Shappy texted me and said, “Holy sh*t… Guess who’s playing the Bowl on Monday?”
That Robert Plant show will forever go down as one of the greatest moments at the Bowl, and I’ve seen the video of Plant singing “Going to California” and it gets me every time.
As for the shows that blew me away:
– Dr. Dog’s July in Christmas on December 11, 2009: Our first year open and they had fake snowfall, costumes, threw gifts to the crowd; the room was FULL of spirit.
– Jonathan Toubin Benefit featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on December 16, 2011: The energy and love in the room that night was powerful… and I got to watch our owner and fearless leader stage dive (there is a photo of that somewhere)
– Snoop Dogg on April 20,2010,: …Nuff said
– Joe Russo’s Almost Dead on October 3, 2015: The Scarlet Begonias > Fire on The Mountain was a magical moment. The eruption of the crowd was so natural and explosive as if the energy simply could not be contained.
BB: What’s the wildest behind the scenes request you’ve had from one of the artists who played during your time as chef?
DK: Wild, behind the scenes Brooklyn Bowl stories are plentiful, but there is kind of an unspoken code to keep those amongst family… maybe one day a group of the OGs will gather some for a book or something, as long as we all agreed to it.
To be honest, I really didn’t experience too many of these. I think so many artists were blown away with the options we already had in house, which is very different from most other music venues, that they were able to find things that worked for them. Another lesson I learned from Blue Ribbon is that Fried Chicken makes most people VERY happy.
BB: So you’re making a Jerk Chicken special for the upcoming The Original Wailers on Tuesday, November 7 and The Movement with New Kingston on Thursday, November 9. What about this style of food speaks to you and when did you start cooking it most?
DK: Jamaica was the first country outside of the United States that I had ever visited. At the time I was 22 years old and worked as a sous chef in Rockland County. My first official vacation had to take place somewhere special, where I could relax on a beach somewhere, eat some great food, smoke some ganja, and listen to music. There were only a few options that fit all of my needs, so Jamaica it was. That first trip to Jamaica was filled with sights, sounds, and flavors that always stuck with me.
Since then, I have traveled across the globe and tasted foods from different cultures. The ones that have spoken to me recently have been loaded with bold flavors, aromatics, and spices. After working on a project that had me traveling and cooking in India, I felt a desire to reconnect to the flavors from Jamaica with a focus on Jerk Chicken. I think Jerk Chicken encompasses so many of the things that chefs love about cooking. Using bright and intense ingredients to build flavors, slow cooking with fire, simplicity, history… it takes a long process spread out over two days to accomplish correctly. There is something beautifully optimistic about marinating something overnight to cook the next day.
BB: What’s the best Jerk Chicken you’ve ever had and where? Where’s the best Jerk Chicken in New York City?
DK: The best Jerk Chicken I had was in Port Antonio, Jamaica. It was last year around the holidays, and my girlfriend and I were driving around Jamaica looking for the best Jerk Chicken. There were some others that stood out also, like the chicken from Fiya Side, which is on a highway between Kingston and Treasure Beach.
Tropical Jerk in Queens Village has a pretty traditional version and their hot sauce has that real Scotch Bonnet kick. It’s a no-frills type of place, so I’d recommend take out, which unfortunately means styrofoam containers. Glady’s in Prospect Heights also does a great job and has more of a restaurant vibe, so you can sit down, order a Red Stripe or Pina Colada with your Jerk, and have a nice dining experience.
BB: What is the best reggae show you’ve ever seen and where was it?
DK: Jimmy Cliff at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was a rainy day, which as many of you know makes the grounds at Jazz Fest intolerable. After weaving in and out of crowds, through food stalls (I may have snagged a gumbo on the way), and towards the Congo Square Stage, the smooth sounds of steel drums welcomed us. When Jimmy Cliff took the stage, it felt as if the storms had stopped and the sun was once again shining through.
BB: Tell our fans what your favorite part about coming back to Brooklyn Bowl is? Whether it’s the food, the music, the bowling, or when you get the chance to cook here again?
DK: I think it’s the combination of everything. To me, Brooklyn Bowl feels like home, in the best sense. The warmth of the management, servers, and hosts. It’s a testament to the management who have created a foundation for service that has continued to improve over the years. The staff at Brooklyn Bowl is awesome, and not just for a bowling alley/rock venue. From the second Khari on security greets you to the minute the server drops your bread pudding, Brooklyn Bowl does its best to create a safe space with an elevated level of service. The sight lines are incredible, the sound incredible, and getting better and better every year, thanks, Pete. The leather couches on the lanes more comfortable then any I’ve ever owned. The consistency of food and service. The chicken burger is the same chicken burger that was served in Blue Ribbon and fried chicken that blows peoples minds.
BB: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring chefs?
DK: Enjoy the ride with eyes wide open. It’s not always easy, and sometimes you may want to cut your fingers off, but you’re part of a long lineage who have continuously gone to great lengths, through extreme conditions, and put others ahead of themselves for the sake of providing nourishment. Love food for what it is and love people for who they are, and treat both with respect. Be passionate about creating great food now, but also be aware of the future. How will the food that you are passionate about today affect the people and world around you tomorrow? Do the best with what you have and be realistic about what you can do. Take responsibility for mistakes and own up to them, communicating as often and best you can. Be compassionate and nice to people.
Don’t miss the chance to try our new Jerk Chicken special with Curried Squash at Brooklyn Bowl New York on Tuesday, November 7 and Thursday, November 9!
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