Chefs in the City: DeVonn Francis
For this Broadcast series, Pioneer Works Supper Club chefs and collaborators are asked what small businesses they frequent—in a celebration of city life, good food, and all things local. In the process, we learn more about their background, their worldview, and what day-to-day activities inform their creative, culinary practice.
DeVonn Francis: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
DeVonn Francis is a chef, artist, teacher, and muse to many. In 2017, after graduating from Cooper Union with a degree in performance studies, he founded the one-of-a-kind hospitality company Yardy World, inspired by his Carribean heritage and the family gatherings of his youth. I met up with DeVonn in his neighborhood of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, where we visited a few Caribbean mom and pop counter services he frequents when he’s on the go and doesn’t feel like spending time in the kitchen.
“I'm obsessed with how people from the islands are spread around Brooklyn. There's something really cool about counter culture between neighborhoods, it really does give you a snapshot of the DNA of a place,” Devonn told me. “When Yardy World started, it was very much inspired by the block parties and summer things that were happening in my household and with my grandparents, who on both sides of my family live in East Flatbush. I grew up with a family of people who are just very extra in everything that they did, from fashion to the way that they host a party, to the way that they express love. There was always, like, a big hat or a specific color...so much energy and attention to detail, and character and charisma. When I think about putting an event together it's kind of an homage to all of those things, and what Jamaican and Black decadence have meant to me in my own family history. I’m trying to help the world visualize that and carry that visual language and culture and their food in the programming that we’ve been doing.”
Veggies Natural Juice Bar
994 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY (+multiple locations)
“Veggies does mostly vegetable based patties. They’ll have a good kale one, or cabbage, split pea, or a lentil patty. It’s cool because it has all the things you need in it, and you don't need to take out a fork and knife.
I feel like the best part about Jamaican food—at least how I was raised on it—is the fresh juices. My Grandma always made fresh juice. She'd make fresh carrot juice and fresh beets and fresh ginger juice as well. And it would be in addition to having a really easy and hardy breakfast, like an ackee and saltfish. They also have all these supplements like Irish Moss [sea moss], which is so important cause it has probably 90 different types of vitamins and minerals in it. I wouldn't say it's native to Jamaica but you see it in Jamaica a lot.”
A&A Bake Doubles and Roti Shop
1337 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11216
“Doubles are a traditional Trini food and one of the best pocket foods. It's sweet, sour. There's tamarind. The bread is super flaky and incredible. It's both utilitarian and the most delicious thing ever.
There's a lot of crossover for Trinian/Jamaican food. Trini has a bit more of an Indian influence because Trini has a bigger Indo-Caribbean population than Jamaica does. Their attention to roti and curry and that type of flavor profile is gonna be defined a bit by that group or population, whereas in Jamaica you'll find a bit more of an amalgamation of Spanish and even Chinese and African food. And then the crossover would be things like tamarind, ginger, lots of garlic, stuff like that.
A&A is on Fulton Street, which is a shopping ground in a very specific way. I feel like it's really important to understand where businesses are, because there's really a mapping of how people are investing in themselves in their communities.There's a fabric shop across the street called Nur Jahan and that's where I usually buy a lot of fabrics from. So it's a nice work day in Brooklyn.”
1109 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
“Allan’s Bakery is an iconic spot in Lefferts Gardens that has been around since the ‘60s. There's always a line outside wrapping around the block, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. That's when people have their family dinners. And on a good day, when you're running to do your laundry, which I do, you can smell the bakery and all the bake stuff happening, from like yards and yards away.
The most popular item would be the currant roll. They also do custom cakes. It’s great a spot for a party gift if you're ever on your way to one. Grab a nice roll or a big loaf of bread or a custom mini cake or something. Currant rolls, hardo bread, and any kind of coconut roll, that kind of look. Every culture has its own relationship to bread. I bought a turnover, which is also like an empanada—with pineapple and mango in it. It’s like caramelized pineapple, which is really good.”