Since opening only six months ago, Nura has been making headlines and wowing food critics and neighbors alike for its comfortable atmosphere, plant selection that would make any North Brooklynite green with envy, innovative cocktails and, of course, delicious food. And that last part is all thanks to Jackie Carnesi, Nura’s executive chef.
In a conversation with Greenpointers, Carnesi explained how she ended up at Nura — which describes its cuisine as Indian-accented New American fare, part of which Carnesi had little experience cooking — how she approaches her menu, and what excites her the most about the burgeoning restaurant and bar.
Greenpointers: How did you end up in Greenpoint?
Jackie Carnesi: I was working in Bushwick for six years and I loved it, I had a 12-minute walk to work and I got so spoiled. Then I left Roberta’s and saw that Otis, which was just two blocks away, was looking for a new chef de cuisine and I was trying to step away from the sheer size of restaurants like Roberta’s and get my hands back on food and downsize. So I interviewed and Scott [Hawley, owner of Otis and Nura] said “We’re looking for somebody for a new spot.” I go look at it and was like “Oh my god, this place is incredible, it’s so beautiful.”
Greenpointers: What’s your philosophy in the kitchen?
Jackie Carnesi: It’s really important to me that we’re both taking the food seriously and not taking it seriously. As much as it’s important to me that we’re putting out exceptional product, at the end of the day — people say it all the time — it’s just food. Nobody should be stressing outside of work about it. Also basic comfortability in terms of feeling like this is a safe space. I’ve never understood how there are certain standards that come with working in an office or almost any other line of work that do not apply to the kitchen. It just seemed like common sense to me that somebody should be able to come to work and not feel harassed or disrespected or get yelled at. And on top of that, I’m fortunate enough to work with owners that understand the importance of paying people a decent wage.
Greenpointers: How do you approach Nura’s menu?
Jackie Carnesi: When Scott brought me on board, he said there are no limits, there are no boundaries. He was like, “I just want you to like make good, exciting food.” So having that level of freedom to be creative is like … I’ve never had that in my life. It’s been very collaborative with Scott and Michelle [Lobo-Hawley].
When I met with them, they were talking about Indian cuisine and I’m not really experienced in that, but I said “this is what I can bring to the table.” I have pretty extensive background in Mexican food — I grew up on the southernmost tip of Texas — I have this Italian-slash-vaguely-Japanese background that I got at Roberta’s. And then I started doing more research and seeing all these parallels, especially between Mexican and Indian cuisines’ use of chilies and spices. For me, that was really exciting.
Greenpointers: What are you looking forward to most on upcoming menus?
Jackie Carnesi: My food generally is super vegetable driven. I like making vegetables and seasoning with meat or fish. But like every chef, I love spring. We got our first snap peas in and I ate, like, half the case. We were really in flux with staff during the winter, so now we’re settling in with our staff and it’s really giving me an opportunity to change the menu as much as I want to.
We’re expanding the brunch menu, I’m going to put a golden-milk French toast on the menu which I think sounds really good. Change in general is always really exciting; at this point I’m so sick of seeing my favorite dishes every day, I’m like “Throw them all away, let’s start over.”
Greenpointers: What are your favorite places to grab a bite in Greenpoint?
Jackie Carnesi: Sapporo Ichiban on Manhattan Ave is like our favorite spot to go to for sushi, it’s so inexpensive and for months straight my husband and I would just go every single Monday and get sushi lunch. Le Crocodile is amazing, Bernie’s, Frankel’s.
In April, diners can look forward to Nura opening up on Monday nights and also hosting industry nights highlighting friends stepping in as guest chefs.