This Locavore Chef Gave Up His Restaurant to Become a Potter
Back in 2006, Jordan Colón opened a restaurant called Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He did so until he underwent one of the most novel chef transitions we have ever heard of. He become a potter.
Photo courtesy of Sidney Bensimon.
Back in 2006, Jordan Colón opened a restaurant called Eat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. His vision was to cook and serve locally sourced food and offer a true farm-to-table experience. For nine years he did so, until he underwent one of the most novel chef transitions we have ever heard of. No, he didn't become a knife craftsman or quit his job to become a sustainable trout farmer. Instead he closed down Eat in 2015 to become a potter.
Colón explains this seemingly radical transformation: He sees his cooking and his pottery as part of a continuum, in which he practices different forms of artistic expression through locally crafted works. He's just not into running a restaurant anymore. You can find his pottery, which makes out of his studio in Massachusetts, at numerous restaurants and shops; the pieces are beautifully crafted manifestations of his worldview. We wanted to learn more about the leap Colón made from restaurateur to potter and had the chance to speak with him recently.
MUNCHIES: We're seeing more and more chefs moving outside the kitchen to fields like farming or cheese-making, but I don't think I've ever heard of a chef becoming a potter. Can you explain how you got into pottery in the first place?
Jordan Colón: Sure. The food I was doing at Eat was strictly local, seasonal food and I spent a lot of time working with the farms and people I was sourcing from, and I eventually just became more interested in the source side of where things in restaurants come from. From that, I started asking myself about the stuff around me, and then the furniture all became handmade and I started getting pots from local potters I knew. Eventually, I decided to give it a try myself because I felt like I was at this crossroads in my life. The first time my hands touched clay was when I was on a trip to Amsterdam in 2010 and that was all it took to happen. I never had the ambition to make it in the world as a chef. It just so happened that food was my medium for a period of time. Eat was an out-of-the-box type of place, it was very beautiful. You were kind of transported—[it was] kind of this little portal.
How did Eat come about if you weren't on that traditional path? I bumped into it, totally. It was a record shop/coffee shop and this was like Greenpoint in 2005 [when] I came across it—very Bohemian, very cool. One of these like funky businesses. I just found my way into it. I was asked by two guys running the record business, "Do you want to run the café?" I was into music and records, so I was like "Sure, cool." I was like 23 at the time. I had worked in restaurants, but mostly front of the house. So it was an opportunity and I was like, I'll take it. And pottery came upon me like that, too. I was taking a walk one night—I was in Holland staying with a friend, just cruising around. I went into a pottery studio and I touched the clay and that was it: "This is what I want to do." I came back from that trip to Holland and all my focus was on making pots. I came back to the restaurant, set up a kiln and just took classes, taught myself. My studio was underneath my restaurant. I could sell pots out of that and use pottery in the restaurant. I started displaying pots, selling them, and I started doing openings. And the next thing you know, I'm a potter. Eventually, I wanted bigger kilns, and I wanted to live in the countryside, which I do now. I'm in the Berkshires and I have my own studio. The reason I closed the restaurant is because I can't be in New York and be up in the country at the same time. I loved the restaurant and the community there, all my business now came from that place. So it doesn't feel like that world ended.
Were the people around you shocked when you closed Eat? Well, I did it systematically, I didn't do it overnight. When the owner starts showing up just on the weekends, you know things are shifting. I was up in my studio in the Berkshires and just came down on the weekends. And that was it. I wasn't hiring trained chefs—my staff was small and tight and like a true family business. Everyone knew what was going on, where my interests were. We ended the business on these silent meals—it was a beautiful ending and it wasn't even intentional. One of the cooks there said, "I want to start doing these silent meals." It became a big thing. It was almost symbolic. I went out quietly. Very mellow scale-back until, "We're closed! I'm making pots, guys. See you."
Thanks for speaking with us, Jordan.