The northern New York City borough has seen a lot of changes, painting a picture of an “old” Harlem and a “new” one. But the two Harlems have one thing in common: great food. From the mainstay restaurants to the new-gen of eateries that have helped spark another Harlem Renaissance, the food is vibrant and flavorful, delicious interpretations of Harlem culture and cuisine.
When I walked into Clay restaurant a few months ago, I knew that although the restaurant was a new addition to Manhattan Avenue, it was quickly becoming an important part of the community. With the help of co-owner and bar director Andrea Needell Matteliano, a longtime Harlem resident, it’s making a name for itself as a restaurant with sustainability—and heart. Matteliano and Clay’s food and cocktails were like instant friends who I wish I’d met sooner. I cozied up even more when I learned about the restaurant’s strong commitment to sustainability and a mission to support not just the community in which is resides, but also the health of the planet, through every choice the driven team makes along the way.
“We want to keep challenging ourselves to be better and better, and more accountable in our choices to our planet and people,” Matteliano says. “Attention to sustainability is essential for our generation and those to follow, and we hope to inspire guests and our industry while achieving success in a way that reflects our values.” This manifests in everything from eco spirits to local partnerships and of course super-delicious farm-to-table food (like the turmeric cauliflower recipe below from Executive Chef Gustavo Lopez). Here, Matteliano shares more about her vision for helping to shape the future of how restaurants do business.
Delicious Living: While sustainable menus are on the rise, taking a sustainable approach to a bar menu is much less common. What are some of the things you look for when choosing wine and spirits?
Andrea Needell Matteliano: It is much less common, but I think more and more, people are looking for integrity and accountability when choosing how they spend money. There’s a definitive cultural shift that way, and so many more choices than ever before. I’m always looking for outstanding offerings, first and foremost, and favor those who’s business practices support the environment and community around them. I’m loving La Gritona reposado tequila right now, overseen by distiller Melly Cardenas, who employs a small staff of locals, gives leftover agave remnants to farmers for cattle feed, and bottles in recycled glass from coke bottles. Far North Spirits is completely field-to-glass from planting non-gmo grain on their 4th generation farm to distilling and bottling. Their Roknar rye is delicious, highlighting the inherent spice in the grain, and is a personal favorite! Industry Standard Vodka is made in Brooklyn using beet sugar, which is completely water soluble, leaving no solid waste. The distillery is water and energy efficient, even using their own waste heat for energy. The vodka they produce is elegant and clean. It’s hard to choose favorites!
DL: What has been the most challenging aspect to sourcing locally/sustainably in NY—and what are some of the solutions you’ve come up with for working around these issues?
ANM: It’s not as challenging as one might think! The work is really in the research, asking the right questions, and in the challenge of pricing accessibly with these ingredients. The more we all support local and sustainable producers, the more accessible the products become to everyone. These are important and impactful choices we are all faced with, and these conversations are so important to have. NYC is so close to so many small and sustainable farms in NJ, he Hudson Valley, and even up in the Finger Lakes, not to mention all the incredible urban farming solutions surrounding us …. rooftop and community gardens, hydroponic gardens, etc! We find that smaller farms are more likely to treat animals in a humane manner, which is very important to us.
DL: How does the Clay menu represent the Harlem community?
ANM: I think we represent the Harlem community by keeping our focus squarely on what we can offer, rather than on what we can gain from the community. We aspire every day to offer the very best we can, and take pride in getting to know our regular guests and neighbors. The people in the community have always been the heartbeat of Harlem, and we are so grateful to be a part of it.
DL: What is your vision for the future of Clay’s menu—and for food in general?
ANM: We want to keep challenging ourselves to be better and better, and more accountable in our choices to our planet and people. We’re currently researching compost options for kitchen waste, discussing supply options with community agriculture-focused organization Harlem Grown and have begun using compostable corn based plastic straws at the bar! Attention to sustainability is essential for our generation and those to follow, and we hope to inspire guests and our industry while achieving success in a way that reflects our values.
Clay’s Turmeric Cauliflower
For the Cauliflower
2 heads cauliflower florets, cut into 2-3 inch pieces (TIP: cauliflower stalk pieces can be included, or used for another purpose)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
Salt and black pepper to taste
For the Dressing:
1/4 cup raw wildflower honey
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine cauliflower pieces, oil, salt, pepper and turmeric; toss until cauliflower is evenly coated.
2. Spread cauliflower evenly on baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn pieces over, and roast for another 30 minuets, or until fork-tender.
3. In a small bowl, combine honey and vinegar. Gently toss roasted cauliflower with the dressing until all pieces are lightly coated. Serve warm.