If you thought a global pandemic could get in the way of New Yorkers having a good time, you thought wrong. While the city isn’t quite itself right now, the team has done some digging and found the coolest socially-distanced activities during lockdown. This is episode six of Culture Trip’s Only in New York podcast.
In a unique episode for a very unique time in New York’s history, Alex Shebar is joined by Haley Findlay to explore the amazing experiences New Yorkers can enjoy right now, even during lockdown. Try a mousse-making class with the former chef of the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations, take a deep dive into the city’s street art and go on the sweetest tour in all of NYC as you taste the city’s best desserts. Throw on some headphones and a mask, head out for a safe walk and enjoy these tales of the city.
Alex Shebar: Culture Trip is the go-to platform for travel where you can go to get informed, plan, and book awesome experiences and places you want to stay all over the world.
AS: On March 7th, New York State was put into a state of emergency to try and combat the rapidly growing Covid-19 disease. From there, it only got worse. Although we knew it was coming, on March 20th, Governor Cuomo put New York State on pause. Ever since then, the city that never sleeps, well, slept. We have been sheltering in place, removing everything that makes New York New York. There are no shows, no sports, no late-night or early-morning eateries, bodegas, Broadway, botanical gardens. They are all a thing of the past. Remember them? They were nice. But now, it is September, and well, yeah, we are still shut down. But New Yorkers are nothing if not resilient. Our numbers are down, and we are still mostly all doing our parts, and because of this, people are starting to exit their homes. And like great lumbering bears, they are finally seeing the sun after months of hibernation. Well, if you too are now feeling like you could safely leave your house and start to explore this amazing city, hey, we got you covered. We are going to chat with four different incredible New York City business owners, each who is running experience focused on social distancing. Everything from the best sweets in the city to an underground street artist who can talk in-depth about the soul of New York City. Throw on some headphones and a mask, and go take a walk around the city, listening to this episode. We know you will be inspired to hear and do more.
AS: And today, on this very special episode of “Only in New York,” I am not alone. I am talking pandemic experiences with a brand new co-host. Haley, say hello.
Haley Findlay: What is up? Hello everyone. Well, you know, I just want to say yes, you are not alone. I know, I have been, a lot of the past couple of months, a little bit to my computer. So it is nice to connect.
AS: No. Beyond that.
HF: I live in New York, and I am a brand builder. I love to travel. I love to connect with other people from around the world…
AS: And you do a ton of travel stuff, which is why we have invited you to this lovely travel podcast.
HF: Well, thank you very much. I personally love traveling around the world and finding very unique places to go to, which is just like off the beaten path and meeting people. I have traveled to probably six different countries alone.
AS: Okay, so I gave Haley a challenge. I want three weird facts. Haley, fact number one.
HF: Well, I am going to go with this one. I do not like to have any alcoholic drinks unless it is straight shots of tequila, chilled, no salt, and if you put a drink in front of me and like, no. I blame it on my stomach. It just… It can’t handle that much liquid, I guess.
AS: You know, ah… There. But I do like that too. Like, well, I am not going to take an airplane. But if you have a space shuttle to Mars, I am getting on it.
HF: Hey, you do not know how big of a bit like meaning that has all the past month and a half. I am like, let us go to Mars, let us build, I called it was just a TV room, but I guess I can go right into my second fact.
AS: Second fact. Fact number two.
HF: Fact number two. If I am ever invited to a house or, like, a sleepover or just any get-together, I am always creating a space room. So it is funny actually, see Mars, because it is like a TV room, but I made it like a space room, and I will put on, be that is a projector or TV, and I will put on the eco-search like the galaxies, and I will make everybody sit down and watch it.
AS: Did you bring your own projector or you just…?
HF: Well, okay. So some places happen to have a projector or, like, you go to an Airbnb house, and I am like, this is so cool. There is, like, a movie room and has a projector or TV. But I actually was just in Tulum a while ago before all the travel, and there was wifi but there are no TVs. So I had to buy a projector, and it is one of those lights. It was very cool. So I make space rooms everywhere I go. It is just like…
AS: That is amazing. That is the wonderful fact. Fact number three; drop it on us.
HF: I do not like my food to touch on a plate.
AS: Okay, it is all food? Because food tends to touch.
HF: I mean, I just started to like the build-your-own salad and have everything together. But yes, if I go out to, like, a restaurant, I will have different plates if I need. I do not try to be like that person, you know, that runs like a plate for the plate. Yeah. But you know, even just at home cooking and, like, I do not want my chicken to touch the rice. You know, I do not know; it is just a thing.
AS: No. Is it a texture thing or is it a taste thing? What do you get going on here?
HF: I do not know what it is. It is just ever since I was younger, you know, it is like one of those family things and they would, I guess my parents had put everything on. I just like the people that put the chicken on… It sounds like I am going to describe a teriyaki bowl, which I like, but at home, it was not as good as a teriyaki bowl, and they just put the chicken on the rice and all the sauce, and it just, it is too much. It is not spaghetti, right? Spaghetti is okay. Chicken, right. It is just… It is just the thing. So I will take one plate, everything separated, and we are good.
AS: You know what? I understand that I gave you the task of coming up with three questions about yourself. You nailed it. You just did excellent.
AS: The last thing before we move on to these wonderful interviews coming up is that, for each one of them, you are going to hear them answer a question about what they find only in New York. What is their “only in New York” moment? Haley, what is your “only in New York” moment?
HF: Hey guys, I am Haley Finlay, and my “only in New York” moment, the 1am every corner pizza joint for one dollar. That was, like, mind-blowing. I came from Vegas to New York, and one-dollar pizza, late in the morning, wherever you want, every single corner. I was like, this is only in New York. I will put on my radio voice.
AS: You have been on your radio voice?
AS: Put on the radio voice. [Crosstalk] Thank you so much, Haley. We are very excited to chat with you. Let us begin this podcast right now.
Sarah Morgan: Hi, I am Sarah Morgan. I am the co-owner and co-founder of Sugartooth Tours. What I love in New York City that you can only find in New York is the diversity of not only the people but the food in such close proximity to each other. So for example, you can go to Midtown and all of a sudden, one block, everything is Korean. Everything there is amazing and delicious. Then two blocks down, you are eating great Italian food.
AS: So we are continuing on with our exploration of everything that you can do in New York safely, social distancing-ly. Is that a word? Haley, is that a word? Social distancing-ly.
HF: I mean, I have never heard of it, but we will go with it for today.
AS: I am the one with the mic; I get to decide what word is. Is that how the word is? Wow.
HF: It does.
AS: Yeah. I am going with it. Anything I say is true. We are going to talk with Sarah. All right. So we are going to talk about things that you can do in New York that are really unique. Sarah, thank you for joining us.
SM: Thank you so much for having me.
AS: Of course. Do you want to talk about a little bit who you are? I am going to leave this up to you because obviously you are the expert in your own life.
SM: Yeah, absolutely. So, my name is Sarah Morgan. I am one of the co-owners and co-founders of Sugartooth Tours, which specializes in dessert food tours in New York City. So if you love dessert and you are interested in getting out in New York City and kind of exploring your own city as a local, we have got some fun things that we have worked up for these very interesting times that we are living in that I would love to share with you a little bit more about. But basically, in a nutshell, you know, I am your go-to gal for anything dessert, New York City, the culinary history of the city, etcetera.
AS: Now, how well do you think that desserts and New York City go together? Is this something that is tailor-made together? What’s kind of, the feeling there?
SM: Oh for sure. So I mean, New York, obviously a culinary destination. I mean, everyone says if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere.
AS: My co-host might have just mentioned this earlier.
HF: I literally just said that.
SM: It is so true, and that does not stop with food and specifically with bakeries. I mean, one thing that I love about New York is that you can make something that is totally unique and off-the-beaten-path. Something that maybe would not fly in another city, but you can really have sort of niche experiences in New York City, and that is kind of what we aim to do. But I think one of the reasons it works is because you see these really unique desserts like the bubble waffle cones. I do not know if you have seen those on Instagram.
SM: The Instagrammable moments. We have seen those.
SM: Yes. I mean things that are a little bit unique, you can make an entire business out of it in New York. So we see a lot of these trends kind of come and go, whether it is the waffle cone or the cronuts we are still seeing. But I would say, for sure, that New York and dessert definitely go together.
AS: I mean, this is a city that people lined up at 3am to get their cronuts. So I happen to agree with you. I think that there is a fierce dedication – one might say fanatical dedication – to desserts in New York City. So when someone questions why I have hit nine bakeries in a day, I can just be like, it is research. You know that is what is it. It’s research.
HF: You say Sarah made me do it.
AS: It’s Sarah’s fault.
SM: Hundred percent. Absolutely. I support you.
AS: So talk to me about a dessert tour. What does one experience? Not just the food, but also the feelings inside their heart.
SM: Yeah. You know, one of the things that we really aim to do is connect local consumers with food artisans. So it should be a really kind of connective experience where yes, we are going to have a great dessert. Yes, we are going to learn about some culinary history of the city and some interesting stories about the neighborhoods we’re walking through. But it is really about connecting with others. You know, during this time, we are offering private tours because a lot of people want to stay within their own group. But we wanted to also create a safe social distance experience where people can still connect with other foodies, other people who love dessert and love New York history and just want to explore their city. So I think it is really like a great feeling of community coming together through food and stories.
AS: Awww. And how these bakers been doing there independently? I cannot imagine it has been easy.
SM: Yeah. It has been a real mixed bag, to be honest. I have been thrilled to see many of our bakeries have been doing so well during the pandemic. They have been shipping nationwide. They have had challenges, perhaps with, you know, reduced staff, and some of the owners who have maybe typically take a little bit of a step back are, you know, both hands on the wheel, you know, steering the ship.
AS: Even about getting in there.
SM: Yeah, and I think most are operating with reduced hours. Unfortunately, we have seen a couple of closures.
SM: That is really a bummer. But we are hopeful that some of those places are going to be able to reopen when all this blows over. In the meantime, one of the great things about our tours is that, you know, we pay for all these tastings that we go to. We do not want to get in for free. So you are actually supporting local businesses and local bakeries in New York by taking one of our tours and helping to, you know, invest back in the community. And because it is all outdoors, we go inside and get the tastings for you. So we kind of take that element out so you get to stay safe, stay outside; we will get the tastings and bring them to you and support those local businesses with those purchases.
AS: Then with our new tour running on Culture Trip, you are going to bring them to really interesting green spaces to try these desserts too, right? That is built into it?
SM: Yeah. So that was kind of the idea of, you know, how could we have kind of like a pastry picnic that moves, like a progressive picnic with pastries through New York City? So, you know, as someone who lived in New York for a long, long time, you see a lot of little parks and green spaces. Really, you do not take the time to actually sit and enjoy them or learn about the history of all these little squares and parks. We want to get a little bit off the beaten path, and there might be some really unique green spaces that you haven’t had a chance to check out or learn the interesting history about. So what better place to sit and maybe eat a freshly baked French croissant from a true authentic French bakery. You know, why not?
AS: Why not. Sarah, you had me at a progressive pastry picnic. So that is literally okay.
HF: That is a great tongue twister right there. So Sarah, what else have you been doing during this pandemic?
SM: Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I have been doing a lot of eating. [Laughs] A lot of…
SM: …A lot of baking. Part of the reason why starting Sugartooth Tours was a passion of mine is because I come from a family that loved to bake. So I had really high expectations for the types of desserts that I was eating when I would go out in New York. I mean, I was always seeking to find the best. So, you know, this time at home, I have been able to spend a lot of time baking at home. I did finally get to try my hand at making the Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake.
AS: Oh, yes.
SM: And I mean…
SM: Legendary. Honestly, I think I have been intimidated by it for years, and I am not going to say it was a walk in the park, but it was, it was good. I mean, and it was worth it. A hundred percent worth the extra effort.
AS: As a baker, did you get caught up at all in the sourdough craze? Was that on your to-do list?
SM: You know, I am afraid of the sourdough starter process.
HF: I do not even know what this is. Sourdough? Did I miss something?
AS: Oh, you weren’t there? Everybody was making sourdough bread. It was…
AS: Oh, yeah.
HF: Oh, man, I missed… I missed like a whole month or something.
AS: Early on.
SM: Yeah. Early on, when you could not buy bread.
HF: I remember that.
SM: People were starting to make their own. Now you can get starters, and when I bake bread, I usually get a starter that is pre-made. But you can actually cultivate your own yeast.
SM: And that is something that I am going to leave to the professionals. As much as I love baking, I am an amateur, and I am going to leave it to them.
AS: You know, I had friends who literally were competing on who could make the best sourdough. So they were like sending photos of our WhatsApp, text me like, “This is mine.” They are like, “Well, this is mine.” I was like, “Wow.” A whole new level.
HF: [Laughs] You didn’t bake a sourdough?
AS: I did not. My wife used to make kombucha. So same kind of concept of a living, sort of fermented process, and that scared the heck out of me. So I stayed far, far away. I just made a movie list of stuff I wanted to watch. When they were making bread, I was watching films.
HF: So, Sarah, can you let us know how can we join you on this amazing new experience, that picnic? What was the tongue twister? What was that new one?
SM: Progressive pastry picnic.
HF: Progressive pastry picnic. That is, I am there. So tell me how do I go there?
SM: So you can go to Culture Trip and you can find this new experience listed there. If you want to visit us on our website, we are at sugartoothtours.com, and you can follow us on social media at @sugartoothtours.
AS: Thank you so much. It has been nothing but a pleasure having you here. Although I am sad I had no pastries or desserts to eat while doing this tour.
HF: It is virtual. Next time.
AS: No. You know what, I see all the time, these websites are like, you know, do you accept the cookies, and I said yes, and then I do not get a cookie. That is a bad internet joke. I am sorry.
SM: What is out there?
HF: [Laughs] I follow. I follow.
AS: I apologize for that one. [Laughs] Marc, our producer, liked it. He is laughing. I want just one on that last one.
Gabe Schoenberg: Hi, I am Gabe Schoenberg. I am the managing artist of Graph Tours, and only in New York can you find the incredible diversity and the incredible food that that brings. You can’t find anything better.
AS: So as we stay deep, deep, deep in the heart of pandemic, one of the things I have been enjoying is walking around and exploring new neighborhoods safely and securely with a mask on. One of the things I actually enjoy most about that is finding new street art. Because this city, it has, I would say, some of, if not the best street art in the entire world. That is what we are talking about in this segment today. So Gabe, thank you for being on our podcast.
GS: Yeah, it is my pleasure. Glad to be here.
AS: No worries. You want to introduce yourself and talk a little bit about what you do and how it is all related to street art?
GS: Sure. I mean first and foremost, I am a local artist in Brooklyn, New York. I have been doing graffiti for almost eight years now. Professionally, that is. Long before that, I was a fan, and growing up with hip-hop in the city, you know, it was always something that was very prevalent in my life. So when I became a professional artist, I opened up a teaching studio. We are called Graff Tours. We teach graffiti art to everyone and anyone that is willing to learn. We teach the art form, we teach can control, the ability to use spray paint, and actually create what is in your mind with it. We also take people on tours around the city to experience what people are actually doing, talk about the technique, and the process of how people do big legal murals, but also how people do bombing and illegal tagging and everything in between. So we are just trying to share our passion with the world and give people a glimpse into a culture that is really misunderstood.
AS: I love that. You used a phrase there that I had not heard before but I think, immediately people would understand can control. That is such a cool phrase.
HF: I was just going to say that.
AS: What a phrase. I love that. Talk to me more about can control.
GS: Well, can control is basically the technique of how you use spray paint. If you just picked up a spray can for the first time and you sprayed it at a wall, it would be, like, very thick, and the lines would not be very accurate, and you certainly would not be able to do a skinny line. So you need how to tilt the can and how hard to press and how fast to move and combining a lot of those techniques. Eventually, you can take what was a very fat line into a very specific skinny line.
AS: Cool. That is awesome. Now, I have been using the term street art. You have very deliberately been using the term graffiti. What is the difference? Am I using it wrong? You know, is there a difference between the two? Talk to me about that.
GS: Yeah. So graffiti comes from the origins of hip-hop hides in the South Bronx in the late 70s, early 80s, and was one of the original elements of hip hop. There was deejaying, there was breakdancing, there was emceeing, and then there was the visual expression which was graffiti. Originally it was tagging, it was names, it was noms de plumes, and eventually kind of evolved into a kind of art form.
AS: That is awesome.
GS: Most of all graffiti is still names, letters, and numbers. Street art is a more modern-day phenomenon that encompasses broader art. So it has less to do with graffiti and more to do with the broader art world.
HF: Well, so I have a question. Because I was out at dinner for one of the first times the other night. You know, you walk down, I was in the East Village, I believe, and there is just art everywhere. I mean, every wall I looked, billboards, and it was just so beautiful. But you used the term earlier to that. I thought it was interesting. You said legal artwork or the bigger legal? What is the difference between legal and illegal? I mean, I would just assume that graffiti or street art… Like, what is that process to get that approved, or is there a process?
GS: Well, in the United States specifically, property owners are kings, and they control the right to their property. So they have the right to do pretty much anything they want with their building, which is to say they can permission or allow you to do art on their building, whether that is street art or graffiti. On the other hand, if they do not want graffiti but somebody does it anyway, then it is illegal.
HF: But it’s so beautiful. They do not just leave it up? I mean, I always wondered. I am like, did they plan to have this or not?
GS: You know, it depends on owner by owner. People have kind of different philosophies in their building. Some people really enjoy the spontaneous New York City vibe; other people hate it. So it just kind of depends on where and who.
AS: Unless you are Banksy, and then your building is worth a million dollars more just for…
HF: Hey, if they know the can control, I say go for it.
AS: By the way, for more, if you want to hear more about the history of hip-hop graffiti and the Bronx, you should check out our Bronx episode, which is episode number five. Because you will learn all about that again if you have not listened to that one yet. So talk to us about Graff Tours and the tours you are running, because especially now is people want to kind of get out of their house and see a little bit more of their city. This seems like the perfect thing to do.
GS: Yeah. We are really excited about these days because it is actually a very safe Covid activity. You are outside, we could socially distance, we could all wear masks and still enjoy the experience. So it is one of the best activities to do these days if you are considering the crisis that we have at hand. I have actually been working hard as well as creating new murals. So we are in the process of finishing a two-story gigantic mural by a local Queens artist by the name of Sir. He is scheduled to finish the mural this coming weekend, and it is a really cool, psychedelic combination of classical graffiti and modern-day street art that we have kind of put together. He has been working over the past two weeks with a lift and with all the paints, and we are really excited about the finished product. So when you take a tour, you are actually going to see brand-new street art that we have been developing over Covid.
AS: That is so cool. Where is that one located? Where can I see it?
GS: Yes. So we are located in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We do tours around the local neighborhood. If you are a local New Yorker, (unintelligible) street, that is the place to look.
HF: Now, how does that even come about? I mean you just, like two stories high. I mean, does he draw it at first? Is it just completely, you know, spraying, like, can you walk through that process?
GS: Yeah. Sure. So every artist is different. But in this case, I am actually curating an outdoor mural project, which means that I am inviting artists that I am a fan of to create specific artworks that I have kind of envisioned with their help.
AS: When you are not running tours or doing art, what other kinds of things are you doing during this pandemic to keep yourself sane? Have you experienced anything amazing in New York you want to share?
GS: Well, I am a big nature guy. I am a big yoga guy, and I have been going to Harriman State Park, which is a quick, quick ride from the city. You can get a lot of nature in, hiking and mountains and stuff, and there is actually a meteor shower going on right now. So you can actually go outside. You go around midnight, you can, like, see the shooting stars and such. It is like a really cool experience, so…
AS: That is awesome.
GS: My thing is to try and be one with nature, especially these days when social media is super toxic. I would just recommend people to get outside and use nature to your advantage.
HF: Breathe some air, some fresh air. That is what I love as well.
AS: Gabe, you mentioned earlier about the connection with the kind of the city. How is looking at graffiti and doing graffiti and, you know, finding these artists and connecting them? How does that really connect you with kind of the soul of the city and the culture of the city?
GS: Yeah. So graffiti has been the bedrock of New York City for almost 50 years now. The really important factor is that graffiti is the artwork of the people. It is hard work that can be done by amateurs; it can be done for political reasons and for personal reasons. It has very little to do with making money. What that creates is an environment of passion and creativity as opposed to just trying to create art for money or for some other purpose.
AS: It really does show the soul of New York City. That’s beautiful, man. That is wonderful.
HF: I love that, and it is just so truthful and authentic, right? Because if you are not including the money or you are not including some price tag on it, then it is really just whatever you are feeling in the moment. That is what I love about art in general. But that is a very, very great way to paint that picture for us.
AS: Playing off that a little bit, one of the most amazing things that I have seen come out of kind of the graffiti or street art scene recently has been protest art. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
GS: Yeah. I mean, to the non-graffiti follower, you might think that that is new, but graffiti has been a political movement since its origins. You know, recently, I think a lot of people feel that they are desperate for change and desperate for truth. That can be seen in a lot of the new artwork that is popping out around the city. I personally have been a part of some of those things, and I think art has a unique power to bring light to where there is darkness. I think the New York City artists have continued to do what they have always done, which is to provide that creative spark and the concrete canvas that is New York City.
AS: Gabe, if people want to connect with you, how can they find you?
GS: Yeah. They should check out my website, grafftours.com, and I am on Instagram at @grafftours. That is G-R-A-F-F-T-O-U-R-S. We would love to have you guys these days. You know, things are really tough business-wise, so anybody that is thinking of doing it and has any inkling, you know, please, please support local business, support local artists. We would really appreciate you.
AS: Love it.
Johan Halsberghe: My name is Johan Halsberghe. I am the executive chef for MOJO Desserts, and I would take anybody that visits New York to Central Park because it is the biggest garden for any New York citizen. You can only find something like that in New York.
AS: We are so excited to be here virtually for our first virtually recorded podcast episode because we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are all being safe, which is very important. Is everyone being safe out there? Haley, you being safe?
HF: I am being safe. How are you guys doing?
JH: We are very safe. Thanks for asking.
AS: Of course. That is good. Chef, tell me a little bit about yourself. Very short. Give me a bio. Who are you? What do you do? Why are you an interesting New Yorker?
JH: I am a Belgian native, and I moved to New York 10 years ago to work as a private chef for the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations. I was doing his official functions, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties. A few years ago, three to four years ago, I started my own catering company. I still cater for many different diplomats, but I started my, or let us say the first mousse bar in the US.
AS: Chef, what is it like to cook for diplomats here in New York? Is that an interesting challenge?
JH: A lot of times it is interesting because it is high-profile people. But sometimes, we can have difficult customers as well. Yeah. They have a lot of food restrictions. So that makes it a little bit difficult sometimes. If they let us know in advance, it is a little bit easier so we can be creative. But sometimes it is the last minute and then, yeah.
AS: New Yorkers are already pretty high-strung. So when you are dealing with diplomats as well, I can imagine that is a whole other level of, maybe, issue going on. So let us talk about MOJO Mousse Bar, which I believe is the first mousse bar in the country.
JH: That is correct.
AS: Whoa. So where did this come from?
JH: So as a Belgian native, we love chocolate. I believe we have fantastic chocolate in Belgium. One of the desserts I was always making for the Belgian ambassador was Belgian chocolate mousse. So during the years, a lot of other diplomats from other countries or ambassadors were asking chocolate mousse as dessert. So it became a little trend to go to the Belgian ambassador for Belgian chocolate mousse. When I started my catering company, at the same time, I start selling Belgian chocolate mousse into the retail stores. During the years in the retail stores, we found that we need an extra push and visibility for chocolate mousse.
JH: We saw that people are starting to like it. Because in Europe, it is a very traditional dessert, but in the US, it is still not really on the map. That is why we said like, why do not we open a mousse bar? So basically we found the same concept as an ice cream shop, but then we scoop it with mousse.
HF: You know, it is so funny. My best friend, her name is Mousse. So I am going to tell her that she has to come and see this because it is just wonderful. I actually grew up at a French immersion school. So I grew up all around Belgium chocolate and everything. So you are totally speaking my language.
JH: I would love to have your friend over.
HF: Absolutely. We will visit.
AS: Do you think when the diplomats were coming and they were eating Belgian mousse from the Belgian ambassador, it was a very Instagrammable moment? I feel like that is something you want to capture on social media. It just… It works so well.
JH: It is.
AS: All right. So now you have got this amazing mousse store in Harlem?
JH: Correct. Yeah. We are on a hundredth street between Lexington and Third Avenue.
AS: Beautiful. Now you are doing virtual mousse classes, correct?
AS: Tell me about those.
JH: So we started this, I believe three weeks ago. I was a little bit anxious because I usually do not do cooking classes.
AS: I think you are wonderful.
JH: No. But actually, after the first class, I was really happy that I made this step, and I had some really nice people in the class as well. So it is a really nice moment to share with other people that love chocolate as well.
AS: Everybody loves chocolate. So what is the secret to Great Belgian mousse then? Can you share that here on this podcast?
JH: Good chocolate.
AS: I think that is true. Fair. That works out well. I really needed to eat before doing this podcast because now I am just hungry, and that is an issue.
HF: Wait. So you did not bring us or send us any comfort mousses?
AS: Yeah, right. We are doing this alone without mousse? How dare you.
JH: I should start sending virtual mousses.
AS: [Laughs] Oh, you know, it is good. It is just not the same. When people come to a mousse bar, which again, not the most usual thing to do. In fact, you guys are still truly unique. What is the kind of experience that people have? You know, is it that same kind of warm, wonderful feeling that you get from the kind of an ice cream place, or is it different? Tell me about that kind of emotional connection they have when they try your mousse at a mousse bar.
JH: So obviously, people that come to the mousse bar, they love chocolate. But we have five flavors. If you look at any store in New York, they only have one flavor. So we have five flavors, and we were actually working before everything happened with Covid. We were going to attract the clients to actually choose the next flavor. So they would have three options. So anybody who would come to the mousse bar had a chance to vote for the next flavor.
AS: Do you think you will do that when everything settles down again?
JH: Yes. So we could stay open for people to come and buy the mousse. The reason why we are not opening our store, we could open our store for people to come in. The reason why we are not doing that is because we cannot give a hundred percent of the experience that we used to give before. So until we can and it is safe enough for us and for our clients, we are not going to open until we can give the whole experience again.
AS: Fair. But they can do everything virtually. So they can connect with you that way.
JH: That is true. So we can give another experience online.
AS: On the subject of flavors, we are coming up to fall. Any plans for a pumpkin spiced mousse? Because I feel like it might sell well.
JH: It could be, but we have some other planning. We have some other mousses in the pipeline. Right now, we are just waiting for the city to wake up a couple of bit. So we have enough potential clients to come to the store and order in.
HF: Speaking of another mousse, I am back to my girlfriend. I feel like maybe we can come up with a cool mousse flavor and beat out that pumpkin spice of yours. [All laugh] So I will accept that challenge. But Chef, I really want to know, right now, virtually you have the experience. But also when you open back up if my friend Mousse and I wanted to come and check you guys out or come and see you for the full experience, virtual or in person, how do we find you? Where do we go? What do we do?
JH: So I mean East Harlem, 100th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. At this moment we are open from 12 to 6pm. I invite everybody to come. Usually, I am here. If I am not here, I am usually on my scooter doing deliveries.
AS: But you can snag one as you drive by. Of course, you can find Chef’s virtual mousse class at theculturetrip.com. Click on the experiences link and sign up there. It is a truly, truly magical, and delicious experience. What have you been doing during the pandemic that is still open now that you are finding that is a joy?
JH: So when I do something like that, I always take my kids because it will be my spare time. But I like to take them to new places or places that are still open because everybody has to be creative at this point. So we want to see other people’s creativity. We also support our local businesses around us in East Harlem because we want them to be around when everything goes back to normal. Sometimes I go to Central Park Conservatorium to relax a little bit. Yeah.
AS: Chef, really serious. I mean, this is probably the most important question of the podcast. What is the plural of mousse? If I want to buy more than one mousse, what am I buying?
AS: Mousses. It is not mice?
HF: Is that really that? Mousses?
AS: Is it actually mousses? Is that actually true?
JH: I hope so. [Laughs]
AS: One mousse, too many mousses. Well, you know, what as the Belgian authority here, I am going with whatever you say, and if anybody tries to correct me, I am gonna tell them that you tell me differently. So that one is on you now.
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Alex Harper: Hi, I am Alex Harper. I am the founder of Women of Culture. And only in New York can you find amazing street art, the best gelato you have ever tasted, a fabulous restaurant and gorgeous galleries all on the way to see a funky dance performance out on the water. That is only in New York.
HF: All right. I am so excited to sit down and talk with Alexandra Harper. You have such an amazing Women of Culture community led by women for women. Just as a woman myself and who believes in anything that is about women empowerment, I am really excited to hear from you today. Please tell us a little bit about you and yourself, and what you do?
AH: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. So as you said, I am the founder and CEO of Women of Culture, which is a social enterprise that is designed to connect, empower and inspire women through meaningful engagement with the arts. That is something that I have been doing for a little over five years now. I am really passionate about using the arts as a way to connect women, bring them together, have deep, meaningful, conversations and really experience the city in a unique way.
AS: So talk more about that. When you say experience the city in a unique way, you know, New York is already so incredibly unique. Focus me a little bit more. I want to know everything. Tell me what makes it so unique through your lens.
AH: Yeah. That is a great question. Obviously, I love the city. I have been here for about 15 years, and the thing that really attracted me to the city and made me fall in love with it was the art scene. I think that a lot of times, people that are not necessarily traditionally artists or artsy overlooked that or take it for granted. Obviously, we all know that some of the best museums in the world are in this city. But a lot of times we are too lazy, or too busy to go experience them – galleries, theater, dance. I mean, it is just so rich. I would just say that New York has the most diversity. I think from a historical perspective. France and Paris for sure have the richest culture. You know, my favorite traditional painters are all French, and you know. But just from what is happening now, I think that there is just so much going on here and it is all different. I mean, I am really passionate about all arts. So I think a lot of times people here, art, they only think visual art. So I am also talking about performing art, and the dance and theater here is absolutely phenomenal. So those are the things that I really try to…
HF: I will take it. That is a good answer.
AS: So pretty good segment now because all these art and culture have been shut down. It is a pretty rough time for anything that makes New York New York at this point. We will get to the art scene eventually. Talk to me about what you have been doing. These amazing tours. Talk to me about how you have been combating this awful, awful disease with still trying to keep arts and culture and history alive.
AH: Yeah. So I actually… I started doing some walking tours before Covid and then, you know, obviously were shut down for a little while, not doing anything, and then once things started to open back up, I realized how much I miss just exploring different neighborhoods. There is so much. Even though sometimes, you know, comparing to, like, Paris or something, that architecture is not as quite as beautiful. It is just so, so, so rich and fascinating even just walking through these neighborhoods. It also became an opportunity for me to learn more about some of my favorite neighborhoods in New York and share that knowledge with other people. So I created these art and food walks where we are really diving deep into one or two neighborhoods at a time. I started out with a Lower East Side because that is one of my personal and it is just such a fascinating neighborhood. Now we are able to go into some of the galleries, and there is so much street art out there, the food, you know, Essex market is still open, you know. There is still a lot of places, and just wandering and really noticing some of the things that even longtime New Yorkers tend to pass by, I think is really special, and sort of this horrible circumstance has provided us with this opportunity to slow down and notice some of those things that we often rush past.
HF: I mean, art really connects people, right? I mean, obviously I am favorable to the women, but what I am just curious is why did you choose to only focus on women and connect them and not everybody else?
AH: Yeah. So obviously my first sort of love is around the arts and the city, getting out experiencing the city. But I think my secondary passion in life is women’s empowerment and bringing women together. So I think it was just sort of natural for me to create something that would be focused on women and that I was looking and just did not see any outlets or any other offerings that were really bringing together women and the arts. It just feels like a natural sort of connection to me. You know, to me art is a way to connect with yourself and with the world around you. You can learn and gain so much knowledge from art. So I felt like this was something where women could use as a tool for connection and also empowerment.
AS: Very cool. When someone takes one of your tours, what is the end goal? Not just for like, hey, taking a great tour. But what do you want them to walk away with?
AH: Yeah, I think definitely I want them to walk away feeling like they have rediscovered something about the city and potentially themselves as well. That might be a loftier goal, but I think that…
AS: Better reach for the stars there.
AH: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, I think that a lot of times, especially right now, a lot of people coming on the tours actually live in the city. So I am really trying to show them something that they may not have experienced before, or just remind them of how amazing the city is, especially at this difficult time, to also have the chance to react to some different art and therefore sort of gain their own understanding of themselves and what they like in art or do not like sometimes. Those are my two main goals.
AS: I think that is equally important because you got to know what you do not like so you can focus on what you do. This is why when people are like, “I do not like opera,” or “I do not like going to museums,” I am like, “Have you been to every museum?” The answer is no. It has been like forced into culture that you do not like. There is a ton of other stuff that I guarantee you would, you just have to, you know, grow your horizons. So yeah, I feel you.
AH: Yeah. I think especially in going into galleries and things, it can be hit or miss. Like, you are not always going to like everything, but I think disliking something is also information.
AS: Great. So Alex, when the pandemic dies down, what is the first art you are going to experience whenever things return back to normal?
AH: Oh, that is a tough question. I will be like running all over trying to do everything.
AS: You do three things at once. Eating while watching a play. Really, all at the same time. I get it.
AH: Yeah. I mean, I guess since I have mentioned, you know, dance being sort of my… I always say it was my gateway drug into the art.
HF: Love it.
AH: So I would probably be booking it back to the Joyce Theater in Chelsea as soon as I can to see whatever they have got going on.
AS: So talk to us about what you have been doing during this pandemic that is not work-related.
AH: So I have been outside of Women of Culture trying to also reconnect with nature and definitely spending a lot of time in Fort Greene Park, which is near where I live. Just also trying to get to the water as much as possible. Sometimes, the water is just so calming for me, so I go to Brooklyn Bridge Park and Dumbo a lot, just sit. There is a beautiful park by Red Hook as well. So really, I have been enjoying that a lot.
AS: Wonderful. Sounds perfect. Thank you so much for joining us.
AS: The Culture Trip podcast is presented by Culture Trip. Copyright 2020. Produced by Mouth Media Network. Read more about New York at theculturetrip.com, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @culture trip. Thanks for listening, and happy travels.
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