A Summer Meal: Bed-Stuy

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Rachel Lieff Axelbank has an appreciation for how time slows down while she’s cooking.

A Bed-Stuy summer meal consisting of chopped crab cake, mac and cheese, bulgur and an iced sake cocktail. Kevin Golen / The Brooklyn Ink

At work, Rachel Lieff Axelbank is constantly on her feet.  She’s currently a server and training to be a bartender at Peaches, an iconic Bed-Stuy American-southern style restaurant, and although food is always around, there’s never time to relax, sit down, and order something from the kitchen. So Axelbank particularly appreciates the opportunity to make a home cooked meal.

Taking some leftovers from Peaches on this particular summer night, she decides to make chopped up crab cake, adding in apples, olives, orange and purple carrots, olive oil, a bed of baby spinach, cucumber and dressing. On the side, she takes Peaches’ very own mac and cheese and tosses in some chopped mushrooms, feta and cornbread crust. She takes her time cutting and splicing all the chosen ingredients together with grace and ease. Another side dish of bulgur with crispy chickpeas, chopped almonds, apricots, and fresh-cracked black pepper adds an aesthetic and delicious variety. Axelbank has an appreciation for how time slows down while she’s cooking. She’s able to work with food in the moment rather than rushing around through the excitement of a restaurant.

When her roommate, Kris, unexpectedly walks through the door, Axelbank asks him if he’s hungry. Somewhat hesitantly, Kris admits that he is. Axelbank, unfazed, assures him that he’s more than welcome to join, anticipating ahead and making plenty of food for an additional place setting. Although Kris and Axelbank have known each other for just over a week and joke at the table about this being their seventh interaction, appearances would suggest they’ve been friends for years. This is unsurprising given Axelbank’s warm, genuine personality. A young white woman from North Carolina, she’s easily able to engage with people from many different backgrounds and perspectives living and working in the diverse Bed-Stuy community.

Rachel Lieff Axelbank cooks a summer meal in Bed-Stuy. Kevin Golen / The Brooklyn Ink

Axelbank got to Peaches by sheer chance. She recalls the crisp winter air, and an unmistakably cold yet pleasant January afternoon when she decided to go for a walk in Bed-Stuy. At the time, Axelbank was in the process of editing another draft of her book proposal, when she felt a sudden urge to throw on her jacket and head west on Decatur. Once she hit Lewis Ave, Axelbank noticed two red benches in front of a multi-story building with wide glass windows. On the block’s garden-level were a number of inviting restaurants including Peaches. Shortly after finding the courage to ask if there were any job openings, Axelbank became a Peaches employee.

Prior to Peaches, another kind of fruit had been much a part of Axelbank’s life. While pursuing her MFA at Sarah Lawrence in New York, she became fascinated with a social controversy in Hawai‘i over invasive strawberry guava. She took a brief leave of absence and travelled to Hawai‘i, where she was able to gain a firsthand perspective on the story. After graduating and signing with a literary agent, she took multiple trips back to Hawai‘i for further analysis of the eco-political drama.

Working at Peaches Restaurant allows her to escape a highly cerebral and often lonely experience—reading centuries of cataloged history related to the strawberry guava. Now she’s able to immerse herself in a fun, upbeat atmosphere and feel part of a team. Axelbank notes the phrase often exchanged whenever a co-worker looks overwhelmed is, “I’ve got you.” Axelbank is grateful that Peaches Restaurant has been the ideal escape she had hoped for, after stepping into the unfamiliar space in January, looking for a fresh perspective. For now, she is content to simply live in the moment by continuing to work in the fun, social ambiance of Peaches and enjoy a home-cooked summer meal from time to time.

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