Brownie Brown cooking aloha love in Brooklyn, NY

Brownie Brown cooking aloha love in Brooklyn, NY

February 27, 2017

We caught up with our favorite neighborhood chef, Brownie Brown who cooks out of her kitchen at The Shanti Shack located inside the Kula Yoga Project near the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Brownie hails from Hawaii, a proclaimed "water baby," and is still deeply connected to her roots. Brownie has had an extraordinary career starting from the French Culinary Institute, working as a chef at prestigious restaurants Le Cirque and the Mark Hotel, and as a private chef for events in the Hamptons, and after living and traveling all over, now has been running her own cafe for the past seven years. The Shanti Shack serves fresh, vegetarian homestyle food, all cooked by the loving hands of Brownie herself and her chef assistant. She is an energetic and nurturing force, and a huge personality within the community. You'll see her greeting most of her customers by name and a hug, as anyone who has had a "Brownie moment" come back almost daily.

It was so awesome to have the chance to get to know this lovely woman who has been nourishing us so well the last few years.

Tell us about yourself.
Hawaiian, island girl, peace maker.

How did you first encounter meditation? Were there any teachers you studied with or were inspired by? 
Humorously, I discovered meditation at 3 weeks of age! Historically, if you are of Hawaiian decent, which I am, your grandparents held a spiritual ceremony, chants included, by tossing a newborn, within the first month of life, into the ocean as a dedication to the Hawaiian deity, Kanaloa, god of the ocean. this ceremony gave a family a belief that their child would be safe in the island’s surrounding waters and showed that an infant instinctively could bob up to the surface on their own, two important survival check points for any new parent.

I remember this ceremony for my younger sister and many cousins thereafter. And while this tradition is deep in mythology, it immediately teaches you the significance of nature and the upmost respect it cultivates. According to legend, in addition to this ceremony, each Hawaiian family is given an aumakua, pronounced ah-ma-ku-ah, a personal benevolent guardian spirit to protect them. All aumakuas come from the world of nature and the kind of animal or spirit protector is passed on through the oral tradition via family members. it is taboo to write it down. Often a family can have several protectors but one animal usually recurs more often than the other and serves as a reincarnated ancestor that has come back to protect you. Let’s just say I grew up with a full understanding and respect for water and its habitats and embrace their liquid assets. Our aumakua is both wise, and a powerful remover… a Ganesh style sea spirit!

Growing up on an island teaches you to know that nature is your biggest teacher. you learn to watch her movements, her growth, her timing, her measurements, her lessons, her peace, her gift. and if you are wise, you incorporate this metronome into your daily life as both breath giving and breath exploring.

I am literally a water baby and find my continued inspiration comes from the endless deliverance of our oceans. They never stop moving, yet they are the most peaceful forms of meditation in motion. They teach you how to be calm within any movement, whether it be still, sparkling or stormy.

What is your practice like now?
I don't separate mediation or any meditative movement from any part of my life. The idea of liquid movement and silenced thought comes pretty naturally to me with my upbringing and pretty phenomenal landscape of “natural” teachers that allows one to utilize the sounds and quiet that chamber your surroundings. When you learn this as a kid by just being exposed to it over and over, it becomes part of your fabric and layers your skin. And then you see it in everyone’s face and actions around you and you grow up thinking that this is how the world is... until you meet your first unhappy person, then that wakes you up to think.

How has meditation affected your life off the cushion?
To me, kind, quiet, peaceful movements are an integrated part of life and not something that is done on a cushion or in a yogic atmosphere or class separately with the hopes that this will transfer to actual action in kind. Fundamentally, if the human species could be given the experiences like most islanders have, people would not need to be retrained to slow down, silence their negative noise, schooled and lured to a mat or a cushion as part one, with a tricky part two of walk the new quiet talk too.

You have to have a built in cushion and that is the exact tool that allowed me to listen to the noise and stomper people make that helped me create the shanti shack. The shanti shack is the Sanskrit embodiment for house of peace, with house being your body. I created this company fifteen years ago on the heels of 9/11 with the full purpose of healing the human condition through our one common thread, everyone eats. Through an upscale, sophisticated delivery of plant based home style grub, with a scriptural nod to dirt to fork, the goal is to seduce the voyager to sit, sense and adventure back to their core self for restoration with the full and very upfront asking of taking this experience and use it to improve human kind – ness!

Now fifteen years later, I can write marketing verbage such as the above to outline the vision, but my day to day involvement in creating this was simply to listen. And to listen carefully. And edit well. This is what nature teaches you. And you can not be this global thought of one, without the committed partnership of one another.

What are some of the things you're putting your best efforts towards?
I am trying to show folks of all ages that is not that hard to be happy. I truly recognize how fortunate I was to grow up in an idyllic surrounding but that itself is not the punctuated gift. By giving people a feel good experience, I am hopeful that their actions will spill forward goodness. small steps are achievable and happen every moment. It is these little gestures that stirs us big. it is why the shanti shack moves you in, so you can peace out.

Any personal favorites that you'd like to share?
Yes! Yesterday, a new customer came off the street with his girlfriend, ordered two beet juices, marveled at the color, freshness, aroma and taste. Then says, have your heard the juice bar lady yoga joke? And I of course say no. “Well, a guy comes into a juice bar, orders his juice, pays for his juice in cash and stands at the cashier for some time waiting for his change. He finally says to the juice bar lady, hey, where’s my change? And she says, sir, your change comes from within!” Anonymous customer, beautiful teacher.