When we heard that the Latin American food vendors in Red Hook Park might lose their temporary-use permit at the end of the summer, the news hit us like a goat taco after a night of heavy drinking. And we weren’t alone. An animated Chowhound thread immediately formed (and was almost as quickly censored), and a protest site sprang into existence. Hidden within Red Hook, the vendors have created a community of cooking, a cultural exchange as much as a place to eat. (Click here to take a video tour with Paladar chef Aaron Sanchez.) We canvassed the city’s food elite for their take on the situation; here is what we heard.
“That park doesn’t need a ‘wichcraft there. It doesn’t need a Shake Shack. I would rather see those people there; it’s an amazing community of ethnic diversity in that park. They should stay there or at least get preferential treatment from the city.” —Tom Colicchio, owner-chef at Craft
“We need to keep the Red Hook Park vendors before New York really loses its soul. I personally need more places to get beef-foot tacos than another chain where I can buy toothpaste and get some cash from an ATM.” —Andrew Carmellini, chef at A Voce
“Let’s not completely eradicate what makes New York cool. It would be really sad if we lost that. We don’t want to make New York Salt Lake City.” —Zak Pelaccio, chef at Fatty Crab and Borough Food and Drink.
“There is no place I know of in all of New York that so perfectly captures the city’s melting-pot vibrancy like the food scene at Red Hook Park. It’s always one of the first places I take out-of-town guests, and whenever I get frustrated with the city and think about moving, I always end up saying to myself, “Yeah, but then there’s the Red Hook ball fields,’ and that always clinches it — I’m staying. This civic treasure must not be allowed to disappear.” —Paul Lukas, New York Sun
“It’s not only that the ball-fields vendors serve incredibly delicious and super-fresh food that you can’t easily find in restaurants. It’s that the experience is real and fun and human, and it makes me like living here. The city should be doing everything it can to make these experiences more available to New Yorkers.” —Dana Bowen, Saveur
“The food served by the hard-working Latino families at Red Hook Park represents one of the last bastions of honest food sold on public property in New York. It would be a travesty to see these makeshift restaurants replaced by generic street food.” —Ed Levine, author of New York Eats
“The food vendors in Red Hook Park are just as important to our No. 1 status as Le Bernardin or Balthazar. It seems recently the city is more interested in closing our restaurants than supporting them, and I’m not sure why. Without these unique dining experiences, New York will become a food court.” —Jennifer Leuzzi, Snack.com
“The Red Hook Park vendors preserve and showcase our Latino foodways in a format that doesn’t exist in any other part of our community. It is the essence of what makes NYC a unique and great city, and it would be foolish and shortsighted to threaten it, especially at a time it is just starting to generate a national reputation — indeed it would wiser to find a way to make it a permanent and year-round venue, adding it to the list of New York’s must-see attractions.” —Ed Schoenfeld, restaurant consultant
Tour the Red Hook Ballfields with Chef Aaron Sanchez [Grub Street Video]
Is This the Last Summer of the Red Hook Park Vendors? [Grub Street]