The COVID-19 pandemic has limited access to fine dining and highlighted inequities across the food industry. In response, Brooklyn-based dining collective Both And, a three-year-old culinary project founded by a team with Michelin credentials, is expanding access to its pay-what-you-wish fine dining meals, adding takeout and delivery options, and incorporating community support into its growth.
Sachi Nagase and Katie Yun — who previously worked at Michelin-starred restaurants Octavia as a line cook and Eleven Madison Park as a “Dreamweaver,” respectively — founded Both And in 2017 to build community and share their cooking with friends. They currently run Both And out of their apartments in Brooklyn, where, prior to the pandemic, they cooked and served dinners twice a month.
Nagase and Yun took a brief hiatus over the summer to prioritize Black Lives Matter protests and mutual aid work while grappling with their roles and changes within the food industry. Now, the pair is back with the aim of growing Both And. They plan on running their business out of a commercial kitchen in Greenpoint, located at 37 Box Street, near Manhattan Avenue, by the end of the year.
When the project first launched, diners could opt into Both And’s pay-what-you-wish model, and arrive at one of two seating times. The second time was reserved for those paying full price, which could be as much as $70. The income was generally enough to cover food costs.
Nagase and Yun settled on this payment model to make the meals accessible. “We didn’t want to put a price tag on the experience in the hopes that anyone would feel welcome,” says Nagase. The pay-what-you-wish dinners, which will shortly resume in a pandemic-safe way, are typically open to those who respond to event announcements via direct message on Both And’s Instagram profile.
As part of the expanded operation, Both And will prepare pickup and delivery meals featuring dishes like ramen with handmade noodles to be sold for $13 to $32. There’s also an option to cater family meals for two to four people, which may include a main course of braised meats, a rice dish, pickles, and a dessert for $30 to 60. Nagase and Yun will use a portion of proceeds to donate supplies to community fridges and funds to mutual aid networks, and continue to host pay-what-you-wish meals. They don’t plan to use the commercial kitchen space for the dinners, but haven’t settled on a permanent location for the meals yet.
“What I appreciate about Both And is that, because Katie and I are in complete control of everything we do with it, we can make thoughtful and careful decisions,” says Nagase.
Now in their mid-twenties, Nagase and Yun met as undergraduate students at Washington University in St. Louis, where they bonded over their mutual love of radishes and began cooking together for friends.
Nagase and Yun formed the Sprouted Radish Supper Club — a precursor to Both And — while in college, as a way to recreate and share Japanese and Korean dishes from their childhoods. “Then it became about accessing these memories and sharing things that really were special to us,” Nagase says. They created elaborate meals for the supper club, once serving eight courses with dishes like quail egg, charred gochujang octopus, and borscht soup dumplings for a total of just $12.
After graduating, Nagase and Yun relocated to New York City and rebranded their dining collective as Both And to distinguish future side projects from those they’d done in St. Louis.
An emphasis on access and collaboration remains at the forefront of their vision, especially when it comes to creating dining spaces for events like Queer Soup Night, where they cooked soup for over 300 people to raise funds for Immigrant Families Together. “Food is so important because it is a way to find warmth and find family,” says Yun. “And that’s so important for us to create spaces that feel safe and comfortable.”
Despite the good intentions, Yun acknowledges the limitations of their business model.
“[The dinners are] not going to be [as] accessible as possible, because not everyone is comfortable having a five-course meal of small dishes,” Yun says. She adds that individuals who find the experience appealing may be self selecting based on whether they’ve had that fine dining experience before.
At the height of the pandemic this past spring, Nagase and Yun found new ways to reach their audiences remotely. They created cooking videos, teaching viewers how to make dishes like miso soup, curry udon, and “the perfect rice.”
In late September, they hosted a webinar through the Level Up Project, to increase community access to culinary skills by enabling attendees to make a Japanese-Korean meal of onsen egg, soy pickles, seaweed salad, and soup. Participants signed up through a sliding-scale payment plan (with free or low-cost participation), and could opt for a free materials packet. Nagase and Yun hope to do more webinars in the future.
Anna Deen is a freelance journalist based in New York City. You can find her on Twitter.