By Binta Touray, Yolélé Fellow
Little King is a small and trendy neighborhood spot in East Williamsburg. The menu is short and concise but it doesn’t fail to leave a lasting impression. Chef Colby Rasavong gave me an inside scoop on the humble beginnings of Little King, his approach in the kitchen, and the experimental technique used to make his innovative appetizer -Puffed Fonio with Eggplant Purée.
Origins & Atmosphere
According to Chef Colby, the name ‘Little King’ came from the county it resides in. Owners John Moskowitz and Sam Esterman had a vision for a place made for locals to come to “over and over again” and have a second home in their community. This vision was definitely conveyed in the atmosphere of the bar-gastropub.
Upon arriving, I noticed the entrance– two golden art-deco style doors– stood out against the plain Brooklyn street. Inside, the aesthetic was a neat mix of art deco and contemporary design; integrating antique gold accents with marble tables and orb ceiling lamps. Little King would be a perfect place for a first date due to its cozy speakeasy vibes, but it also works for a chill night out with friends.
Chef Colby described his first impression of Little King as “a really amazing wine bar in Paris,” because of the “unpredictable and surprising menu.” At Little King, they take great pride in their specials board. Instead of trying to run a profit on food that might otherwise go to waste, at Little King they “take the word special and make it special.” Chef Colby visits the farmer’s market three to four times a week for inspiration and quality seasonal ingredients. He also experiments with more interesting and special ingredients… such as fonio.
The Inspiration and Technique Behind Puffed Fonio
At Little King, there are not a lot of rules to the cuisine served, which explains the diverse and refreshing menu. Chef Colby’s inspiration in the kitchen comes from past meals, techniques he has learned, and different kitchens he’s worked in. In addition to his frequent market trips, he works closely with purveyors to decide on the ingredients that will make up the menu. He adds, “I’m a visual learner, so whatever I see in front of me happens naturally.”
For the fonio dish, Chef Colby was inspired to use a technique (directions below) for puffed grains which he learned from working for Chef Sean Brock in Charleston, South Carolina. He explains the method used is a way of making a grain–something that may be unapproachable –into something more approachable. He says, “everyone is really familiar with chips, crackers, and Chicharrón; so that’s the technique we use here.”
Puffed Fonio with Eggplant Purée Review
The dish is visually striking: a large puffed fonio cracker that is studded with sesame seeds on a black slate dinner plate; along with an eggplant purée that is topped with garlic oil, fennel leaves, and benne sesame seeds. Chef Colby explained that the choice of eggplant and benne seeds were intentional – both ingredients are commonly used in West African cuisine, where fonio originates from.
As for taste and texture, although I was initially skeptical, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the ingredients paired together. The puffed fonio was freshly fried and fluffy. The flavor of pure fonio was brought out and the texture was slightly reminiscent to pork Chicharrón – without the guilt! Additionally, the garlic oil that topped the eggplant purée was the perfect complement to tie the various components of the dish together. Chef Colby demonstrated his innovation and creativity by making fonio the star of the show in an unexpected way. If you have an adventurous palette or you’re simply looking for a fun menu on a night out, I highly recommend checking out Little King!
Don’t forget to follow Chef Colby on Instagram @c0lbyjack and Little King @littlekingbk!
Puffed Fonio Crackers
A quick guide to making Chef Colby’s fonio crackers– for the exact recipe, contact Little King.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil (4 parts water: 1 fonio). Add fonio, turn down to low heat and stir continuously until much evaporates and water is incorporated. Off heat, cover and let fonio absorb the rest of the water.
- Fonio should be very soft and sort of mushy. Add some salt to bring out pure fonio taste. Then purée in food processor.
- Spread purée on a cookie sheet and dehydrate in oven overnight. (140-160 Farenheit should work)
- The next day, break up the giant cracker to your size preference and fry pieces in neutral oil until it’s “nice and puffy.”
Serve with dips, cheeses, savory jam, or crumble on top of salads and savory dishes!