The Argentine chef and artist Fernando Aciar and the French creative director Anna Polonsky treated friends to a meal that felt as personal as their newly renovated home.
The backyard of Anna Polonsky and Fernando Aciar’s Bedford-Stuyvesant home, where guests enjoyed snacks and drinks before dinner.Credit…David Chow
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By Thessaly La Force
It was not love at first sight when Fernando Aciar, a chef and artist, met Anna Polonsky, the founder and creative director of the design and branding studio Polonsky & Friends. “I did not have a good impression of her,” Aciar recalls of their chance encounter at a work event Polonsky had organized in 2012. “We certainly didn’t hit it off,” confirms Polonsky. About a year later, though, they bumped into one another again at a goodbye party for a mutual friend at a bar in Greenpoint. This time around, the two clicked. “It happened very fast,” says Aciar. “Anna was leaving the next day to go to Berlin for a wedding. When she got back, we went on a date to Estela. Four months later, we were engaged.”
Call it, then, love at second sight. By all accounts, the couple are perfectly suited for each other. Both share a deep passion for food and a keen eye for design. At the same time, Aciar — his friends and family call him Fefo — can be a little more creatively intuitive and hands-on, while Polonsky is more methodical and likely to remain focused on the big picture. The duo’s unfussy but elegant style is evident in their three-story 1899 Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, which they purchased in 2019 and spent two years meticulously renovating. From the custom-made curved bookshelf and built-in sofa in the living room to the hand-mixed paint the color of earthenware (a combination of Benjamin Moore’s Baked Terra Cotta and Salmon Stream) for the parlor-floor kitchen cabinets, no detail was too small for them to obsess over. The result is a beautiful home perfect for entertaining.
On a recent spring evening, the pair invited friends and neighbors over to enjoy an Easter meal that represented them both. Aciar is from Argentina and worked for six years with the renowned chef Francis Mallmann before spending time in California’s Bay Area at Zuni Café and Chez Panisse. Polonsky is a born and bred Parisian, whose seven years at the French restaurant and events guide Le Fooding inform both the spirit of the Deligram, the bimonthly food newsletter she produces with the photographer Teddy Wolff, and her own creative agency. Aciar was also preparing for the opening of OCafe, which will feature cooking from monthly chefs-in-residence (as well as a wine bar, beginning this May) adjacent to OStudio, a co-working space for artists, architects, glassblowers, illustrators and others that he opened in 2019 on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick. Since moving in, the couple have hosted several lunches, dinners and small parties in their inviting home. “It feels natural to us. We cook a lot,” Aciar says. “A lot. But we’re different. Anna does all the things that take longer, the bigger and more elaborate concoctions. I always cook in 20 minutes. It can’t take more time than that. Otherwise I get bored.”
Polonsky, pregnant with the couple’s first child, threw on a floral-print Casa Velasquez apron over a Simone Rocha dress that she had picked up at a friend’s charity clothing swap. Aciar, in cropped 1/8 Takamura pants and a Nimes jacket, started a fire in a latticed iron fire pit in their backyard. A bit later, just before sunset, guests including the fashion stylist and shop owner Beverly Nguyen, the chef Woldy Reyes, the designer and artist Sarah Nsikak, and Dior’s head of e-commerce, Zohar Benjelloun, began to arrive. Afterward, Aciar and Polonsky shared tips for hosting a spring dinner with unexpected touches.
Have Local Produce Delivered
The couple are good friends with Franco Fubini, the founder and CEO of Natoora, a food delivery service that began in 2004 as an online farmer’s market. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Natoora shifted its business model, offering goods such as ramps, green almonds and fresh spigarello through an app to home cooks and not just professional chefs and restaurants. In this case, the service provided groceries that Polonsky and Aciar can’t normally get at their corner store. While guests mingled in the yard, the couple served radishes that Polonsky placed on a Sette platter along with a large pat of French butter and homemade anchoïade (a classic Provençal dip made with anchovies, salt and olive oil). To honor the essence of a French Easter dinner, Polonsky also made oeufs mimosa — French deviled eggs whose yolks are styled to resemble the golden blooms of a mimosa tree — garnished with arugula flowers. At the bar, perfectly ripe blood oranges, tangerines and kumquats occupied ceramic bowls made by Aciar.
Let Your Cooking Tell a Story
“I grew up in the countryside,” Aciar says of his childhood in Argentina. “I mean, really country — no city at all. Every Easter weekend we would go to my grandma’s adobe house a half-hour away. On Thursday, we’d have fried fish and mashed potatoes; on Friday, chickpea soup; and then empanadas on Saturday.” For his own gathering, he topped a simple chickpea soup with veal brain croquettes, sourcing the meat from the Bushwick butcher Foster Sundry, and prepared the empanadas with Swiss chard. Aciar also made his own tortillas a la brasa, an Andean flatbread, which he grilled as guests enjoyed their cocktails and rosca de Pascua, a sweet, ring-shaped bread traditionally made in Argentina at Easter that he braided with chunks of chocolate. Before serving it to his guests near the end of the night, Aciar shared that he was 14 when he first used a family friend’s wood brick oven in exchange for two roscas: He made a total of 15, selling the rest to earn some extra cash.
Slow-Cook the Lamb, Grill the Greens
For the main course, Polonsky went for a traditional French lamb shoulder (also from Foster Sundry), which was braised for hours with shallots and carrots and served with what Polonsky described as “the French green sauce,” comprising herbs, anchovies and olive oil. Braising can sound intimidating for novice home chefs, but if you build in enough time and keep an eye on the heat (too hot and the meat dries out and becomes tough), it can be a straightforward and stress-free way to guarantee a delicious meal. “I love to do one-pot dishes that you can cook the night before. I think it removes a lot of the stress on the actual day,” says Polonsky. To add an Argentine twist to the main course, Aciar added as an accompaniment chicory and green beans, which were grilled over an open flame. “Food represents your emotions,” says Aciar. “Right now, when the weather is beautiful, I push Anna to barbecue. And she’s like, ‘Oh, again, barbecue?’ But we love it. We always end up inviting a couple of friends to come and join us.”
Customize Your Ceramics
In addition to being a trained chef, Aciar is also a practiced ceramist with Fefo Studio. His pieces played a role in almost every moment of the meal — constituting everything from the fruit bowls and platters to various serving trays and several lamps that decorated the couple’s home. Best of all were the sipping cups Aciar made specifically for serving mezcal and tequila. (He originally created the vessels for the Mexican restaurant Cosme.) Designed to be cradled in the palm of your hand, with a sliver of an opening just large enough to allow you to inhale the liquor before taking a small sip, they elevated the evening in an unpretentious way.
Don’t Obsess Over Every Detail
Though the couple were self-admitted perfectionists when it came to designing their home — they can happily spend hours trawling antique shops in France and upstate New York for the perfect linens and vintage glassware — Polonsky shared that there were benefits to their indecision. “We still haven’t found the perfect armchair,” she says of their living room area. “It’s been two years. Ultimately, we realized we love having pillows on the floor instead.” By living in and using the space themselves, the couple were able to clarify what they really needed and how the rooms worked. “I think it’s nice to be able to see how you live in a place,” says Polonsky.
For Dessert, Offer Something to Go
“Maybe this is very French,” says Polonsky, “but typically, we have nest-shaped desserts for Easter.” In addition to Aciar’s rosca de Pascua, the couple made a Vacherin, or ice-cream meringue cake. Polonsky chose Cara Cara Creamsicle from Bad Habit, a Bushwick purveyor of ice cream run out of the apartment of the couple Jesse Merchant Zuñiga and Javier Zuñiga whose flavors (such as chocolate tahini and honeycomb) and extra dense creaminess mean its pints sell out almost instantly at the select New York City retailers where they’re carried. During the dinner, Aciar topped the cake with freshly whipped Chantilly cream, while Polonsky sprinkled on crushed pistachios. Slices were served with a dollop of kumquat jam. At the very end of the night, as everyone prepared to leave, the couple handed out paper takeaway bags. Inside each were novelty-size chocolate Easter eggs brushed with edible gold, containing sea salt and mint truffles, made especially for the evening by Sol Cacao, a Bronx-based bean-to-bar chocolatier run by Dominic, Nicholas and Daniel Maloney, three brothers who grew up in the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago and whose great-grandparents were cacao farmers.
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