Features 1 minute 20 February 2024

The Dynamic Duo Behind the Hottest Restaurant in Brooklyn Heights

How the founders behind Clover Hill reconnected—and got a MICHELIN Star—after a shutdown.

Clover Hill’s road to getting a MICHELIN star was quick, but it wasn’t easy. The One MICHELIN Star restaurant in Brooklyn Heights started as a seed of an idea for Clay Castillo, the restaurant’s founder and general manager, who had previously worked in that space when it was occupied by Iris Café.

His partner in cuisine, of course, is Chef Charlie Mitchell, who now holds the title of the first Black MICHELIN-starred chef in New York. But working with Mitchell wasn’t always part of Castillo’s plan or Mitchell’s plan for that matter. At one point, Mitchell actually had a job lined up in Norway, a country he had been dreaming of moving to.

Mitchell began working as a cook at Clover Hill when the restaurant opened on December 15, 2019, cooking alongside an executive chef who Castillo initially intended on hiring as a consultant. But, in a tale as old as the pandemic itself, Clover Hill closed its doors and laid off its team in March 2020, changing the trajectory of the restaurant forever.

After heading back to his hometown of Detroit and spending a few months out of work, Mitchell landed a job in Washington D.C., helping to open Jônt, a Two MICHELIN Star restaurant. But throughout that adventure, he was eager to get back to New York City, and after returning, he was met with a perfectly-timed text from Castillo.

“I remember just like it was yesterday,” Mitchell recalled, looking back at the moment Castillo reached out to him. “I was standing in my bedroom doorway in Chinatown.” The pair hadn’t spoken to each other since Mitchell asked Castillo for his W2 shortly after the restaurant closed.

Food Story Media/Clover Hill
Food Story Media/Clover Hill

Mitchell was shocked by the outreach. “At the time, I wasn’t looking for chef jobs,” he said. “I was actually about to move out of the country again,” he added. But he entertained a conversation with Castillo over lunch, and the rest is history.

Castillo took a chance on Mitchell – a cook-turned-chef whose food he ultimately didn’t taste until the day before the restaurant reopened – and Mitchell took a chance on Castillo, hoping the opportunity would be worthwhile after he turned down his dream to leave the country.

And their decision to take a chance on each other paid off. In 2022, Mitchell became the first Black chef in New York to earn a MICHELIN star and he won the 2022 MICHELIN Guide New York Young Chef Award.

Food Story Media/Clover Hill
Food Story Media/Clover Hill

Castillo admires Mitchell’s risk-taking and gutsy nature because it aligns with his own vision and intuition. “He told me he wanted to be a Three-MICHELIN star chef,” Castillo recalled, touching on his early conversations with Mitchell. He remembers thinking, “This is wild, and I like this.”

Mitchell’s big dreams resonated with Castillo. “We have an insane amount of goals,” Castillo said. And their mutual communication style has helped them succeed. “There’s feedback in our dialogue,” Mitchell pointed out. “Even when we mess up, we know we’re going to fix it because of the goals that we’ve set in place and the values that we have,” he added, “and that's allowed everything to evolve – from service to the food to the culture.”

I asked Chef Mitchell, “Now that you have a MICHELIN star, what’s next on your list of things you want to accomplish?” His answer was simple. “Get two more.”

Food Story Media/Clover Hill
Food Story Media/Clover Hill

Hero image: Food Story Media/Clover Hill

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