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A Chef and a Lancôme Executive Serve Soul Food

Chef Robert Newton and girlfriend Kerry Diamond open up their first eatery in Carroll Gardens.

Seersucker in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

It’s about 48 hours before Seersucker serves its first meal and the final touches on the new Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, eatery are still coming together. The smell of fresh paint looms in the air and the late-afternoon sun is beating down on the butcher paper taped across the front window. Somewhere in the back, a power drill whirs. But co-owners Robert Newton and girlfriend Kerry Diamond, a Lancôme executive, appear more or less unfazed. Maybe it’s all the grits they’ve been eating (or, testing).

“The whole idea behind the restaurant is cleaned-up Southern food,” says Diamond. “Rob always felt that Southern food had this reputation for everything being deep fried and smothered in gravy, and a little bit of that is true.”

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“A lot of that’s true!” Newton pipes in. “I think there’s a way to just make it a little fresher and lighter and not take the soul out of it.”

That said, highlights of Newton’s menu are crispy pig’s foot with black walnuts, Mississippi catfish, a fried bologna sandwich and a snack tray of deviled eggs, pimento cheese and pickled okra. “I think it’s just being in control of all the ingredients and not putting a ton of fat and a ton of butter into it,” he says. “Not everything has to be so rich it knocks you off your chair.”

For the last several years, Newton has been honing his skills in top New York kitchens including Le Cirque and Table. Most recently, he has taken on private clients for those who can afford such a thing. As far as what he knows about Southern cooking — well, he did grow up in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, where, a generation earlier, his father was raised on a farm.

“They killed their own pigs every year and made their own cornmeal,” he says. “I didn’t really grow up in that environment, but I grew up as a by-product of that. We canned our own vegetables. I’ve been to a hog killing, as it’s called, but it really wasn’t…my thing.”

Though there are still a few details left unfinished, what Newton calls the restaurant’s “Scandinavian farmhouse” vibe is largely in place: brick walls and a zinc countertop softened by gray blue paint and raw wood repurposed from Wyoming snow fences. A collection of mason jars separates the dining room from the kitchen. (For the record, there is no seersucker in Seersucker. The couple came up with the name after Newton donned the southern staple for a wedding and the restaurant snowballed from there.)

Already the pair has accomplished at least one business goal. “We didn’t break up building the restaurant,” Diamond says, laughing.

Says Newton: “We came through pretty unscathed.”

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