The Flaky Foodie’s Black History Month series includes information about a historical African-American food pioneer and a conversation with a modern-day culinary trailblazer.
This is the third installment in the series, and in it we’ll learn about a queen who inspired a princess, Chef Leah Chase. Then we will talk with Chef Shacafrica Simmons (Chef Shac) a Food Network Chopped champion, contestant on The Great Soul Food Cook-Off, and entrepreneur, and future owner of Soulful restaurant in Tallahassee.
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Hi, it’s Jess and welcome to the flaky foodie Podcast. Today is part three of our Black History Month past and present series, where we talk about historical full pioneer and then jump into the present to talk with a modern day mover and shaker in the culinary field. For today’s food pioneer, we’ll talk about a queen who later became a princess. After that, we’ll talk with a Food Network shop champion, who was about to open her first restaurant in Florida’s capital city, so stay tuned to the only show where the discussion is delicious and there’s chatter to chew on.
Today’s African American food pioneer was born Lia lanch. In 1923. She was raised in Madisonville, Louisiana, with her sisters and brothers and parents. But when it was time to go to high school, she couldn’t stay in Madisonville because the African American school at that time did not go to high school, though she had to move to New Orleans to finish high school and she lived with her aunt while she was there. After high school, Leah worked a series of jobs, but her favorite was working as a waitress in the French Quarter. It was that job that developed Leah’s passion for cooking and for fine dining, Leah met and fell in love with a jazz musician, Edgar dooky, Chase, and in 1946, they were married now Eckers parents owned a very thriving business, it was a place that soul oyster poboys people could play the lottery there, and they could get their checks cash, which was very important at a time where African American people did not have direct access to a lot of banking. Now, Edgar’s parents business was not a sit down restaurant. So sit down restaurants at that time were not very popular among African American people. Because we often cannot sit down in most sit down restaurants. On the other hand, what was popular was a place that you could pick up food that you couldn’t make at home, a lot of African American people did not fry things at home for the same reasons that we do not fry things at home today. It’s messy, it’s time consuming, it makes your whole house smells like grease. So a lot of times these places that you could pass through and kind of get multiple things done at once, such as playing the lottery, get your check cash, or you will go to these places, you know, you would complete your task on your list. And then you might pick up oyster poboy to take with you back home. So this is the type of establishment that Egor mother and father ran at the time. And so Edgar and Leah had four children. And once those children were a little older, Edgar and Leah began to take over that family business. Now it already kind of started becoming a sit down restaurant. But Leah took all of those ideas that she got from the French Quarter, all that fancy fine dining that she was a part of, and decided to bring it back to the black community. And so she had tables and she put white tablecloth on the table. And in one interview that her read said that she started out trying to make these fancy Frou Frou dishes like lobster thermidor. But the African American people in the area did not want it because they weren’t used to it. And so she came up with this menu that was very high class, but also relatable to the people that would be eating at the restaurant. Now you may be wondering, how did the community react to having this place that they probably frequented a lot being turned into this high class fine dining establishment? Well, the answer is they loved it. African Americans needed a place to take their dates to to take their families to a place to celebrate special occasions. And just like everybody else, time went on and dooky Chase became a hotspot a place where people gather from all over and all walks of life. It became a place where freedom writers and activists began together in dooky chase to kind of hash out their plans and strategies in order to get fair and equal treatment. And these were activists on both sides of the fence. Now this was the height of segregation. So you had white allies and black activists sitting together at the same table and eating this delicious Creole food together and not being bothered by the police. Now you may be wondering, why didn’t the police bother anybody at dooky Chase? Well, I read several different reasons why. The first is that people just love dooky Chase so much that if someone came in if the cops decided to step in and kind of assert their authority there, there would be a lot of pushback from the community because this place was so beloved. One interview that I read on series eats one of my favorite blogs. Leah actually said in her own words, that she thinks that the police stay away from dooky Chase because she used to feed them. She would see them on patrol in a neighborhood and give a little plate give them a little some neat. And you know, they would kind of look the other way at the desegregation that was kind of going on inside the restaurant. So because it was safe, neutral territory. You had the movers, the shakers, the influencers of the day, all getting together at this restaurant, and over some good Creole food, planning citizens and marches and everything that led to African Americans being treated as equal in this country. It was such a magnet for activists that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Wanted to meet with a certain person in the movement, they would meet at dooky Chase and it’s a cool picture in your head to have even though it may not have happened this way of Dr. King kind of coming up with the bus boycott or finalizing details for one of his meaty, impactful speeches while devouring a bowl of Chef lists at Cafe. While there may be pure fiction, on my end, what is true is that Chef Leah Chase was pretty much the head chef of the civil rights movement. Later chef Leah Chase will go on to say that they changed the world over a bowl of gumbo. And it wasn’t just activist that a at dooky Chase. You had celebrities and arts and politics as well, such as James Baldwin and Thurgood Marshall. Ray Charles even mentioned dooky chase in one of his song lyrics, even after the height of the Civil Rights Movement and into the modern era to keep Chase Under the helm of Chef Leah Chase, continue to soldier on into a more modern era and continue to serve a high profile clientele. You had Beyonce and Jay Z. It became a magnet for presidents with even President George Bush and President Barack Obama eating there over the years of Leah Chase began to be known as the Queen of Creole cuisine, and just like a queen, if you mess with her domain, she’s going to correct you. And it’s an anecdote that President Barak Obama was sitting down to eat some of the food at dooky Chase when he grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and decided to put it on his food. Shove Leah slapped his hand away and basically said, Hey, don’t be messing up my gumbo. I mean, only a queen can tell the leader of the free world not to mess up her gumbo, and we can’t mention all of elite that a dooky Chase without mentioning chef Leah chases love for the community. Chef Leah says in several interviews that her parents primarily her dad always encouraged her to help others. Chef Chase often served her community doing charity work and raising funds for museums. Chef Chase was also known for her love of the arts. She said that her husband Ecker Chase bought her one painting and she was absolutely hooked. She began to collect piece after piece using it to add vibrant colors to the walls of her restaurant. At one time. It was even said that her collection was considered New Orleans best collection of African American art chef chase but more than 70 years at the helm of dooky Chase, but that time was not without hardship. Hurricane Katrina left five feet of water on the floor of the restaurant, causing her to lose nearly everything. However her vast our collection was unscathed, a blessing in the midst of disaster. Now chef Chase was a champion for the community. But when it was time to rebuild dooky chase the community gathered around her helping to restore dooky Chase back to its former glory. Throughout her life chef Chase won numerous awards and accolades. And she wrote three cookbooks as well. When Disney needed inspiration for his first African American princess, they turn to the story of Leah Chase. And so that’s how the queen of Creole cuisine became a princess. And it wasn’t a downgrade chef Chase passed away in 2019 at the age of 96. Even though chef Chase is not physically with us anymore. Her legacy definitely lives on to this day, you can go to New Orleans and visit dooky Chase restaurant but now it’s our children at the helm. So that was our African American food pioneer for the week. Make sure you join us next This week as we close out this series with our final food pioneer, I don’t know about you but this is kind of bittersweet because I really enjoyed learning more about these food pioneers and sharing them with you. If you’ve enjoyed this series so far, I am offering a shirt with all of the names of the pioneers on it. Just go to my website, www dot THG flaky foodie.com That’s the flaky foodie.com/m Er, CH or merch and check out that brand new shirt that’s available in my shop. Now we’re going to jump to the present and we’re going to have a conversation with a Food Network chop champion and a contestant on Discovery’s great soul food Cook Off and she’s also opening her own restaurant this year in Florida’s capital city Tallahassee Stay tuned after the break as we talk with Chef chef.
February may be the shortest month of the year but boy is it jam packed with events. You have Valentine’s Day the Super Bowl, Black History Month. And all of these great holidays require great food. And that’s where Instacart comes into play. Whether is ingredients for your Mary’s mac and cheese or everything you need to make your famous Rotel dip for the game Instacart has you covered they can have groceries from the store to your door in just an hour. And I have a very special offer today. For those of you listening, free delivery for your first Instacart order over $35 That’s free delivery. Click the link in my show notes or visit my website www dot flaky foodie.com/offers To take advantage of this very special discount
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welcome back Today we have chop champion and accomplished chef, Chef Chuck Africa Simmons and she’s also lovingly known as Chef shack. So we want to welcome her to the show today. Welcome chef Jack. I’m so glad to have you
Chef Shac 12:57
here. Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
So you’re a champ champion. And you recently competed on another televised cooking show for discovery plus and own. Can you tell us a little bit more about that show in that experience
Unknown Speaker 13:14
competing, and the great fellow who cook off? That was it was amazing to be around other sets that look like you kind of approach food, you know, they may be a little bit different, but we all have that soulfulness that we’re bringing to the table that we want to you know, kind of get out. It was really excited you really excited to be a part.
What was the experience? Like being on chop versus being on this new show? The great soul food Cook Off was a completely different experience or is it like once you cooked on one of these televised cooking competition, you’ve kind of done it all?
Unknown Speaker 13:54
Well, no, it’s definitely not. Once you put them on one You bet it all they’re similar in this in and the great folk who took off is definitely similar because the creators of chopped are also the creators of this show. As though you know it was it was some elements that were very similar. We was timed meals, you know, different rounds. But this show had eight chefs and chopped only has four it was over a couple of days a course of days, wears chopped. It’s just a one day taping. So it was a couple of things that were different. Of course, this was an all black cast, all black churches and all you know very Afro centric set. So there are a lot of things that that still we’re different and even you know in the pantry itself, there were many things that were very cultural for us. And so, you know, it was a different experience. But there was definitely some similarities to
chuck as since the soulful cook off, you know, the demographics are a lot different. You have the all black cast and all black judging group you had staples in the pantry. It sounds like there were a little bit more familiar. So was the overall experience? Was it a little bit kind of less stressful or more stressful?
Unknown Speaker 15:27
Ooh, that’s a good question. Oh, no, I would, we had such a great time on the fit. For the great folks who click off like, we just have such a good time. So I would say it was less stressful. It was different. It was a different kind of stress. I think it was, I don’t know maybe it was even more stressful because you’re cooking the food that that you represent your culture represents, you know, that you represent it is like, Oh my God, you know, if, if seven other chefs is doing this, and then you got all these amazing stuff this digests like, can I you know, can you kind of meet that you know, that standard it you know, that fat so, maybe it was a little bit more more stressful? You know, just trying to be creative and, you know, present the food, you know, still pay homage but then put an twist? Oh, no, that’s a good question. Make me think it might have been a little bit more stiff.
So did you make any lasting friendships or relationships from being on both chopped and the great soul food Cook Off?
Unknown Speaker 16:44
I did. The young man that I bet I was in the finale with on chop. Michael, we stay in touch via social media. We had just such a great connection on the show. And he’s he’s the age of my oldest daughter. So I definitely want to see him succeed. So we kind of you know, this pleasantries on social media. But this this cast from the great soul food Cook Off, we call ourselves the great apes. So we have really created kind of a camaraderie we talk a couple of times a week. And it’s just been, you know, really exciting that the younger ones call me auntie, the older ones, I’m SIS or MA, you know, so it’s, you know, it’s just that that nurturing, and oh no, that closeness that you feel when you’re when you’re in with your people, like, you know, you really feel like you’re with your tribe.
So after you became a choc champion, you were able to kind of leverage that experience into some great ventures. Can you tell us a little bit more about your business that you were able to kind of create post shots?
Unknown Speaker 18:01
Oh, yeah. So um, well, I’ve been in business for a while but we were able to kind of create, you know, a couple additional products on to bring into our business, we do catering majorly and we wanted to pivot and do a few more things that we enjoy doing. My business partner and I and so we created a beverage line. It shocked and like our number one, beverages are mango basil tea. That’s our number one. Even though we have 20 other ones that are very delicious. That’s the top seller can’t get us hard to get them away from it like let’s try something new. Now they want that mango basil tea. And and they we brought in a new product our CO Quito which is like a coconut the coconut milk base eggnog with no egg. And it’s been really you know, cool to see people kind of learn more about it kind of get into it, I was able to, you know, give them a little bit of my Caribbean roots, you know, and so that’s been you know, something that we offer doing Christmas due to holidays and through Valentine’s Day so you know, it’s still available, but you can still get you can get it out that but you definitely can still get it.
So you mentioned Caribbean roots, where where are your people from? Originally?
Unknown Speaker 19:33
Were from the Bahamas, and the Bahamas, but I’m from South Florida so we hung in without whatever that is but we get A’s in like all of us, you know, kind of just always a real nice Milton path situation with the Caribbean’s down fafco
So one of your next endeavors is opening your first restaurant, which was which will be called so full? What are your goals for this restaurant? And how would you describe the food and the ambience, overall atmosphere?
Unknown Speaker 20:08
Well, so for actually right now it fits on the good work property, but what Museum and Gardens here in Tallahassee and, and who would work was a cotton plantation years ago. And so for us, it’s been a reclamation, you know, we kind of want to reclaim some of that space and, and, and heal some of that trauma that our ancestors experienced on that property. And it’s kind of interesting that, you know, right now, even with themselves are going through a process of kind of honoring the slaves and bringing attention to the slaves that were on on the property for years, they’ve been searching for families and, and things like that. So it’s important for them as well, to not just share the life of the of the owners, but the lives of the slaves as well. And so it’s kind of timely, that we’re there, it’s important that we’re there. Being black women, being the first black restaurant, in on the property has been a few other concepts. But, you know, it’s, it’s really a great time for us to be this timely, it’s like something that needed to happen. We’re always so you know, over on the property, we’re like, the ancestors that, you know, they’re happy they come in today to add the lighting does is really cool. So yeah, we’re excited to be there that the goal though, is to share our share our culture. So right now in the restaurant, there’s beautiful black art, you can even see some damn right now. It’s so similar, we have it all over the walls, gorgeous art, local artists, who are local and internationally known. And so we use it as a way of sharing their art, but also selling their art, you know, so you can buy right off the walls, if you like it, you can buy it. And it’s so important for us to do that for us to support each other, to grow the, you know, our community and grow the wealth in our community, and to try to keep some of that wealth in our community. And so having this space helps to do that. But it also helps to also show our food in some some different ways, some, maybe even reimagined ways. And so we want to share that we want to show how soul food, but also southern food can confuse with other cultural foods, and create these amazing, delicious, you know, expressions of food and art, you know, and so, we just, that’s it, we’re excited about it, we haven’t opened yet, we are still working through the process and getting everything together, but we use the space now as an event space. And so we’ve had, you know, some amazing events come through, and it’s just beautiful. We’re just excited about being able to tell our story, through our food, and share, you know, share our life experience in that way.
That is amazing. So when is your opening day because my mouth is already watering?
Unknown Speaker 24:04
Oh, are we listening? You know, we have challenges as black people sourcing fun from time. So in the building is a historical building, so it needed a lot of work. And we had to you know, we have to do a lot to get the building up to par for for opening. So, so we’re just going through that process, you know, access in the funds that we need is slow, what is happening and so as we as we are able, we you know, do something, you know, we paint we get a new piece of equipment or something. So we’ve just been kind of going through that process, a lot of things were there. So we’ve been using some of what it was in place. But of course, you know, we want to make it our own and so and so that’s taking us a little bit more time but you Between bootstrapping and getting some, you know, being able to access additional funding through investment loans, whatever. We’ll get there. We’ll get it soon. So we’re hoping by March that we will be open,
you mentioned that you have some other events on the property. Do you have any that’s happening between now and your grand opening? And possibly in March? Yes. So,
Unknown Speaker 25:23
um, we’ll be having our sensory experience, which is a four course dining experience. Each course is paired with wine. And throughout the evening, we have different art mediums. So you have a singer man, he a dancer, and also there’s a painter that creates a piece on the spot. And stones are healthy. Yeah, for the evening, the folks that are there to couples are able to, you know, enjoy that. And then you know, also enjoy this amazing food and wine and and the all the other art all the music, we have a saxophone is answers we’ve had, we’ve done it for a number of years. And it’s like a nice pop up event. But now that we have our own space is even more special.
So your restaurant title is soulful. You just competed on the great soul food cookoff What does soul food mean to you? Is the soul food something that you just that just kind of resonates with you? Or is it just something that you feel you’re good at? What the soul food mean to you overall, as a chef,
Unknown Speaker 26:39
oh, you know, soul food. For me. I mean, I feel like if I breathe it, you know, is this like, is a part of who I am, you know, is this a part of my story. And as is a way that I choose to tell my story. And, you know, for us, as you know, young people growing up eating, oh, it was an expression of love to us, you know, it was, it was like, you know, your grandmother may have special, you know, rice pilaf, or, you know, comforters or something like that, mind you on behavior, too. So all those things are part of our soul food experience. Um, we, you know, it was like, yeah, like, you know, it was those, it was those kinds of experiences that let you know that they went through so much trouble, they brought you something so beautiful and so delicious. Because they love to even if you didn’t necessarily hear, you know, you knew that you felt it, and the food and so and I think all of us have that experience, like we just know that for someone to go through this peak greens peak being go through, you know, or if you had to do it, you know, we had our bucket, porch, do it, you know, picking the blackout ease, ease. You know, you know, yeah, it is just, you know, it’s, you know, it’s, you know, and we didn’t maybe appreciate it then as much as we should have. But I do now because I know, it was like a rite of passage, almost like, this is the part of our story that you can carry on with you, you know, these are parts we might not have, we had to go into the field like they did, but we got some of that experience that we could share, you know, with our children with our, our family, you know, as as we’re as we’re growing, and it Yeah, it just, it just, it’s the connection, you know, it’s the connection that we, we have right now, you know, in our present, but it’s also like a reach back to our past, you know, and it’s a connection to our ancestors and to those who those generations before us. So it means a lot to me, I don’t I don’t take it for granted. You know, I don’t take it for granted. And, um, I try to be very mindful and to when I’m trying to, you know, honor the food, you know, honor the process and not try to cut too many corners, you know, or whatever. But, you know, it is it is it is an honor for us to, to do it. And it’s an honor for us to bring our own personal touches to so that’s a part of what I do. You know, that’s that’s what we do. When we’re when we’re cooking. We’re like how can we make this you know, And one example is are we do a collard green Domas and I don’t know, you know what,
like the stuff great leafs
Unknown Speaker 30:10
right, that’s what so we do a collard greens, stuff with corn bread, you know, and corn bread and smoked turkey necks. And you know, we serve it with like this roasted red pepper hot sauce. And you know, so technically, if you think about it, what you
eat collard greens incorporate
Unknown Speaker 30:38
collard greens, the color, just reimagine it, no, it’s rolled up in a nice little ball is themed and, you know, you can dip it in. And it it just it speaks to who we are. But it also honors, where we came from,
in the traditional way of eating it, because the way to eat it is you know, you put your cornbread on top of your collard greens, and you take your hand in there. And
I realized that the other day, I was seeing people do the foo foo challenge, where they had the foo foo. And then they had I’m sorry, I’m ignorant on what their version of greens are. And I was like, hey, that’s what we do. That’s, that’s a custom that’s straight from Africa. So those types of things. honoring the past is, is definitely important as it is really.
Unknown Speaker 31:35
Yeah, yeah. So that’s, that’s kind of, you know, just one example, but we have so many, you know, and, you know, fusing, but also, you know, again, still honoring our history. And our culture, is what it is, I mean, that’s all it is, what it comes down to, for me is, you know, it’s the love, it’s the honor the privilege of being able to do it and do it well. So, yeah, and that’s something that I got to experience that shared thought process with some of the other chefs that I competed with, in the great soul food, great soul food, because I want to call it okay. Grateful. So, yeah, it just deep in that, for me, I just know, it’s special. Don’t Don’t get me started, because I can go on and on about what it means.
So you mentioned heritage as one of your big inspirations for for cooking. So what are some other inspirations that kind of inspire you to to be a chef or to continue to cook?
Unknown Speaker 32:54
Yeah, so a lot of things, you know, it, I mean, the season, you know, we’re all about eating in season and eating local. So and being where we are, and we just, you know, we have such beautiful agriculture. And so it’s easy, you know, it can be easy, you know, to kind of get creative and do some things and it definitely inspires us to kind of go outside the box, sometimes what we’re gonna prepare how we’re gonna, how you’re gonna present probably GreenSky you know, how you present kale, you know, how you go, you know, so it’s like, what you’re gonna do with that watermelon. It’s like, we can do that, you know, we can, we can have those really exciting conversations about food and then create it. And then
it’s kind of like you’re watching and you’re sorry, it’s kind of like your own shot basket. Whatever.
Unknown Speaker 33:55
Like, every season, every season, we’re like, what’s gonna be on me, you okay? When people it’s so funny, because when people in our catering business when they order stuff, like months out, and we’re like, Okay, so we’re gonna start this, you know, but um, we can’t really tell you everything until we get closer. So we know what our farmers gonna have grown, you know, that when they’re growing. So if people like, oh, okay, you know, cuz they don’t always, you know, think about the fact that we really are committed to eating, you know, with growing in season and locally. And so that’s a that’s a that’s a great part of it. I guess. Seeing you know, other chefs kind of what other chefs are doing is inspired me to cook. I’m kind of a voyeur. I like to watch people eat, eat. I like to watch them. Eat my food in their email kind of day. with their experience and here, you know, their, their critique, so whatever. And so that that’s another thing, email wanting to wanting to have that. I don’t know what the feeling is, but it’s exciting, I guess we might just see people eat and enjoy or maybe they, you know, experienced in a different way and they want to share this, this the this kind of exchange that is really, that really encourages me when it gets hard email to do this, to keep to keep on you know, to keep doing it. That’s, that’s a major part of it. It’s just, you know, how people are receiving it and what it means to them, what we what we do have it and what that means to them in our commitment to the food and our commitment to how we source it. I love to hear that, you know, so that’s another inspirational thing. But yeah, I mean, it’s just so many things that just kind of come at me, you know, and are just be like, Hey, I got a taste for this. You know, I don’t know, like the other night, I made some. I want a grid. I was like I want grid. And I make a lot of grids. Don’t get me wrong, I make a lot of them. So it’s very rare that I want like, I just want to eat them myself. So yeah, I want I want to I want to read and I want to do like this beef Marsala. Like just as I’m just tasting it in my mouth. Like I’ve tasted it cooked it yet. I’m tasting it. And I’m like, I’m gonna go do it. I’m gonna do it. And so I made it even though I made it like, I go ahead, he did something, you know, and I just May I have some style and I need to measure with all this stuff, you know? So I did it. I mean, this is creamy heirloom grits. And you know, they were smoked already. They local a local farmer here that we get them from COP bumpy, bumpy roads farm.
Oh, yeah. I’ve seen the Red Hills.
Unknown Speaker 37:21
Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely. And so I knew the grandfather before he passed away the old original owner before he passed away. But his his grandson is taken over. So is like, Thank God, it was like, Yes, we won’t lose enough. So glad that he trained him so that we could keep that beautiful heritage going and full story. So they’re, you know, no, Jim Molly’s 100 year old grit. And I was like, I kind of had a good one there, you got to have a good time. Like where you could be a selfie guy, you can just do the gym, Dan. But you got to do the good stuff. So, you know, I went got those. And, I mean, I made my meal. And that’s, you know, it’s my own personal inspiration, but to cook for myself at home, but also what I want to give, you know, to us, so it’s what I have around me what’s happening, you know, around me in and what, you know, I’m gonna give you and receive from you.
Okay, so that’s what kind of inspires you to cook today. What inspired you to cook from the very start?
Unknown Speaker 38:31
Huh? Well, yeah, so similar things, but, um, well, my grandfather actually was the first person to put me in the kitchen when I was about five. And he wanted you know, he taught me how to cook the egg. And he was doing it because he wanted me to learn how to cook eggs just in case my grandmother forgot which that morning she had. And he was gonna have to go through this again. She she she forgot to cook my eggs. She cooked everything else but it did. So he got me up, put me on a chair and showed me how to cook that up, but he liked and so you know, I mean, it wasn’t necessarily a dairy but I took it like that, you know, cuz he was a great cook. And he all actually he inspired me, you know, he did inspire me because he took a lot but when he did, everybody was you know, and my grandmother was great is a great cook, my mom, everybody, but it was like, oh, you know, because he was gonna do something he called it concoction. So he was gonna make some delicious concoction that you know, it may not always look the most, you know, inviting But he’s like, don’t just take that was a taste, you know? And that was kind of what he did. And I think it’s still inspires me, you know, when I’m cooking now, like, that’s a part of the fusion you know you This is our second coccyx. You the math our that’s the culinary word he know that. But if you know that’s what it is. That’s exactly what it is is like, you know, I just get to go in and create, you know, am I just found my grandfather did it and I know that’s not my mom did it too with my grandmother too. But it was just very rare for you know, to hear a grandfather. Take on that, you know, take that on? Yeah, he has been definitely my inspiration. And how I started I was a midwife. I wasn’t even thinking about cooking other different my family. Um, yeah, but um, we moved because we were here in Tallahassee, they moved to Birmingham, my ex husband’s job to come, you know, out of the city. And so we were in Birmingham, and I was going to finish my education as a midwife and go on and the school closed. We got and they didn’t take any more new students. And so I was I was kind of devastated because I didn’t know you know what I was going to do. And my husband, right. You need to cook the belly see these commercials on television it like, you need to cook and that’s kind of where we’re kind of grew from there to our profession. I did it all the time for my family, but it became a profession at that point.
So when did you become chef shack? And how long have you been cooking professionally?
Unknown Speaker 41:57
I’ve been cooking professionally. Oh, Lord. 22 years? Three years? For? joining in? I don’t know because 47 years? 40? I’m sorry. 42 years. 42 years in total? So yeah, about 22 years. Yeah. A long time. Good luck. Good in alone.
What was your first food related job?
Unknown Speaker 42:29
Oh, man, other than my chores, but you mean like my first pay gave
you a paycheck?
Unknown Speaker 42:38
Well, um, okay. So when I was like, 14, I worked under the I got paid on tables, letting technically get a paycheck. But I got paid. Um, then I worked with this little tiny restaurant, like across the street from my house. And I was a server and whatever they needed me to be k, pizza dough maker, whatever they needed me to be. That’s what I did. And they Yeah. Every time someone came in yet, you know, you said Mangia, mangia. Hey, man, eat him out of a photo. That was my that was it. That was my first job. And Delray Beach will tell you a restaurant. I wish it was still here, because the food was amazing. If I had to go on that experience, I probably could. But that was the first one. And I did that for a few years. And then I don’t think I worked again, it was probably like 18. And then I started like, doing like, catering stuff like for my family. I got married, had kids started a culinary school. And then I was doing, you know, way more like cookie jobs, you know, but yeah, that’s how it started. Well, you
often hear that, you know, being a chef is a very male dominated field. So what has been your experience in that regard? Do you think it’s just hard being a woman in the business overall, or is it a little bit more difficult being a black woman in the business?
Unknown Speaker 44:25
Well, definitely more difficult being a black woman in the business is difficult for I’m sure all women in any profession. Just this has a little more difficulty to it, you know, hardship to the industry is is male dominated. And so when you do walk into a kitchen into a room and you know you have chef in the front of your name, it you know, it’s on Most like you, you have to go in, in proving yourself and not just to the men, to everybody, you know who’s in the room and being a black woman doing that it’s even more, you know, because you don’t get the respect. You know, because you’re somebody, you know, they don’t even address you as Chef, you have to be like, wait a minute, you know, I am chef. So when you talk to me, you put chef in front of him, you know, and are they want to say, you know, Ma, or sis for email, and it’s like, I can appreciate the those engineering terms, however, you know, we’re in a professional environment, and you are going to respect me, you know, and so, if we were equal, meaning your, you know, we’re like chefs on the same level, I might can accept that a little bit better. I don’t know. But from, from folks who were working under me, and I was training, and they, I felt like it definitely needed to be a level of respect there. And so and so that no one was was, you know, posted about what I was there to do. We were at, you know, we’re doing work. And I was executive chef at Florida a&m University for about three years. And, you know, having such a large staff, you know, my direct staff was about 7580 people, and then just across the campus that was responsible for over 200 plus people. And so it was, you know, it was important that I was seen for who I was the leader, you know, of the culinary department, and, and that I was respected. And so, um, yeah, it was hard, you know, it’s hard to, to get the respect of my other colleagues who worked in other areas of the university, or other areas of the cafeteria, and in some of the other concepts, it was also difficult to get, you know, that that same respect from those who lead, you know, or leaders, or just, you know, folks coming in the kitchen, I appreciate it, though, being able to be who I was, and mentor, the folks who are serious, you know, about, you know, who want it. It’s important, that representation is so important. It’s why I do what I do, at all, like, is definitely one reason why I do what I do. And it’s been so important to be in the spaces that I’ve been in, like, chopping, breaks, you know, so food Cook Off, and, you know, James beer, all these different spaces, having someone that looks like you, or someone who is me, is good. It’s like, you know, it’s like, dang, I can do that. Because someone did it for me. When I went to culinary school, I was scared on my mind. I didn’t think I could do it. I’m like, No. And I saw one black woman chef, who was an instructor. And I mean, she was so cool. She had the cool glasses. And she, you know, just demanded respect wherever she went. And it just me immediately. I loved her. I didn’t you know, who she was, you know. And she eventually became my mentor, Dini Streeter. But she was the, you know, she was the one I needed to see, she was my one, you know, to let me know that I could. And so it’s important for me to be that one. And so going into these spaces, and educating those men, white men, white women, black men, that sometimes they can be very hard on us as well. That are, you know, in those spaces and letting them know, Hey, I belong here, just like you. You know, I’ve I’ve paid my dues, just like you. And, you know, you don’t respect me at the end of the day. And so, yeah, you just, you know, it’s just, you just have to kind of make up in your mind that you’re going to do it. And no matter what is coming at you, you do what you got to do, you know and don’t be so haughty that you can’t learn, but, you know, still have a level level of humility. But in some places, you just got to go in and boss up. And you know,
do you Find that saying, Our having the title of being a chop champion or any of the other accomplishments that you have, do you find that it gets easier? Or has it been about the same,
Unknown Speaker 50:10
it’s been about the same, it may make it even more because, like, you’re chopped up, you know that, oh, I could cook either, like, you know, we need to cook against each other. It’s like, this is that talk is stupid. But, you know, and I know, that’s not to demean them in any way. It’s just like, um, you, you know, you could cook in, I’m sure your family loves it, you know, because, because people will say, like, oh, you that cook? Right? Like, they’ll say that, and I’m like, No, I’m that chef. I’m not a cook. I’m a chef. I cook, that’s my bread, that’s a part of my profession. But I paid a lot of money for the degrees that I have. And I’ve, I have, you know, sacrificed a lot to do this. And to do it at the level that I do it. And so I don’t want you to ever call me a cook. I am a chef, just like you don’t go to your doctor’s office and call them. You know, that a first night. You you go in and you say, Doctor, you know you don’t call them a nurse, you got them as the same thing. You know, I because I have another level of expertise of training of education. So I want to be respected at that level. I deserve it.
So to kind of go back to your culinary education, is there something that you learn in culinary school that was like really eye opening? Or like a trick or a tip? Something that you still use today?
Unknown Speaker 51:54
Huh, you know, but yeah, I mean, I guess there’s a lot of little things, but I think the biggest thing for me about culinary school was the terminology for things that we just did. You know, like, I didn’t know that it was a thing, right? I didn’t know when you put carrots and celery and onions together. That was a miracle. I just thought that’s what you that’s how you start like you do that? Is via Pip. You know, onions? Garlic, that’s a try. I didn’t know that it had names like that. I was like that’s my that’s what my grandma me that my granddad to do like it listen, you got to have the celery you got that? And you best add the garlic even do nothing without them. You know, did you want to add you know, the Oh, I forgot about the hot peppers. You know you got to have so is is is just been a part of what we put, you know, Syria, me and then putting your flour and I’m leaving the drippings in there. I did on it my whole life. So this is them? Oh, yes, this is look, you know, you’re making the room. And you know, I didn’t know. I know. That was dreadful. I just knew it was what I was supposed to do. Because that’s what I was taught to do. You know, that’s, that’s what I saw. And I’m saying cop but I kind of, you know, it was like, you know, cuz you’re sometimes you the older folks where you indicate in the kitchen. Yeah, I really want to be bothered. But you really had to, like, you got it, you know, so you have to kind of acquire education. So it you know, that’s what it was. And that’s kind of you know, that’s what culinary school did for me.
So what is the best dish that you’ve had recently?
Unknown Speaker 53:59
Yeah, it was great fun. So you have a name for the mote
your taste buds may that dish came up with
Unknown Speaker 54:22
you have to you have to add experience for your mouth. I feel like you. I mean, you know, people talk about like, needing a recipe and eating this good. Don’t get me wrong, but a lot of you know, this in our tradition in our heritage history is verbal, you know, it’s intuitive. And so the fact that a lot of it is just do it like I just kind of barely taste it. And then I do
so we mentioned soulful What’s your favorite? Is that your favorite kind of food to eat? Are there other kind of cultures that you enjoy eating their food as well?
Unknown Speaker 55:09
Yeah, I mean I’m I’m I feel I am very much open you know to other cultural food I love Asian Italian one actually once that my family is Sicilian you know so it’s in the blood um Mediterranean you know those are like my kind of my go to Mexican I’m really open when it comes to food I’m trying to think like what my favorite thing is I guess my I guess like my food and when I say my me like, Caribbean food is my favorite food. Like conch you know stew can’t come for this conch salad any color anything you know peas or rice, pigeon peas and rice then be real clear because the Jamaicans there you know it could be something else but kids appeasing the rice the true the true peace and right PHP is I love it you know is this like a staple so I guess that would be you know my birthday those of you some of my favorite days but then I’m a chicken wing a Holic Okay. Eating out eat it. Chicken wings and fish I think I can eat every day.
So what was your like guilty pleasure food be
Unknown Speaker 56:47
Oh, guilty pleasure food. So my grandmother may float she’s passed away but she used to make this dish called butter roll. And it’s not like a known this you know it’s like something that has been a part of our family I think she may have experienced it when she was in the on the island or in the islands and so she made it she would she would make it she would make this kiddo and then she was fill it with like butter and spices and vanilla roll them up. She would just pour like a custard like milk and sugar it became accustomed but she just pour like milk and sugar over it but in general, it is thorough right with again, this is this call but it was different is different now but once you once it cooks you know it gets kind of soft in and creamy. You know so you like scoop pastured butter roll you know so you had a butter drip in in this nice little custody sauces treatment created and above. And you were spoon that over top. Huh? And it was hot. And it was buttery. And it was creamy. And it was though is like
that sounds good. Have you ever heard of a dish called I think I’m probably butchering the way to pronounce it’s called Penny popo. I think it’s Samoan in origin but it’s a yeast row and then you pour coconut milk over the top and it kind of forms accustomed when you’re describing that that’s what it sounds it again
Unknown Speaker 58:41
that’s the best sound that’s a great thing it’s just said that because this like I honestly feel like there’s no real difference in food. Like it’s only our interpretation like how we or our expression right how we because our food is off every night in the islands just use the Caribbean for it it’s it’s all these versions of almost the same thing like they may have one little agree off different email or one spider that is the same thing and is all cross boat you know all cultures like all people it is is so interesting. Like we are so much the same people were the same right these things that you’re that we create are the same but you just use what was in your you know, is the only difference was where y’all left Africa and y’all went to whatever region you went to. Y’all use which are happy, you know, and it created it, it made it look, you know, maybe a little bit different, maybe tastes even a little bit different. But when you look at the bare bones of it, it’s the same stuff. Email. Email is so that kind of stuff is either emailed or there’s other learning, you know, here even hearing what you just said like that, I love it, because that’s what that’s what it is. That’s why we really shouldn’t be loving each other way more than you do is we’re more alike than we are different. And that’s what bringing people to the table really does it create a real community, and people learning this stuff. It really does it lets them connect to each other more, you know, and see that intimacy in our food in that connection in our food. Yeah, so yeah, that’s what it is. It’s the same thing. It’s just
Unknown Speaker 1:00:54
is a bang, bang, bang thing. That’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful way to see the world. You know, if everybody could grasp it, it would be a beautiful way to see the world.
So from talking to you, it seems like that you have a deep appreciation for the arts, for artwork for music. And you like to experience that kind of as part of the experience that you provide to people who come to your events. So do you like to listen to music while you cook? And what kind of music is on your cooking playlist?
Unknown Speaker 1:01:35
The fee is on the day you know it could be it’d be gospel was I gave is on a Sunday and I’m doing like Sunday then is probably gonna be a little cut. But then if the day struff I might roll it into the week in the morning. Good morning. And you know, he could go anyway, I’ll get live there has been a little r&b now though. I can’t do a little bit or I can’t do a whole lot of rapping but I love the older rap. Like the 80s 90s stuff I can I can rock with that a lot. But then I’m like, oh, school, you know, I like um, you know Marvin Gaye and Mimi? Riscal email. This is the number No, it’s just what I feel like the I might go a little bit do a little something different taking the bankers. Oh, I like taking Yeah, don’t even get excited as I love, love love and I’m so creative. You know, I might go into a little Howlin Wolf and muddy waters blew by it just is where I am. I don’t know any good is this flow, you know, and I try to be respectful and I’m not the only one in the kitchen but most of the time I can flip flip email just things through so it’s very broad. How I like country, it could be country you know? Tell you let’s say Florida Georgia man when I get with it, but you just can’t keep sleep on the country. Isn’t Solon near that? Now you know there is so yeah, I mean, it could be
Unknown Speaker 1:03:38
when I get in NaVi like when I when I’m feeling you know reggae that is I’m a music lover. I’m a lover of all things art with poetry, the dance thinking all those things just you know mean even visual art but this really really live it off so it’s so important to me that it is a part of the food experience because they all belong together. No so So yeah, just try to experience them in that way you know and educate people on on the beauty is food you know the art of color the colony This is the part of how it all comes out. So yeah, I don’t I don’t discriminate much in the music. I’m pretty open. I’m pretty set for like my heart, heart rock and too much rap but outside of that you can probably enjoy it.
So are there any other projects you’re working on right now? We mentioned the beverage line we mentioned soulful, is there anything else that you have coming down the pipeline?
Unknown Speaker 1:05:01
Yeah, so we’re, um, we’re going to come out with that next season in England. But just as a no thought version about all, all purpose, and then we’re going to do like, some smoked versions of our season. Because that’s coming to theory now. And some book projects and I really, really, really, really want to get the movie done like a movie or play done. So I’ve been talking to some folks who could help us help me make that happen. So, you know, don’t don’t sleep on me just clicking over here. We got, we got a lot.
So do you think the movie is gonna be like a biography? Or is it gonna be like, fiction?
Unknown Speaker 1:05:58
What do you think it’s gonna be? It’s not gonna be fiction, you know, it’ll probably be about some historical you know, black woman who, you know, made some kind of impact in the food industry or use food to help build, I want to say too much. So I’m just you know, but it’ll be something around, you know, our culture and its connection and its connection to definitely.
Okay, and thank you so much Shaq for being here. Again, I really just enjoy talking to you. Different types of food for probably another hour
Unknown Speaker 1:06:50
this is my favorite thing. People always like what do you do when you when you relax? Okay, my relaxation include food is not always, not even an eating thing is like, just, you know, I’m watching it being creative, or I’m just having a conversation you know about it, because what you shared earlier about calling and kind of, or talking to people and kind of racking their brain about what, you know, what, what they’re eating, and I get it all the time. And so it but I don’t, it doesn’t bother me, you know, as a kid, I’m honored that people even want my opinion, you know, I want to hear something from you’re learning something from me. And I’m more generous with my friends than I am with everyone else. But most people have to pay for that. But um, I do. I love talking about it. And, and I love having opportunities like this to kind of, you know, share with it. You know how special it is and what it means to be to be this person who gets to do this and live a life like this. So thank you for letting me express myself and share my story.
Oh, yes. You’re welcome. Welcome your editor.
Unknown Speaker 1:08:25
So where can people find more about your next projects? Or maybe they want to purchase that delicious sound and basil tea that I want right next to me right now?
Unknown Speaker 1:08:39
Oh, yeah. Yes, so um, all of our products are on our website is www dot Sheff. sec.com No cages if Ha ha ha c.com. And they can get me on Instagram. My Instagram has been hacked. So I haven’t won, though a shake Africa has been written out on Instagram, but I was the Snapchat. So if you see it, it’s not me now. Somebody else has taken that over. Um, and they can find me on Facebook. It says check and shift check on Twitter.
Okay, thank you so much. That was chef shack here on the show today. Thank you so much for being with us. And we’ll see. Yes. And we’ll see you next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai