Black food is a religious experience

My first memory of a black restaurant is a House of Prayer cafeteria in Piedmont North Carolina which I attended with my great-aunt Lillie Mae Bailey, my babysitter when I was a toddler.
When I first moved to California, my son and I would drive from San Jose to Oakland every Sunday to attend church and then go to the Soul Food Cafe.
Over the Christmas holiday, my niece Jada Wellman took me to another House of Prayer cafeteria in Charlotte on the way to the airport.
One of the reasons that African-American restaurants are a thriving concern, particularly in communities where many other businesses have left, is that almost-spiritual attachment they evoke.
BlackRestaurant.Net is observing Black Restaurant Month during March to remind not only the 38 million African-Americans but many others who seek that sense of comfort that comes from a meal prepared with passion.
During my fifth Come to the Water session, I arrived about 20 minutes late for the history class at Sam Jordan’s Bar, the oldest black restaurant in San Francisco since its founding in 1959.
I found the audience line dancing and munching on ribs and catfish. It took me another 15 minutes to get them focused back on our discussion.
None of them had been there before.
The reason we created BlackRestaurant.Net dates back to the SF Soul: Taste the Excitement exhibition we mounted at the Bayview branch of the San Francisco Public Library in 2005. We found 60 black-owned restaurants in the City by the Bay.
Because no one believed us, we took a picture of the exterior of all 60. Not even that was enough for Redevelopment Commissioner LeRoy King. The dean of black politicians in San Francisco ordered Supervisor Sophie Maxwell to personally check it.
When she introduced me Wednesday as the luncheon speaker for Celebrating Black American History, she recalled the afternoon when we took her on a three-hour van journey from one end of the city to the other, checking off every eatery on our list.
The same problem exists in every city. People love black cuisine, but only the existing customers know where the restaurants are.
Like my experiences with my great-aunt, son and niece, black cuisine is usually passed on through the family.
As our communities have scattered, that transmission process has become more difficult, while ironically all the more needed.
Children who grow up on a steady diet of fast food not only endanger their physical health, but the mental health that comes from having a tradition which connects them with previous generations.
We're finding that many of the newest black restaurants intentionally design their menus and interiors to evoke those traditional values.
Those values are being maintained coast-to-coast during March by such events as the 31st annual Black Cuisine Festival March 5 at 3rd Street and Yosemite Ave., which allows ticket holders to sample a variety of chefs and hear some great music from the likes of Lea Sweet and Jaye and Friends for a single ticket price and the Black Culinary Alliances' “18th Annual Cultural Awareness Salute Dinner” to be held in New York City on Saturday, March 12th, 2011. This black-tie gala celebrates contributions made by people of color in the culinary and hospitality industry and showcases the talents of students from top culinary and hospitality schools.

This is the one time of year when students from schools all over the country come together with established chefs in the same kitchen and cook in a non-competitive environment. The gala will highlight not only the students’ culinary training but also the commitment of established industry professionals who support the mission of the BCA with their expertise and time.

If you should have any questions or require additional information regarding the event or the BCA, please do not hesitate to contact howard@bcaglobal.org or Alex Askew at chef1aca@aol.com. Feel free to contact the BCA office for any additional info or materials at (212)643-6570.

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