Charlotte chefs join forces for Soul Food Sessions

By Amber Donoghue

October 16, 2016

Traditional black American soul food originated in the rural South. It consists of such foods as chitterlings, pig knuckles, turnip greens, and cornbread, so says Webster. We think of soul food, in the South, as the cuisine of our culture. From the ugliness of slavery came a style of cooking carried on the backs of generations of brilliantly talented cooks who should be recognized as historians, just as the folks who salvaged Appalachian-style cooking are honored. Soul food is what love and tradition tastes like. Soul food is forgiveness. Soul food is the cuisine of the South, borrowed.

On Tuesday at 7pm five Charlotte chefs will gather in the kitchen of @Dawn Cafe. “Michael Bowling and I have wanted to do a high end dinner together for a while. Chef’s Jamie (Barnes) and Greg (Williams) of What The Fries (food truck) reached out to Mike and it only made sense to do.” said Greg Collier, Chef/Owner of @Dawn Cafe. “ We feel that there is a lack of showcase for African American Chefs in this city. We also like to challenge the stereotype of soul food.”

Chef Greg Collier

The Soul Food Sessions were conceived to create a sense of community so people from different walks of life can share a meal and enjoy the finer side of the meat-and-three notion. “I am most excited about spending an evening with some great chefs and showcasing our skills. Providing a quality experience for all who come and, most of all, having fun and doing something that I love to do,” said Gregory Williams.

Food is the one thing that can not divide us. We all have memories of our introductions to food. Recollections of being taught how to do this or that by grandma. Many things can separate us as a society but at the table we are all the same.

Some say there is a clear segregation in the kitchen though. “There are lots of opportunities for chefs. The reality is minority chefs don’t have many examples of people to follow nor are we presented with many chances to lead or take over kitchens. The chef patron concept rarely exists for us. Which is why most black chefs I know have created their own lane in which to thrive (food truck, breakfast restaurant, personal chef, catering, or a soul food restaurant).  I interviewed at ten or so places when moving to Charlotte but no one was interested in giving me a lead spot,” Collier said.

Chef Jamies Barnes (Left) and Gregory Williams of What The Fries Food Truck

Tuesday’s dinner will benefit The Community Culinary School of Charlotte. The $45 ticket proceeds will help CCSC provide culinary training and job placement. The chefs participating in the Soul Food Sessions wanted the event to be about more than just a dinner– it had to benefit a cause. “I think Charlotte offers a lot of great black-owned meat-and-three type spots. It’s natural for us to cook that type of food. But I feel as though soul food is more about the event. The breaking of bread with family creates the soul/sol/sun or center of the community,” said Collier. What better way to complete the circle than by putting the proceeds of this beautiful community dinner right back into the community?

The Soul Food sessions are coming to Charlotte at a time when the city might need it the most. In light of recent events many of our city’s residents are looking for ways they can help close the gap on race relations. “The problem I see is people tend to deny the history that this country has been built on a system of oppressing people through education, law enforcement, voting rights, etc. If people choose not to believe that there is a system based on the Haves and Have Nots then there is no relativity. It’s this idea that ‘American’ standards are afforded to specific ‘Americans’ depending on skin color. We have to decide that what’s fair for one is fair for all. We have to be truly treated equally,” Collier said.

Chef Michael Bowling

Dr. Martin Luther King said that hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Perhaps we cannot fix all of our problems in one night in South Charlotte, but there is a seat at the table on Tuesday evening that will help push towards that idea. Soul food is love and tradition. Soul food is forgiveness. Soul food is the cuisine of the South, shared.

Check out the full menu for Soul Food Sessions.

Tickets for Soul Food Sessions on Tuesday, October 18 at 7pm are $45.

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