The Inaugural Kwame Onwuachi Family Reunion Food & Wine Event at the Salamander

The very first time I learned about the James Beard Awards was through an event called Iconoclast . The Iconoclast Dinner Experience (IDE) was created by my classmate Dr. Lezli Levene Harvell as a scholarship fundraiser for Spelman College. IDE was one of the first events that I am aware of that showcased James Beard Chefs of Color. I have always wanted to attend the event and seemed to have a schedule conflict every time. Nevertheless, IDE introduced me to many black chefs that I had not heard of before.

On a trip to DC, I asked an Atlanta foodie for dinner recommendations. Years later, I am still impacted from the experience. I went to the restaurant called Kith and Kin led by executive chef Kwame Onwauachi. I had never been to a restaurant that had as much flavor, if not more, than my grandmother’s dinner table. On my second visit, I was afraid that it would not be as good as the first time. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant has closed but I stayed abreast on Kwame through social media. The day that I read Kwame was hosting an event called The Family Reunion, at a resort that I love dearly, Salamander Resort, I had to go.

I waited for what felt like forever for the tickets to come out. I even desperately looked at the Aspen Food and Wine event when I thought I may have missed the family reunion ticket sales. When I received the email to register for the family reunion, I was on the phone making reservations within 10 minutes. There were different options which included a full week pass, a single day pass or a full week with accommodations.

What drove me to this event was a combination of several things. I loved Kwame, his food, and his story of overcoming obstacles. Another reason was the five star Salamander Resort had been on my list of places to visit for 13+ years before I was able to finally stay in 2019. There were several chefs that were going to be at the Family Reunion event that I have been following for years or had eaten in their restaurants. Lastly, I was fresh off of watching High on the Hog, a Netflix documentary. High on the Hog was one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. What was super special about it as it helped me realize my passion for the combination of history of the African diaspora and our resilience through bringing our food with us as a form of resistance and survival.

Taylor Milton and Dr. Jessica B. Harris. Photo by Mercedes Harris

The first day of the event, I made it in time for the cookout, hosted by Rodney Scott and Bryan Furman. After submitting medical documentation from my negative covid test, I went to experience the cookout. I was not able to partake in a lot of the options due to dietary restrictions, but it all looked amazing. I found a veggie burger with vegetarian chili & banana pudding by Ben’s Chili Bowl. Standing next to the table was the co-founder, Mrs. Virginia Ali. She was very welcoming and the food was great. I have had a Ben’s chili bowl t-shirt forever but never had the depth of understanding of all its historical impact until I met Mrs. Ali. The restaurant deserves its own documentary. She was amazingly kind and sharp while being 87 years old. She is one of the few people living today who has hosted Dr. King and President Obama. What a privilege it was to meet her (and to later realize she would receive a lifetime achievement award from the event).

Kwame Onwuachi, Virginia Ali & Shelia Johnson. Photo by Clay WIlliams

 I left the cookout to indulge in the spa (fully masked). It was my first time at Salamander’s Spa and it reminded me of the Canyon Ranch Spa in Vegas yet more intimate and access to nature. The experience allowed me to relax indoors or outside at the infinity pool which faced a beautiful collage of trees and flowers. The massage was great and included a steam treatment in a bowl with essential oils. I was able to leave all of my stress on the table and fully enjoy the rest of the week.

The Things We Do For Love: Moderated by Padma Lakshmi with Priya Krishna and Carla Hall. Photo by Mercedes Harris

The next day, I started with a series of panels and learned about some chefs I didn’t know. I discovered the collaboration of Williams Sonoma and Ghetto Gastro and was intrigued. I shared links of their small kitchen appliances as well as waffle mix to friends. As Sheila Johnson greeted us between panels, she gave a call to action on supporting our black chefs. Many of the themes of the panels ranged from food history, the need for more black women leadership in the food industry, the impact of the pandemic, West African food influence, showing up unapologetically black and reclaiming everything that has been stolen from us.

Old Guard to New Trope: Moderated by Alexander Smalls with Tiana Gee, Rashida Holmes and Ashleigh Shanti. Photo by Mercedes Harris

I met a lot of people from DC and eventually found the Houston crew when I saw Erica from Black Girls Who Brunch. There can’t be a food event without representation from Houston, since we are the food capital. It was also great to re-meet Keisha Griggs from Bocage Catering (she has some great events coming up soon that I will be sure to share).  

In the afternoon of Day 2, I was able to participate in an outdoor event with Mashama Bailey of The Grey. We learned how to throw axes and archery. Thankfully, the rain stopped and we were able to learn how to throw axes like the pros. I had never done either and quickly got over the fact that I was too late to register for the equestrian ride with Kwame (there were only 3 spots) and was very happy with my choice. We had an amazing time and quickly bonded with all the participants. We had an hour to change before it was time for African Night Market (food by Pierre Thiam, Kwame Onwuachi, Michael Elégbèdé, J.R. Robinson and Peter Prime).

Kwame Riding Horse
Equestrian Trot with Kwame Onwuachi. Photo by Clay Williams

Before going to the African market, I had dinner at the Salamander restaurant Harriman’s . On Day 1, there were Chef takeovers all over Middleburg. Unfortunately, my event was cancelled but I learned that Chef Kwame’s takeover menu was available all week at Harriman’s. We were delighted to be able to try his food. Kwame was busy preparing for the African market so the executive chef of Harriman’s made his recipes. The coco bread and brussel sprouts were on point. I also enjoyed my octopus. The service was amazing and my server made sure we had a great visit.

I went to the African market quite full but with enough room to continue tasting. I had already started the night with a great Sauvignon Blanc by the McBride Sisters (who were also in attendance as a sponsor). I got to taste some amazing pepper soup with fish. I meant to get some puff puff but ended up running my mouth with new found “family.”

Julia Coney  Wine
Middleburg, VA – August 19, 2021: Sommelier Julia Coney with Guest. Photo by Clay Williams.

We were entertained by an African dance troupe and the audience was quick on the call for volunteers to dance. We had a surprise visit from Dave Chappelle who made sure we set the stage right for the party. Later, we went to a party near the culinary garden and our phones were locked. I appreciated the opportunity to be forced in the moment. The conference was also sponsored by Remy so the party was jumping into the wee hours of the night.

Day 3 were more panels and a beautiful lunch cooked by Mashama Bailey, Jonny Rhodes, Gregory Gourdet and Jason Reaves. After lunch, I took a pause and participated in the Lexus Driving Experience. The car I chose was a red convertible that retails about $110k. It was a nice ride and another opportunity to be in nature. I rested and was able to join for the last events which included book signings and  the block party. The block party had a surprise performance by Estelle. I spoke briefly with Jidenna who was there for the events and shared how beautiful his show was in Houston. In our conversation, he confirmed what Houstonians already know…our city rocks.

Lexus Driving Experience. Photo by Mercedes Harris

In summary, the inaugural Family Reunion was a success. The intimacy of about 350 people was unmatched while having the intention of unapologetically showing up to the table with our food and history. I was able to deepen my passion and understanding that as an advocate for the arts, that black culinary art has always had been in my subconscious. This event made me bring it to my conscious. It is my responsibility to continue to encourage everyone to support black chefs as they continue to tell our ancestors’ stories through food. We learned about our past, celebrated our present and did not forget our future.

Save the date for the 2022 Family Reunion which will be held August 18-21, 2022.

2% of the ticket proceeds and silent auction benefitted No Kid Hungry. If you would like to donate directly, you can here.

Conjure by Delita Martin

Delita Martin Conjure Sign in Beaumont, TX for the American Southeast Texas Art Museum

I remember the first time I saw Delita Martin‘s work in 2017. It was an exhibit called “Between Sisters and Spirits” at the Nicole Longnecker Gallery and I was blown away. I am pretty sure Jaison suggested I go see her work, as he always guides me to some life changing event. I wanted to buy everything on the wall but couldn’t afford it and I had no room for one piece because everything was wall size large. I put my name on the wait list for a smaller piece. I was collector #2 on the waiting list.

In 2018, I was emailed when a smaller work came out. I was out of town and couldn’t see it in person. I was not as drawn to it as I was for the larger pieces and I had nerve to say I would pass on this one and wait on the next one. Well, those are words I will always regret because despite me knowing in my spirit that Delita was a star, the logic of my mind and the $ in my bank account distracted me. Fast forward to Art Basel Miami 2019, and I saw Delita’s masterpieces valued at 4X what I saw 2 years prior. Despite having the feelings of rocks in my stomach, I didn’t give up. I had confirmation that my novice collecting was turning into having a special gift to pick emerging artists, as long as I trusted my intuition.

Two Views

I started going into defensive mode and decided that I should buy prints since original pieces escaped my affordability. Everything Delita makes has some tie to black women and spirituality. I always see a reflection when I experience her work. My disappointment grew into anger that I didn’t eat beans and rice for a year so I could buy a piece but I finally forgave myself because there would be future opportunities for me to collect.

Blue Stars

I was very excited to finally meet Delita in person for her exhibit “In the Shadows” with a talkback at Community Artist Collective. Listening to that talk I realized why I felt so drawn to the work. Delita not only looks like my first cousin, her aura makes you feel like she is family. Despite being in my art collecting infancy, I felt welcomed to the table because the art was made for me. My connection to the art moved from wanting to collect the works of art to wanting to support Delita’s success as an artist.

After becoming the unofficial president of the Delita Martin fan club, I saw a call for models on instagram. We were in the beginning of the pandemic and I figured, why not try out. Delita selected me as one of her models and I pretty much was undone. It was absolutely an honor to be chosen by Delita to be a medium for her work. I was completely fine if the world never saw the final piece. Then she announced the exhibit Conjure would feature the piece “Red Bird” and I pretty much lost my mind.

On Good Friday, I was able to take a road trip to Beaumont to visit the American Museum of Southeast Texas. Beaumont has always been the place my family stops for gas on the way to Louisiana. This was my first time actually stopping into Beaumont and exploring. There was a lot of traffic and construction from Houston. Since I am usually not on the outside during the pandemic, this felt like a bonafide road trip. I was so happy to get to the museum though I had a small window to get back before rush hour Friday traffic.

Red Bird

The exhibit was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the intimacy of the building and it brought me back to the first time I saw Delita’s work in 2017. I felt welcomed and had the entire exhibit to myself. Every single piece was special to me, yet it was amazing to see the piece I modeled up close. I made sure not to see any spoiler alerts on social media before going which allowed me to just be with the work. When I came home, I read some of the excerpts from the show book and reflected on the objects from the women in my family and their meanings. There were definitely lots of collections and rules growing up at my grandmother’s house. Yet, the way Delita eloquently captures her family history and our history is what make her so special. I could have never imagined being so aligned to a movement that started in 2017 when I just thought I was observing an emerging artist.

What I learned is that I was welcomed to an opportunity to go deeper in myself through art. The irony is the exhibit’s theme conjure (that the ancestors come only when they are called) reminds me that we must give space for the spiritual world to connect with our daily lives. I acknowledge that we all have the ability to be conduits if we just allow ourselves. Conjure is a must see to begin the journey to connecting to you.

Conjure is at the American Museum of Southeast Texas from March 13th to May 23rd 2021. Items for the show can be purchased at Delita Martin’s site.

Gregory Porter

I contemplated purchasing a ticket for Gregory Porter for a long time. At least a few months. I finally bit the bullet after listening to a few of his concerts on youtube. I knew I would kick myself for not going. I even booked a trip after the show and just planned around it. I had to see him. Apparently, Houston finally got the memo as the show was sold out.

Gregory opened with one of my favorite songs, On my way to Harlem and Be Good. I was thinking where are we going to go from here. You already sang my favorites. Yet, the show continued to be great as time went on. Gregory finds a way to bring you into each song as if it is a new one.  Everything about his performance is intriguing, especially his background behind the story.

One would think that Gregory is from NYC (though he lives there now). Yet, the fact that he is a native of Bakersfield, California threw me entirely off. To  throw my bias of what a jazz musician should have as a background further, he is a former football player. Gregory was determined to be a professional athlete until he had an injury while playing at  San Diego State University, where he had a full athletic scholarship.

Yet, it was not until his mother who was terminally ill asked him to sing professionally that he took her advice. Though he sang in the church most of his life, he is what we call a “late bloomer.” Thank God not too late. Gregory’s success reflects the fact that it is never too late to live in your purpose.  He is a talent much needed in the mundane world of music today. In addition, his live performance engages you even more than listening at home.

I am so happy we were able to experience Gregory in Houston and though it took him a while to get here, we hope he is back soon.

All The Way

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”-Frederick Douglas

Today is the first day of Black History month and Google has created a doodle of Frederick Douglas. His quote is very fitting as it summarizes the theme of the play All the Way by Robert Schenkkan. All the Way covers the 18 months of Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign for re-election. Throughout the entire show, he constantly negotiated with all types of players in order to gain votes for re-election, despite events surrounding him.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the Vice-President during John F. Kennedy’s term and was forced to be President after Kennedy’s assassination. Unfortunately, President Johnson served a small space in my memory when I think about American history. I am not a native Texan and am very weak in our history (working on that), yet, it is interesting how much more I grew up knowing about John F. Kennedy, especially as his family had homes in my hometown.

Watching the movie Selma last year was my first glimpse of Johnson and his role with the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until the movie that I realized that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made several trips to the White House during LBJ’s tenure. Though Selma’s focus was the movement, the play All the Way focused more on Johnson’s re-election.

Despite campaigning from 1963, there were too many things going on in America that could not be ignored. From the country mourning Kennedy’s death to the violence embarked on African-Americans fighting for equality, there was not a dull moment from the day Johnson took office. All the Way did a phenomanal job capturing all of these events while shedding light on LBJ as an everyday human being.

During intermission, I asked an audience member who was a child during the LBJ era if she thought the show was depicting the sequence of events accurately. She recalled though she was young, it is an accurate depiction. She felt LBJ was known for “wheeling and dealing.”

All the way has forced me to dig a bit deeper into the time period of the eclipse of the Civil Rights Movement. It is very interesting how many of the topics are still being argued today, equity in human rights. Yet, many of the results boil down to the ability to vote. In our country, the right to vote is the most effective way to be heard. All the Way also reflected on the fact that though we vote as individuals, it takes a collective power to demand results for true change.

All the Way is a great show and it is clear why it was awarded the Tony award in 2014. It runs at the Alley Theater through February 21st.

Update: Discounted Tickets available for select shows http://bit.ly/1QGtz3q

Jacqueline Woodson in Houston

“I write about black girls because this world would like to keep us invisible.” –Jacqueline Woodson

Yesterday we had the privilige of hearing Jacqueline Woodson, multi-awarded author, share her work and life story with us. We gathered at the Johnston Middle School in Houston to be enchanted about Jacqueline’s life experiences. No one could ever tell us she was 52 years of age by her appearance, but the moment we received a glimpse of her wisdom, we knew that it must have come with time.

It was amazing to see an audience diverse in gender, race and age. The excitement of the students was immeasurable. Ms. Woodson was unapologetic about her authenticity. The richness of her experiences reminded me a lot of myself.

She shared with us about oral history she learned where one of her relatives was a soldier in the Civil War and her angst when she was with NPR at the Civil War museum. The reporter covering her story went ahead of her to look for her relative’s name. She had anxiety as she never verified the story that was passed along orally in her family. Thankfully, the oral history aligned with written. A common misfortune in African-American history is that our history is rarely documented. I felt the same way when I learned I was related to a founder of Morris Brown College. It was not until I saw his name and picture in a book that I finally believed it was true. My family is also blessed that he wrote several books (despite being born into slavery).

Jacqueline shared many nuggets of wisdom while reading her work to us. One that stood out clearly was the disclipline it takes to be a writer. As soon as her children are off to school, she begins writing, often several stories simulataneously. Another tip she provided was that in order to be an effective writer, you must also read just as much. If you are a poet, you should read poetry ferverently for example. It is interesting how we think artists wake up and magically perfect their art. Often, it is from years and years of dedicated work that is often unnoticed.

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What an honor it was to have Jacqueline in Houston. She inspired the entire audience to live their dream to the fullest. She encouraged us to support our children’s dreams despite our agreement with them. So, the next time my brilliant son mentions he wants to be an NBA player, I will smile as suggested and only nod.

 

 

Bullets Over Broadway

I received an email the other day from the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts asking if I would be interested in entering a ticket lottery. I have not been very up to date on new Broadway shows, but Bullets over Broadway sounded like an interesting title. I indicated dates I would be able to attend and waited on results.

I was notified that I did not make the lottery for my first choice and I didn’t think twice about it. I still was not dying to see a show I had never heard. Yesterday, I received a note that I had been granted lottery tickets for the Saturday matinee, my second choice. I jumped on it.

The tickets were $25 and I am pretty sure the market price was in the $80 range. I chose a seat in the center orchestra and looked forward to a show that was still a mystery to me (my specialty).

Unfortunately, I hit some very bad traffic on 59S and arrived at 1:59pm for the 2pm call. I had no choice but to use valet. For $20, I must admit that it is one of the most efficient valet systems I have ever seen. After the show, I was about 7th in line and my car was to me in about 7 minutes. It was a very well organized machine. There is no way, I would see a show and park and for $45 in NYC. Back to the show.

I see Woody Allen on the credits and immediately know two things will be discussed: sex and relationships. The audience advisory stated you should be 13 and up but I would advise at least 18. Though, the language was slightly subtle, I think it is a bit much for the average teenager.  Yet, I rarely watch tv so I may be sheltered a bit.

The cast was no doubt talented. Though the show got off to a slow start, it was not long before some drama hit. A play about a play is always fascinating to me. Incorporating some mafia interactions definitely did not leave a dull moment.

The set changes and costumes were flawless. There were many moments when I forgot I was watching a show. Everyone was believable and I began imagining I was there…in the 20s, NYC along with the cast. It was awesome to see some vintage dancing including the Charleston, soft shoe and a bit of tap.

There is only one more show at Hobby Center tonight at 8pm.  I definitely recommend it if you are in the area. Duration is about 3 hours though so make sure you are ready for the long haul.

 

Velvet Taco

I am a feen for flavor and Velvet Taco delivered last night. I have passed it a billion times and never paid it any attention. Often I was distracted by El Rey but to date, they are the best I’ve had in Houston (except my grilled fish tacos at Pappasitos in the airport).

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Paneer taco tofu taco

I’m not sure if I’m most excited because they were vegetarian tacos with flavor. A friend said they prefer Torchy’s over Velvet. Well, I’ve tried Torchy’s three times with no success. The lettuce always taste like mop water to me. Their guacamole is great though. Yet, Velvet Taco is officially my new spot.