Kitchen Talk: African-American Holiday Cooking Traditions

Kitchen Talk Group PixIt was an honor and pleasure for the BND Institute of Media and Culture to host three of Richmond’s top culinary experts and entrepreneurs during the second iteration of “Kitchen Talk: African-American Holiday Cooking Traditions” on Nov. 5 at 1717 Innovation Center. Our guests included Herman Baskerville of Big Herm’s Kitchen and Catering, Tye Hall of T&R Catering and Trey Owens of Soul Taco. The program was moderated by Richmond media personality and Virginia Lottery Draw Host Mikki Spencer.

All of our panelists spoke candidly about the hard work that goes into their calling. Baskerville, who honed his craft while working in corporate settings, shared the newfound responsibility that comes with having to provide for his own family as well as his employees’ families.

For the past few years, Big Herm has been one of the only minority food vendors for the Washington Redskins’ training facility in Richmond. Well-known throughout Richmond, Baskerville proudly noted that his take-out and delivery restaurant has been in its current North Second Street location in Jackson Ward for seven years, longer than any of the other restaurants in the “food court’s” corridor.

Further proof of Baskerville’s culinary talents came after the discussion as attendees devoured slices of his mouth-watering fried turkey, macaroni and cheese and string beans.

Hall, who learned to cook under her grandmother’s watchful eye in a Philadelphia speakeasy, recalled how their cooking helped to sustain many in their neighborhood who were on food stamps or had limited resources.

“For me, food just always made sense, especially around the holidays,” Hall told the Kitchen Talk attendees. One of our biggest traditions was candied yams, and my grandmother made them with brown sugar, raisins, pineapples and melted marshallmallows on top. So, when I made it for the first time, my husband was like, ‘What the heck are those brown things in the sweet potatoes?’ ”

While Hall appreciates her past and the high-profile clients that she often caters to these days, she is careful to maintain boundaries, even to the extent of not posting photos of herself with celebrities. More often than not, “I am conducting business with managers, agents or other administrators,” said Hall, a former nurse and military veteran. “They’re the ones I’m likely to pose with.” In addition to their catering business, Tye and her husband, Reggie, own a budding hemp-based food company, Gourmet Hemp Foods.

Trey Owens opened Soul Taco two years ago with co-owners Nar Hovnanian and Ari Augenbaum. His restaurants, located in Richmond’s Jackson Ward and Shockoe Bottom, recently earned “Best Tacos in Virginia,” from MSN. Soon you’ll be able to catch him on an episode of celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” on the Food Network.

Like Hall, Owens also grew up cooking alongside his grandmother. Holiday meals in Richmond were abundant displays.

“For Thanksgiving, it’s the whole dinner –just everything is on the table,” said Owens. “It’s crazy. Growing up, a lot of times most of holidays were at my house… that was the tradition ….just go where all the kids were. For Christmas, we would do breakfast and a traditional thing was rocky mountain oysters. It wasn’t until I got older until I realized what they were and stopped eating them.”

Owens said that when he opened his first restaurant, he prayed that it would be a success. He also burned sage over equipment and other parts of the business, a ritual with Native American roots that is performed to cleanse a space or environment of negative energy and to generate wisdom, clarity and healing.

“It’s one thing to pray for success,” said Owens, “but you also must pray to be ‘ready’ for that success.”

Bonnie Newman Davis

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