Black Food Matters
Taste of Black Austin returns to honor local food history and current star chefs
Taste of Black Austin, an evening that merges photography of food history with the food of the present's most talked-about black chefs, returns for a second year. The recipes and archived snapshots of "From Field to Table" will take guests on a tour of the black-owned farms and restaurants that laid the bedrock for the scene we see today. "We're exploring the African-American farmer and his or her influence on culinary arts here in America," says Tam Hawkins, president & CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event.
For the chamber, the event is important both for preserving the legacy of those historical figures and giving a boost to today's black chefs. That's why last year it partnered with the Austin History Center and local churches to curate a collection of photographs of black food history since 1870 and recipes from throughout those years. The chamber then recruited the most talented black chefs to re-create those dishes with their own spin. This year, GABC is doubling down on the idea. Driven by the "black flight" narrative that has settled over Austin in recent years, Hawkins said the chamber hopes to make Taste of Black Austin a destination event for people across the country.
"We were able to discover that there were more black-owned restaurants in Austin proper back in 1863 than there are today," Hawkins said. "You weren't considered a human being by the law, so you weren't entitled to any rights. So for that to occur then, in what must have been a very contentious business climate for the community ... We want to make certain that [we] continue to inspire our entrepreneurs and let them know, 'You can survive and thrive in contentious atmospheres.'"
This year's featured chef's include Joi Chevalier, the brains behind the South Austin kitchen incubator Cook's Nook, which hosted the chamber's preview event at the beginning of February. Chevalier also manages the back end of the event for the chamber, helping perfect the most important part of the evening: the dishes that tie that legacy to the present. "She sits down and gets with [the chefs] and selects the menus and writes all of them up," Hawkins said. "She's amazing." Other participating chefs include Hoover Alexander, Desire Catering's Martin Eason, and Corey Patton of Doc B's Fresh Kitchen.
Bringing the evening back for a second year was an easy call. The response to last year's event was so powerful it reduced one of the participating chefs to tears. "The experience was almost magical," Hawkins recalled. "The chefs, when they came out, people were treating them like rock stars. Some of the chefs, they're line chefs. They're amazing chefs, but executive chefs are the ones that normally get all of the attention."
Hawkins stressed that people from all corners of the city are welcome at the event. "I would want people to know that it's really part of Austin's culture that we're celebrating, and so no matter your ethnicity, we certainly welcome all. It's just a fun, neat event, because you have a lot of different tastes that are around, but it's one that has the art exhibit with the historical context, and I think that's what makes it fun."
Taste of Black Austin’s “From Field to Table” will be held next Tuesday, Feb. 20. Learn more at www.tasteofblackaustin.com.