“The Secret is the Gift in the Hands,” Part 2

Aug 18, 2021 | Food, Living

The Bayou’s fried seafood platter includes stuffed scallops, frog legs, shrimp, cod fish, catfish, fries and coleslaw.

More Black chefs share the stories behind the foods they’ve created and talk about how the culinary trailblazers in their families have influenced them.

It’s Love on a Plate 

For Chef Lisa Rainey, co-owner of The Bayou, everything she knows about cooking came from her family. She remembers going to her grandmother’s house every Sunday after church for a big dinner. And her eyes light up when she talks about the fried sweet potato pie her Aunt Joyce would make, but she credits her dad with having the biggest influence on her culinary skills. “My father would cook for the church or for a wedding reception or had a soul food booth at the fair. He kept us busy with cooking,” she says. A native of Louisiana, Lisa says the difference between a good dish and a great dish is love. “You have to really care about what you’re doing. If you don’t care you’ll throw anything together. It’s like a recipe: Someone could give you a recipe and your food will not come out the same as the next person. It is all in the technique.” When it comes to finding the right blend of flavors, Lisa says she lets her spirituality lead the way. “If God shows it to me, then I can do it.”

For the Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Pasta, The Seafood Lady makes their alfredo cheese from scratch every day and uses churned butter and garlic in the alfredo sauce.

Authenticity Replicated

Chef Nichelle Thurston, owner of The Seafood Lady, got her first lesson in food preparation through her grandfather’s catering business. At age 10, Nichelle was helping her grandfather deliver orders. “Back then I was catering and preparing food for 400 people. A lot of what my grandfather did taught me how to be The Seafood Lady,” she says. She also uses the cooking techniques she learned from her great-grandmother and grandfather as the foundation for her recipes. The intent, she says, is to make food that artfully blends the past with the present. All the ingredients in her Cajun chicken and shrimp pasta are homemade. She seasons the chicken breast and uses 17 different seasonings along with broccoli, bell peppers, onions and angel hair pasta. “You get a really fine taste on each bite because of the style and size of noodles we use.” They make their alfredo cheese from scratch every day and use churned butter and garlic in the alfredo sauce. The key to perfecting the flavors, she says, lies in consistency and knowing how to mass produce a meal while keeping it traditional. “It’s about being able to make crab balls for 50 people yet each one will taste like it was made for one person. Consistency is what builds quality and gets you the same results each time.”

The jollof rice — a popular Nigerian food — is made using uncooked rice, tomatoes, red peppers, onions and Scotch bonnet for a hint of spiciness.

Enjoy the Silence 

Cooking a good meal starts with concentration and quietness, says Chef Funmi Aderinokun, owner of Funmi’s Café, a Nigerian restaurant. She learned this when at age 8 her grandmother agreed to let Funmi — who was very talkative — cook with her if she agreed to stay quiet. “This has transcended into what I do today. When I am cooking, you cannot be in my head. I have to focus and my mom would say, ‘when you’re focused, you’re putting love into what you’re cooking.’ I don’t need anyone in my kitchen.” Funmi prepares all the menu items herself and says she has a knack for getting the seasoning right every time. This hearty and delightful dish features jollof rice, stewed chicken in red sauce, fried plantains, and stewed collard greens. It is also served with asaro, which is a mix of Idaho potatoes, collard greens and plantains to add a bit of sweetness. The jollof rice — a popular Nigerian food — is made using uncooked rice, tomatoes, red peppers, onions and Scotch bonnet for a hint of spiciness.

P.S. Read the stories of more Black chefs and their dishes.

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