In July, Chef Alisa Reynolds, Hulu’s Searching For Soul Food star, was featured in the Essence Film Festival “Searching For Soul Food Panel.” MADAMENOIRE caught up with this “classically trained, soul food-raised” chef and dug deep into more about the chef and the hit show.
MADAMENOIRE’S social media manager, Tiffany Smith, had a chance to chop it up with Alisa about her joy of cooking and what it means to be a Black woman chef in this era.
Tiffany: How important was it for you as a black woman to show up as your authentic self throughout this series?
Chef Alisa: I thought it was very important to show up with the truth. Something that can teach my people and everybody. America needs to know some of the origin stories of our stories once we got here and the food that we eat and consume every day. So for me, Mississippi, James Hemings, and just the real roots of how things came about was very important for me, but also to be told in a way that’s palatable and fun! Because..people tell the story. We’ve heard this several times, but I want to tell our account through the history on our plate.
Tiffany: How did you approach fusing the resilience of being a Black woman with our history, story, and “shine”?
Chef Alisa: Our shine is beautiful! That’s another thing about the food. I want people to look at the plate passionately and then in a compassionate way. Understand that when we made this food, we weren’t allowed to read. We weren’t allowed to write down a recipe. There was a recipe, but we weren’t allowed to read or write. We would be hurt or sometimes killed, so I wanted to talk about the story of the food being able to survive such pain, and now it’s a symbol of our love. Why? Because it was always our love. We fed our families; this was our love language when that was the only thing we had.
Tiffany: When you were an “up and coming” chef training in French cuisine, what did you need? What can you share with other black women wanting to be in this industry?
Chef Alisa: I knew when I was training in French [cuisine] that I would be the only black person there. I understand in my skin. I’m representing all of us. So if it was one of me in there, it’s millions of me in there. That’s the way I like to wear my blackness. I am not just one. I come with a million, MINIMUM! I could easily say ‘more black people,’ but it didn’t bother me because, again, I didn’t think of myself as just one person. I would say, in The Culinary field, and there will be a day– I want our food to get its due credit because it’s creative, its ingenuity is unmatched, and the fact that we can create it in different regions it’s just mind-blowing! To have that same sense of love. Collard greens in the South, kale in the North, but those seasonings are similar. As I go on this journey, I found out I want people to learn along with me because there’s so much that we don’t know. My new mantra is ‘We beat ourselves on the chest, but we need to pat ourselves on the back,’ and this show pats ourselves on the back.
Tiffany: What’s your favorite thing about being a black woman?
Chef Alisa: You guys, this being black is hard! Not going to tell you [differently], but it’s LIT! Okay! That’s what I want people to understand. We don’t have a choice of what womb we fall out of. At some point in our life, we realize that we’re black very early on. Once you grow into that and you understand that we need more stories, so we understand our greatness. You don’t have to believe in any other narrative.
Tiffany: What’s your favorite soul food dish combination?
Chef Alisa: “Discovery. Discovery that’s my favorite combo. Every time I discover something new that becomes my new favorite because I’m a culinary artist. I’m always going to be creating art, so food in itself is my life, my love, and my heart, and so; I continue to make it.
The talented culinary artist also owns My Two Cents restaurant in California.
You can catch all the episodes of Searching For Soul Food on Hulu.
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