“Cooking with love, provides food for the soul.”
Down home cooking, better known as Soul Food, did not formerly get it’s name until the 1960’s during the black liberation movement, where many African Americans began to claim their place in American Culture as a way to protect their legacy. Historically, “Soul Food”, and “Southern Food” has constantly been mistaken for the other. Bob Jefferies, Culinary Historian states, while all soul food is southern, not all southern food is of the soul. He describes in his famous book, Soul Food Cookbook that, “Soul food cooking is an example of how really good southern Negro cooks cooked with what they had available to them, such as chickens from their own back yard and collard greens they grew themselves, as well as home cured ham, and baking powder biscuits, chitlins, and dubie.”
Ancestral African Americans, took waste that was given by slave owners and made the best of it. They took the “scraps” and made dishes created with love. Three centuries later, these beloved traditions are still celebrated and even modernized into elegant cuisine. Today, soul classics like cornbread have evolved into Honey glazed cornbread or Parmesan-Jalapeño cornbread muffins that revolutionized the delicious tradition.
Soul food is not only the back bone of American cuisine it also the food that “sticks to your bones” and warms your soul. Up until the early 80’s, Soul Food was the center piece that bonded families during dinner time. Prepared with a great sense of style, love, dedication and flavor, these delectable entrees brought everyone around the table for fellowship. While, eating together in one place is not as common among the family, the interest in soul food is still able to bring people together.
Today there are now many spins and innovative collaborations all surrounding the concept of Soul Food. It has grown even more popular over the years with modern, bold and adventurous flavors. Plenty restaurants, specifically in the Chicago area that specialize in soul food such as Grub, Pearl’s Place, and MacArthur’s. These establishments stick to the traditional preparation of soul food, reminiscent of a southern supper.
However, not all soul food restaurants are “traditional” there are more upscale places like Table 52 that serve beautifully plated version of classic favorites such as Southern Fried Catfish prepared garnished with Tasso Ham, Maitake Mushrooms plated on White Corn grits and served with Crispy Okra. Let’s not forget their Pork Belly dish topped with Red Currant-Onion Marmalade, Pecan Granola and Scallion Soubise.
There is also a common misconception that this delectable cuisine is all fat, butter, and oils but there are alternatives such as South Vegetarian East and Compton’s Sistah’s Soul Food which focus on creating meals that are both healthy and are still full of flavor.
What is even more interesting is that there are chefs who go to culinary school specifically to study southern food. Emanuel Washington a Chicago native, furthered his love for Soul Food and went on to be the founder of Soul Food School, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale. His goal is ultimately to study further into food and southern cooking was to learn more about the culture, flavors, and traditions.
While many African Americans take a great deal of pride in Traditional, Soul Food, we believe is does not have to be made the traditional way to embody that flavor we all love. The evolution of Soul Food shows the importance it has on culture national and it is important to note that Soul food isn’t only a African cultural cuisine. Remember, Soul Food derived from cooking with what you have and preparing the best meal you could, for those whom you loved. So the next time you’re out eating take in all the flavors and love put into your entree, we hope that you feel the warmth and soul in every savory bite.