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Feast, Fete & Flowers: Black Chefs You Should Know

Feast, Fete & Flowers: Black Chefs You Should Know

Chef /SHef/a professional cook, typically the chief cook in a restaurant or hotel.” This definition, though it may seem pretty straightforward, is a title filled with nuances. The myth is one has to go to culinary school to be a chef. That is not the case. To wear the crown title of chef— and be respected by your colleagues—there is one thing and one thing only that makes you worthy: experience.

The title chef means that you’ve earned your stripes. It means you have experienced the hazing of the “back of house” (the part of the restaurant that actually makes the food). You know the feeling of sore arms from working in the prep kitchen, you understand the pressure of working “on the line” as a foot soldier to a demanding executive chef.  You speak the language of the kitchen— if I say we have 40 covers tonight, 86’d duck breast and the chef will be on the pass you know what I’m talking about.

The only way you get that title is through hard work and years under the belt. And there are a lot of talented Black folks doing just that. Here are a few of my favorite Black chefs—remember their names, stories and faces.

Name: Rāsheeda Purdie 

Occupation: Chef

Hometown: PG County, Maryland 

IG handle: @ramenbyra

Website: www.ramenbyra.com 

EBONY: Who are you? 

RP: I’m a DMV girl. Born in DC and raised in PG Maryland, so I got the best of both worlds, street smarts and refinement. The DMV has such a unique culture and I feel it’s finally getting the respect it deserves. We have our own music “GOGO”, the best seafood, and our special sauce, mumba sauce.  Coming from the DMV, I can relate to so many people no matter the age, culture, neighborhood, or background. I always say “DC raised me, Maryland paved me, Harlem made me. I live and love diversity. 

EBONY: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a Black chef?

RP: . I am a woman of color and the odds will always be against me. Yet I refuse to make that a part of my journey. I use that to make myself stronger. I’m aware of [odds against Black people], so I go hard each and every time like it’s my last. 

EBONY: How would you like to impact the industry? 

RP: I am leaving the industry better then I found it by creating a legacy that breeds innovation and requires diversity and inclusion. I’m inspired by so many cultures and love to best express that through my style and food. Fashion and the culinary arts have a lot in common, through both I’m free to create and share experiences with others. In the center of it all, it’s all about community. People will always come together through food and style.

Name: Malikah Shavonne

Occupation: Chef & Culinary Instructor

Hometown: North Little Rock, Arkansas

IG handle: @malikahshavonne

Website: www.malikahshavonne.com

EBONY: Many people may recognize you as the winner of Netflix’s The Best Leftover Ever. Tell us more about yourself.

MS: I’d like to think of myself as my mother’s child—she was such a free spirit. She would always say to me “do life” she pushed me to live my life to the fullest. I’m also from the south, the dirty south. Arkansas is as southern in culture as you can get and I take that culture with me everywhere I go.

EBONY: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

MS: People just didn’t take me seriously. I quit my career as a college administrator and then became a bartender to enter the hospitality industry. The adjustment was hard. Working in this industry is a 24 hour job. To be a chef takes doctor level dedication. You don’t get to hang out with your friends, it’s hard to date. Your weekends are Mondays and Tuesdays. I would tell my younger self that comparison is the thief of joy. My advice would be to make the sacrifice. Learn your craft. Whether that means taking a pay cut to work under a master chef for a few months or going to culinary school you need to learn the craft.

EBONY: What impact would you like to leave on the industry?

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MS: My legacy is to show those coming after me that I was my most authentic self in and out of the kitchen. The world tells people you have to look like this or be like this in order to be in the forefront. I say, authenticity breeds confidence and opens the doors of what’s meant for you. 

Name: Aristide Charles Williams ll

Occupation: private celebrity culinary artist 

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana 

IG handle: @Chef.ariwms

Website: www.chefariwms.com 

EBONY: Who are you?

AW: I am a very humble young man from the south living abundantly trying to strive for a greater purpose than myself. All of these things overflow into my career as I put every bit of my heart and my soul into the food that I make. Becoming a private chef has truly changed my life , my surroundings, and my mindset. Even though I love the rush of the restaurant kitchen, being isolated and focusing on small group clients is what my heart desires.

EBONY: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

AW: The biggest challenges I’ve faced upon entering this industry was finding my own food style and taking a huge leap of faith moving to New York. New York was a huge challenge for me, the only person I knew was my mentor Chef Airis Johnson. Mastering my way around the city, building up clientele and hearing my name mentioned in rooms I can never imagine being in [has been rewarding]. If I was speaking to a younger me on the challenges that are ahead in this industry I would simply say keep your head held up, push through the day, “work the day, don’t let the day work you.”

EBONY: How would you like to impact the industry?

AW: I started something that I thought was so simple but turned out to have a huge impact on my life. Every time I go home everybody wants me to cook for them, that tells me I’m doing something right. In the last few years I started a lemonade company and a private chef service. I want others to know you can carve out your own lane and you don’t have to stay in the restaurant.  My legacy is one of excellence and entrepreneurship. 

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