Originally posted on Madame Noire
July 14, 2015 ‐ By Tonya Garcia
The first ever Black Chef Summer Series kicked off Monday night at Harlem’s BluJeen restaurant with Sake cocktails, smoked pork belly and a chili-rubbed petite sirloin, and apple fritters for dessert. The meal included even more than what’s listed here and was prepared by the series’ co-founders celebrity chef Maxcel Hardy and BluJeen executive chef Lance Knowling (Alize Beal is the third founder of the now annual event). This served as an introduction to what guests will be getting over the next nine Mondays in the restaurant’s dining room.
The Black Chef Summer Series aims to shine a spotlight on the culinary talents and creativity of modern Black chefs. Each week will welcome a new guest chef into the kitchen. Other participants include Kenneth Collins, James Robinson and Russell Jackson. Moreover, 15 percent of the proceeds will go to the Food Bank for New York City, the organization for which Chef Hardy serves as culinary ambassador. All of the proceeds from last night’s event went to the organization. There will be two seatings each Monday at 6pm and 9pm and the $65 pre fixe includes the signature cocktail of the evening.
From Chef Hardy’s perspective, there needs to be more exposure in order to increase the number of Black chefs running and working in the nation’s restaurants. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics information provided by Beal, there was a three percent increase in the number of US Black chefs. It’s a small percentage, but an increase is a move in a positive direction.
“Success for this event is giving the opportunity to open the door to other African-American chefs, to show their talent,” said Chef Hardy.
“It’s not difficult for African Americans to break into the culinary world. It’s hard to excel,” added Chef Knowling. “There’s a tendency to say if you’re Black you can’t cook classical cuisine.”
That doesn’t mean everyone needs to know how to prepare the classics or work in fine dining. But it is still a hurdle to overcome in the industry. Putting other kinds of talent on display is a goal here.
“It doesn’t mean African Americans haven’t had success in the culinary world. It’s about Black chefs getting more notice,” Chef Knowling added.
It’s also a chance to showcase some of the healthier ways that soul food can be prepared. With more Americans paying attention to their diets, foods that are high in fat, calories and cholesterol are falling out of favor.
“Some of the items that we have are great. Collard greens, for instance,” said Chef Hardy. “We want to raise awareness about some of these ingredients.”
Finally, the event is a chance to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of hunger in New York City, a place known for wealth and plenty. Right across the street, the Food Bank has a soup kitchen where Chef Hardy, who also has his own charitable group called One Chef Can 86 Hunger, has served as a consultant.
“We live in a foodie world. Chefs wield a lot of influences with the masses,” said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank of New York City.
In a city where life is so expensive, there are 1.5 million people who have problems putting food on the table, including families and seniors. Driving attention on this issue is of critical importance. Action is just as important.
“Use yourself. Use your voice, your connections,” said Purvis, who added that we first need to acknowledge that hunger and food insecurity exist. Then spread the word and use everyday activities to collect a little extra in resources to help those in need.
“We need more people to take it seriously and get involved,” Purvis said.