What's Your Soul Food Remix?

Korean ban chan at Plaza Market For the last four years, I've been able to travel throughout the country, meeting people and hearing their personal stories, and sharing my own. I've witnessed the history of artisan food in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, the artistic sensibility of Austin restauranteurs, and the budding food scene in Oakland, California. I've met with chefs, readers, fans, and cooks who all celebrate food and culture in their own ways, and want to share what they're doing.

What's become clear is that food is a lifeblood to all communities, and it's been how I've been able to connect with everyone across cultures. Making and enjoying food is practicing our culture with family and friends, but it's communicating it with everyone . Like great music, great food doesn't have barriers between people.

Vegetable consommee

We as a community are redefining soul food, and it's evident in the attention to detail. Chefs and home cooks care about ingredients--that's why we're seeing community gardens, ingredients from local farmers, and gourmet artisan products replacing artificial processed store items in our pantries.

We're paying attention to flavors too, and changing them up. From pickling our own vegetables to experimenting with new spice blends, we're owning our food and taking pride in it, because pride in community, pride in food, and pride in culture are one and the same. The food I make has grown out of cooking Swedish cuisine with my grandmother, to a cuisine that layers those flavors with African and American influences.


I watched Byron Hurt's documentary Soul Food Junkies about his father's obesity, and 'soul food obsession.' One of many takeaways from the film is the role of soul food. As he shows, fried chicken and collard greens aren't just delicious, but they represent family and friends coming together to cook. It's always been about home-made, personal cooking that builds community, but its bad rap has come from an association with fast food, piled-on fats and salt, and the rise of obesity.

Let's take soul food back to its best meaning, which is food that has meaning to our souls. It's not fast, but slow, and not bought, but made, and influenced by our families, neighborhoods, and styles.

This is the beginning of a series in which we will ask the same questions of people with different backgrounds and stories: What's your Soul Food Remix? I'm talking about traditional foods and recipes that you grew up with, interpreted by you. How do you make your mother's meatloaf different? What spices to add to your burger to make it your own? Maybe your Mac-N-Cheese doesn't have all the fat but still maintains plenty of taste...what's your trick?

I begin this topic by asking you to send me Tweets and Facebook posts using #SoulFoodRemix or commenting on this article below. I want to start a dialogue that we can continue to explore and I look forward to hearing from you.


For more Community stories, click here.

Q&A with Chef Sylva Senat

chef, CCAP

You never know where you will end up in life and who you will meet along the way. This stands true for Chef Sylva Senat, who worked with Marcus at Aquavit. With lots of guidance and determination, Chef Senat explains how Marcus was a influential part in his success today, and what an honor it is to be a chef.

Q: Name?

A: Sylva Hudson Senat, Executive Chef at Tashan Restaurant in Philadelphia


Q: What was it like working with Marcus? 

A: After working at The Sign Of the Dove, I was working the grill station at an Italian restaurant called Cibo. It was during this time, I volunteered for the annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) event where I met Chef Marcus Samuelsson. I was so delighted to be at his table serving his food, I nervously asked for a kitchen trail. Marcus was so young for a chef at the time, yet he was so wise and talented. I wanted to push myself and be like him. I got to spend the better half of the beginning of my career helping and being part of that Aquavit team through the guidance of Chef Samuelsson. Even all these years later, I still very much looked to Marcus as a mentor. As my time was coming to an end at Aquavit, Chef Marcus and I spoke about my next restaurant. “ You have to work twice as hard then anybody else in that kitchen" he would tell me. Then he introduced me to Gabriel Kreuther, who was then theg Chef de Cuisine of Jean Georges Restaurant at the Trump Hotel. And a new adventure began, but throughout my career I looked to Marcus for advice and guidance on the next move in my career.

Q: Congrats on the Food & Wine Peoples Best New Chef nomination. That is such an amazing honor. How did that feel? 

A: You know, it’s still surreal to be nominated for Food and Wine and James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic at the same time. I remember looking at those two lists and saying "I have that chef’s books and his book, I love that restaurant …"  When I met chef Marcus at the 2013 C-Cap event I thanked him He said, "Don’t be silly, it’s your hard work.” I was seriously just happy to be a list with such great chefs that I admire.

Q: It's spring. What menu changes are you excited for on the menu at Tashan? 

A: I just recently changed the menu after my visit to Japan in late February. I am most excited about a banana steam bass with a Honshimeji mushroom - Poha Crust “flat rice “ with curry foam …

Q: What's next for you?

A:  I've always dreamed of having my own restaurant(s). Food with a passion for inspiring flavors, bringing a little light to my Caribbean-French cuisine. How fun and inviting a small chef driven kitchen can be!

Take a look at TASHAN restaurants menu and also Chef Sylva Senat's website

For more Q&A's:

Teddy Goitom

Michael Symon

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Efva Attling

Great Food Markets: Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, PA

Photo: quinn.anya on flickr

Since opening its doors in 1893, Philadelphia's enormous Reading Terminal Market has provided natives and tourists alike with mouth-watering goods with a side of history. With more than 80 merchants offering everything from fruits and vegetables to eggs and cheeses to handmade clothing and jewelry, Reading Terminal Market is a one-stop shopping experience that will help you stock your kitchen while giving you a real sense of community. Two of the merchants are even direct descendents of original vendors who had stands over a century ago! There are also authentic Pennsylvania Dutch goods that come straight from Amish country, again effortlessly bringing together people from all walks of life.

But the offerings at Reading Terminal Market does not just stop at the food; rather activities range from outdoor concerts to cooking classes with the merchants themselves. Additionally, every Wednesday and Saturday learn the 118-year-old history behind the famous wares and vendors with the food writer-led walking tour of the market. Located in the heart of Philadelphia, while still quite close to New York City, Reading Terminal Market is a great summer activity, whether part of your daily routine or just a stop along the road.

Reading Terminal Market 12th & Arch Streets 215-922-2317 Regular Hours of the Market Monday through Saturday: 8:00 am-6:00 pm Note: Some of the Market's restaurants close after 5:00pm. Sunday : 9:00 am-5:00 pm

For more information, visit Reading Terminal Market's website.

Photo: quinn.anya on flickr

Free Summer Activities Around the Country

This summer, take a break from working and go enjoy so fun in the sun. There are a lot of great activities happening all the time in cities all over the country. Here's just a taste of what's going on.  NYC Midsummer - NYC Midsummer is a Swedish midsummer celebration co-hosted by the Swedish consulate and the Parks department of New York City to celebrate the Midsummer holiday, a very popular event in the Scandinavian countries. The event will be held in Battery Park City, where it has been since its New York inception in 1996, and will offer a Swedish smorgasbord of traditional offerings including herring and new potatoes.

San Francisco Thursday Lunchtime Concerts - Operated by the Yerba Beuna Garden Festival, the Thursday Lunchtime Concert series offers various bands from around the world to offer eclectic music like you've never heard. This would be a great opportunity to pack a picnic and relax for an afternoon.

Taste of Chicago - Running from June 24 to July 3, Taste of Chicago is an outdoor food festival showcasing almost 60 Chicago area restaurants and their diverse food offerings. Located in Grant Park in the heart of the city, free admission gets event-goers access to live music and various activities to keep them busy all day while taking breaks to sample food from places like Garrett's Popcorn Shops, Vee-Vee's African Restaurant, and Vienna Beef/Gold Coast Dogs.

Chowderfest - Boston is known for a lot of great things, including its famous chowder. On Sunday, July 3rd, the 30th annual Chowderfest will bring together various Boston area restaurants to duke it out to decide who has the best chowder. Tickets are required for attendance, but admission is cheap and will guarantee you a taste of a variety of great chowders.

Taste of Philadelphia - From Friday, June 24th to the 26th, Penn's Landing in Philadelphia will host live jazz and blues and a sampling of some of Philadelphia's best and most popular dishes. Although admission and entertainment is free and open to all, tasting the food will not be free, but will be very cheap so that everyone can have a bite. Saturday night will also showcase a fireworks display over the Delaware River.

What are your favorite summertime activities?

Philadelphia School's Are Trying To Make It Healthier For The Kids

Despite the efforts of parents, school teachers, and even Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative, it's still difficult to make sure kids are not buying junk food and are eating healthily. At the William D. Kelley School in Philadelphia, there are healthy options, and soda and sweet snacks have been expelled, but the allure of inexpensive snacks at the corner store is powerful. At Kelley, songs have been modified to reflect healthy eating and play time can even include a model of the nutrition pyramid. More schools are offering healthy food for lunch with nutrient rich vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes. Even so, easily accessible cheap treats at the corner store mean that kids are getting a sugary fix to and from school.

School parents have been standing outside the corner store to deter kids from buying sugary snacks, but it doesn't work on every kid. Getting kids to eat healthily starts at home. Parents have a huge influence on their children, practicing healthy eating at home makes a big difference in the motivation of children to follow suit.

Want to make a healthy meal at home to set the tone? A filling, healthy dinner doesn't have to be expensive. Try Horseradish and Panko-Crusted Tofu or Kale and White Bean Stew over Brown Rice.