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Zagat & The Infatuation Celebrate Black History Month 2021

Zagat Stories makes coverage of Black subjects a priority year round, along with people and subjects underrepresented in media generally. In recognition of Black History Month 2021, all Zagat Stories in February will focus exclusively on interviews with Black chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders, brewers, bakers, and others in and around hospitality. The Infatuation is also publishing numerous guides and features for Black History Month. All Zagat Stories published this month will be collected here, as well as selected stories from The Infatuation.

André Hueston Mack: From ‘Frasier’ To The French Laundry
“I would fall asleep in front of the television. And next thing I’d wake up, and Frasier would be on, back to back. And I’m like, what the fuck is this? The show was kind of corny. But at that moment, I didn’t have anywhere to be. Those characters are fun, and they have this ritual about wine. And they talk about it. Well, I thought, maybe that’s what’s missing in my life.”

Cheryl Day: I Am Not Built To Fail
“When it came down to racial justice issues, we just decided that it was more of a human issue for us. It wasn’t a political issue for us to speak out about certain things. We did not go on unchecked, though, and we did get a lot of nasty comments from people. But frankly, I’m perfectly fine if the people that are racist don’t want to support my business.”

Uncovering The Hidden Life of Hercules Posey, George Washington’s Enslaved Cook
“If any enslaved person managed to escape, Washington hunted them down. Even knowing this, Hercules emancipated himself from Mount Vernon on Washington’s birthday in 1797.”

Rōze Traore: The Dual-Track Life Of Chef And Model
“The last thing I want to be is ‘a pretty face on camera’ type of thing. That is the reason why I wanted to get that respect from these guys that are really passionate about cooking day in and day out. I feel exactly what they feel. I know what they’re going through.”

Where Simileoluwa Adebajo Finds Community In San Francisco
“You learn really it’s less about the presence of the people—like the physical presence of the people—and more about being in the moment with somebody, that makes you be in community with someone.”

Chef Babette Davis & Angela Means Kaaya On Restaurants As Labors Of Love
“It’s about the love and the need to feed a community better food. We have been misled and lied to due to systemic racism. We are the mamas and papas of civilization. We brought knowledge to the planet, and then we can go and get our minds so twisted up. I got people that’ll say “I ain’t taking that vaccine,” but they’ll eat some dirty chicken.”

Brewing A New Narrative With Black Beer Chick, Eugenia Brown
“It’s important to help people realize that white guys aren’t the only ones that drink [craft] beer. Black women drink beer, women of color drink beer. So, being a Cicerone is very personal to me: I want people to rethink what a beer drinker looks like.”

Waiting Out The Pandemic With Street Food From Trinidad
“We landed on Cane for the name of the new restaurant. We played around with a lot of different names, but we just liked the way that it sounded. I thought it represented a lot about where we were coming from—the mixture of enslaved people who worked on sugarcane plantations, as well as the fact that cane has driven wealth and the economy for a while in Caribbean countries. We get a lot of questions about the name. But we hope that when people eat at Cane, it inspires them to do a bit of research on Trinidadian culture.”

The Black Queer Dance Party That Helped Me Find Myself In NYC
“As a Black, queer, non-binary person, I’d finally found a sanctuary where I could blend in and vibe out at the same time. Seeing thousands of Black queer folks voguing to disco music, passing around water bottles, and showering each other with much-deserved compliments was like a breath of fresh air compared to nervously reminding my coworkers that I use they/them pronouns at a holiday party in my Midtown office. It was liberation in the form of a day party.”

Training Up A New Generation Of Bartenders In New Orleans
“Even though it’s New Orleans, if you talk to any one person of color, they’re often the only person of color in the room when it comes to bartending. New Orleans is a predominantly Black city. There’s a certain echelon of bars that don’t hire locally, that don’t look as much for local talent, and I’m not sure that it’s intentional.”

Zagat Conversations: ‘Diverse Coverage Is A Necessity’
“There have been times when my PR rep was pitching stories and outlets would tell them they’d love to run the story in February, and could I submit a recipe for fried chicken when the story had absolutely nothing to do with Black History Month or chicken. I was infuriated, and realized most media outlets only cared to include Black chefs when and how it fit their narrative.”

Zagat Conversations: ‘Being A Black Entrepreneur Is Like A Freedom I’ve Never Known’
“My mentor, who is a Black male chef in Houston that came through the ranks, told me his experience of needing to be at least 5 times better than his white counterparts in order to even be considered their equal. He told me I would probably need to be 10 times better than them because I was also a woman. He always told me the hard truths. I will never forget that moment. To this day, I do my best to make sure I am undeniable.”

Zagat Conversations: ‘For Once, It Felt Like Our Feelings Mattered’
“I am exhausted. Dealing with all of the things which come with being Black, we are also parents, children, bosses, and responsible for many people. At times, I wanted to retreat and bury my head in the sand. But being at the forefront of pandemic (an essential worker) along with all of the worries of our workers and communities on our back, I couldn’t give up. We had to succeed to make sure everyone else is okay and intact.”

Zagat Conversations: ‘Tell Your Story In Your Own Voice’
“Black chefs can control their own narratives by being unapologetic about who we are and what we represent. Tell your story in your own voice, so when you are done, all one can do is say, ‘Amen.’ Own your vision. And groom the next generation to carry that vision forward.”

Michael W. Twitty: Joy And Trauma In The Kitchen
“Some people get derailed because they only want recipes—they want to be denuded of politics, even though we know food is politics. Food is the root of politics. Historically, there is no way of getting around that because bureaucracy and rulers have staked their power through getting people fed. Food sits at the intersection of economics, public satisfaction, personal satisfaction, religion, spirituality, and culture.”

Maurice Harris On How Bloom & Plume Is A Form Of Magic And Resistance
“I really wanted to create a space that was literally filled with color, that was from a person of color’s perspective, that centered people of color, that had beauty all around it, and was at a price point that was more approachable than our luxurious arrangements which start at, like, 200 bucks. So I wanted a five dollar coffee experience for everyone to be wrapped in a luxury feeling. The $200 arrangement feeling without making anyone compromise the limitations of their pocket book. Every day can be Bloom & Plume day, you know? I think that that’s really great.”

Baking Biscuits And Brewing Beer In Brooklyn
“The menu we created was from some of the things I was already doing. I knew I wanted a fried chicken biscuit. And then the Haven biscuit—hot chicken and bacon—and the Shelton biscuit—hot chicken, bacon, avocado, and blue cheese dressing. Those are my kids’ names, and those are the things they want on their biscuits. At the popups, people suggested more biscuits. I decided what I liked, what I didn’t like, and we built the menu from there.”

Nyesha Arrington On Eating, Cooking, And Living Intentionally
“In 2019, I competed in the Bocuse d’Or. Top Chef people were vetting me very hard to go back on that show, but for me, I was like, ‘Which is harder?’ It was definitely harder to do the Bocuse d’Or, because I knew it would challenge me in ways that I’ve never been challenged before. I did it for myself, for women, for people of color. I did it to show representation—to show people that they too can go into these rooms where you don’t feel like you belong. No one makes it easy for you.”

Reconnecting With My Heritage Through African Grocery Stores
“Aromatic scents of bitters and seasonings and lively conversations spoken in Yoruba or Igbo greeted us as we walked in the door. My mom would run into her friends that I respectfully referred to as ‘aunties.’ They would proceed to spend the next 30 minutes catching up, discussing their families, careers, and the everyday happenings of their personal lives. Our trips to the African store were a bit more familiar and unrushed. We’d leave the store later in the afternoon, with the help of some kind gentlemen who would lift the massive sacks of gari, a tapioca-like flour we paired with soup, into our trunk.”

From Florida Politician To Pandemic Restaurateur
“I almost should have opened a business before I went to the legislature. A lot of the things I argued about in the legislature, now I’m dealing with. Some of the things I supported or didn’t support, I would rethink now. But I’m not a big fan of the idea that you should only let business people decide because they worked in the ‘real world.’ You need to know the real world side, but you also need to know the political side of how it affects others.”

Proving The Power Of Black-Owned Craft Beer
“We have always been focused on trying to achieve racial equity in the craft beer industry. It was really about creating those new owners, and showing how this industry can be more varied in terms of who’s really owning these properties and these spaces, and welcoming these different consumers.”

A Chef’s Journey From Cheesecake Factory To Slovenia
“I’m very open-minded. I believe that once you respect culture, and you are able to collaborate and yield, there are endless possibilities. That’s what I learned working at all these places.”

Where To Go Island Hopping In Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean
“One of Brooklyn’s original towns, Flatbush is also home to one of the largest and most diverse Caribbean populations in the world. Which is why, in 2017, I helped spearhead the designation of this neighborhood as Little Caribbean. On a jaunt down Flatbush, Nostrand, or Church Avenues, you’ll be greeted by dollar vans and the pulsing, rhythmic sounds of soca, reggae, dancehall, konpa, zouk, and salsa—and find some of the best Caribbean food in the Americas.”

Kiki Cyrus On The Celebrity Appeal Of Chicken And Waffles
“When someone asks me how I got celebrities to come and eat at my restaurant, I tell them that I have no idea! People ask each other for dining recommendations on social media, and our fans send them here. Over the years, famous chefs, sports figures, and politicians have eaten at my restaurant. Once I saw on Twitter that Deion Sanders was on his way over to Kiki’s, and I rushed down there to meet him. Another time, I got a call asking me to prepare for Joe Biden’s visit. He was coming to eat in an hour or two. I didn’t even know how to prepare! The Secret Service had barricaded the entire area, and I was patted down to enter my own restaurant.”

The Reincarnation Of LA’s Counterpart Vegan
“I always joke that I was vegan before it was cool. Veganism has been a trend that’s climbing as people become more health-conscious about what they’re eating. It’s been a huge goal and dream of mine to become an executive chef, especially being a Black woman working in kitchen environments for the last 15 years. You have challenging obstacles that you have to push through. When I graduated college and left some of the toxic kitchen environments I’d worked in, I promised myself that I would be one of the most forthcoming and welcoming leaders when I was fortunate enough to lead a team. I revere my team as my family.”

Evolving Rum Culture Beyond Pirates And Plantations
“As a rum native consumer, rum has always been my favorite spirit. It’s part of our culture in Trinidad. It’s a part of all these moments of celebration, big and small, that we have where I’m from. … If you walked into a bar downtown, there was no similarly elevated offering for me. There wasn’t a thoughtful expression around the craft of rum. You see that being consistently true for so many consumers in this market, where by contrast every other spirits category has its renaissance. Look at the Grey Goose revolution 15 years ago. Tequila has a revolution every two years—if I had a dollar for every time somebody says they are reinventing tequila, right? And mezcal, gin, American whiskey—they’ve all had that moment in the sun. Why is rum the one category that stands alone?”

Angel Barreto On Cooking Korean While Black
“Sometimes people can be a little bit weird about it. I remember when I was first setting up the accounts for the restaurant at H Mart, I got a bit of pushback trying to get some Korean products. At one point, they wouldn’t sell me something because they were wondering why I wanted it, and what I was going to do with it. I couldn’t believe it. But I just used the opportunity to educate people—just because I’m from this race, and this is my background, I’m not tied into it. The weird thing I always feel is if you’re a caucasian chef, you’re never questioned.”

Chris Williams On Feeding Communities With Dignity
“My goal is to have seven kitchens by the end of 2021. And at each kitchen, I want them to do a minimum of 500 meals a day. Right now, I’m targeting elderly communities of color, because my goal was to go after—well, not forgotten communities, because you have to be considered to be forgotten. These menus speak to those people that just never get the love or respect or the care they deserve.”