It was delicious magic in Baldwin Hills last night when Master Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Govind Armstrong shared the kitchen at Post & Beam Restaurant to benefit the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). A long way from Harlem, Chef Samuelsson took the flavor and flair of Red Rooster across the country to team up with Chef Armstrong to celebrate Black History Month through a culinary lens, while reaching out to help the next generation of chefs realize their dreams though C-CAP, which helps underserved high school students train to enter professional kitchens and ultimately compete for culinary scholarships. Evidently, this event was years in the making and the kitchen was filled with very lucky and hard-working students dressed to the nine’s in their chef’s coats, standing proud and ready to work alongside the chefs.
It was truly a night to remember with palpable excitement and love of food simmering among the sold-out crowd. Champagne flutes met guests at the door and the delights kept coming. From crawfish beignets to deviled eggs topped with smoked catfish and Ethiopian tacos on crispy injera, each bite was as luscious as the bite before. The main course included a very nicely done light dirty rice with shrimp, crispy-tender Yard Bird, buttermilk mashed potatoes, wood-oven river trout, black eye peas with roasted yams and bacon, oh-so-tender oxtails and short ribs, and long-cooked greens. We dined and sipped our way to a festive feast of an evening with guests clearly reveling in the food, the music, and the company!
I was lucky enough to have a seat at the food bar, which treated me to a bird’s eye view of the kitchen. It was clear that the chefs and the students enjoyed the evening as much as the guests. They worked in a non-stop harmonious rhythm, the chefs glancing over to guide the students when they needed it and the students in the kitchen not missing a beat. The generosity of spirit really struck me. With over 150 guests hanging on every bite, Chefs Samuelsson and Armstrong reached out to give those students an experience that they will remember the rest of their lives. And, the students came through. Just as I thought I couldn’t take another bite, the gracious wait staff appeared with dessert plates that included red velvet crème brulee, sweet potato doughnuts, and a refreshing pistachio semifreddo. They had once again married the old and the new. Perfect finish to a fabulous meal.
The evening had special meaning for me. I grew up in Baldwin Hills, my family among the early African-American residents that helped integrate the community.
I returned to live there with my husband and our sons. Now predominately African-American, Baldwin Hills is a community brimming with pride and chock- full-of history. Chefs Samuelsson and Armstrong cooking together here is history in the making! Each of these two chefs thought to reach outside of the box when they opened high-end restaurants in predominately ethnic communities. And, each of their visions has been rewarded.
I was touched to hear Chef Samuelsson pay homage to the African-American chef -pioneers that walked before him: Patrick Clark, Leah Chase, Edna Lewis, and Sylvia Wood. It has been a longtime coming for these two chef masters of color to stand side-by-side in a kitchen of this caliber. Ironically, the wonderfully cozy Post & Beam sits on the spot of what was once the premier outlet of a fried chicken chain, Golden Bird, founded through the hard work of an African-American family, the Stennis family. A few years ago, long after the chain had closed, Mrs. Stennis shared a little of the history and “elbow grease” that built Golden Bird. When I bit into that scrumptious, crispy Yard Bird I couldn’t help but remember Golden Bird and how Chefs Samuelsson and Armstrong had truly done the African Americans who labored before them in the kitchens proud!
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