Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Audacity of Hope!

"No matter what obstacle stands in our way, we must always remember that nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change. Many will say that we cannot do this and we will answer and say: YES WE CAN!"

On this day as I sit in front of my television, it has just been announced that Barack Obama has been duly elected our 44th President of the United States of America. My grandfather fought for it, I lived to witness it, and my sons and daughter can strive for anything and know that they can achieve it. That is the audacity of hope. Say it loud!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pulp Fiction

"If you want me to stay, I'll be around today, to be available for you to see. But I have to go, so then you'll know, for me to be here, I got to be me. Never be in doubt of what I'm all about, you can't take me for granted and smile, because when I'm gone, can't be reached by the phone, cause I promise I'll be gone for awhile..."

Sly and the Family Stone "If you want me to stay"

Well, here we go again! Let me start by saying that I apologize to all of those customers that were excited about my return to the Mpls/St. Paul culinary circle, only to be met with immediate controversy - yet again. I greatly appreciate your following and support. Those of you that came to visit me at Bourbon Street Steak House and saw the magnificence of the place - it's architecture and style, knew that it was a project that I was truly proud of. As I came out to greet each table, you all seemed pleased, satisfied and sincerely gratified by the cuisine that I took great care in developing and presenting to you.
Bourbon Street Steak House was to be my tribute to the great cuisine of New Orleans, and pay homage to the type of Southern hospitality and bon temps (good times) the namesake is known for. So what happened!!!???
Once upon a time, in a land kinda far away, - So. Saint Paul, there was a huge castle with no one to rule in it. I was called upon to create a restaurant suitable enough for such a grand setting. For two months, day and night, I toiled and created such a place - Bourbon Street Steak House. The towns people and people from other lands across the river said it was good, and they began to come. The newspapers and the ever feared critics all said - Big E is back! (In a good way!)
  • Jeremy Iggers Review - The Rake

  • Rachel Hutton Review - CityPages

  • And people ate and drank - steaks, gumbo, jambalaya and smoking hurricanes - and cheered,"all praises! all praises!"

    When the owner saw that all was good, and the cake had been baked, how much better would the cake be, if it didn't have to be shared? Have it and eat it too...good plan if you can get it to work. Not an original plan by any means - many have tried. But what the hey - let's give it a shot.
    So, he let me know that he would be taking over from this point on, and that I should have no trouble getting picked up elsewhere. "Come back," he asked, "every two weeks or so, to give us a once over to see if we are getting the sauce right. You'll be given some sort of compensation of course, I don't know what yet - I'll think of something fair."

    Shakespeare once asked, "what's in a name?" My answer, integrity, branding, association, trust and last but certainly not least - "$$$$$$$" that's what. Just ask the place with the golden arches. I didn't even have to say their name and you Mcknew who I was Mctalking about. So I'll use your name and cuisine while you stand proud on the unemployment line and boast to others how [I thought of that] - now, how long does my benefits run?
    Well that's enough crying over spilled Gumbo, evacuation was in order, because when it hurricanes, it pours!!!

    My grandfather's name was Solomon Austin. Named so after the wise biblical King, and wore the name with what I believe the same wisdom given the King. He told me once, "If you dig a ditch for someone, make sure it's big enough to fit you in case you fall in."

    Monday, July 28, 2008

    I'm walkin' to New Orleans

    "...Jambalay, crawfish pie, filet gumbo, and tonight I'm gonna see my cheri-meo. Dress in style, go hog wild and be gay-o. Son-of-a-gun we gonna have big fun on the bayou!" -Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr.

    I realize that I haven't blogged in awhile, partially because I've been wanting to keep the Obama story the main focus for a little bit. When it comes to food news however, some things need to take front page again. Like the newest venture I've been able to dream up - BOURBON STREET STEAK HOUSE.
    No one panic, we are still moving forward with CHEF E's HOUSE OF SOUL. Okay. All I'm saying is that since I have been dubbed the "southern" food authority by some up here in the Nawf, that's north for all you northerners, I have expanded my interest to now include a full New Orlean's type menu as well. And for those of you who know my style, you can expect the same vibrant, playful, inviting atmosphere you're accustomed to with me. But with alot of Creole this time - and MEAT! When I say steakhouse, I mean steakhouse! But don't just sit there reading this, go to www.BourbonStreetSteakHouse.com

    As for House of Soul, we are still going through the business, political and city planning channels that "they" are asking us to go through. And you know them - hurry up and wait.

    But in the meantime and in between time, I can be found in South St. Paul for a minute, with a bucket of crawdads and some gumbo. 494 east to Concord 156 exit, make a left and drive for a half mile or so until you reach the huge castle like building across from Burger King and Subway. I'll be lookin' fo' y'all now! A little something to tide you over til' we're in MPLS again.
    As always, SAY IT LOUD! and a new call as well - "laissez le bon temps roulet!" (let the good times roll!)

    "We movin' on up weezy!!!"

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Say it Loud! ('08) or "You Must See This"

    "We are not as divided as our politics suggests, we are one people, we are one nation, and together we will begin the next great chapter in the American story, with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea - "Yes we can!"_Barack Obama

    I have tried to provide food for all without predjudice to their political affiliation, race, creed or color. I have fed preachers and pimps, politicians and prostitutes. The ingredient that has been the same on all of their plates is a healthy dash of respect and the soul of my culture. My macaroni and cheese does not concern itself with beliefs. The collard greens I serve are for the taste buds of the liberals and the conservatives alike. I do not fry left or right chicken wings.

    With that having been stated, we are on the cusp today of creating history - of changing the face of this nation. I would be remiss to all of those that marched in the Civil Rights Movement and were victorious, so that I might be in a position to own a business, if I did not speak up as the creed of my restaurant suggest and ask you to please view and consider the following link.
  • www.YOUTUBE.com/watch

    Please remember when placing forth your comments, that whether or not we agree, we must effect change through intelligent debate. We have been told that we cannot do this, by a force of citizens, and they will only grow louder, more dissident - immutable. We must combat this by proving them wrong. We are capable of respectful exchange.

    I will always continue to feed you the food of my beautiful black ancestors, and will remain proud that I am able to look out from my kitchen and see people of all colors and background regardless of their socio-economic status enjoying the food of my African American culture. I will always offer dignified service to those who may otherwise not recieve it. And as always, I hope that you will cook well, eat well and be well. Say it Loud! Your friend
    Chef E

    "We know that the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices, calling for change..."_Barack Obama
  • Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    Happ-E Holidays

    "Shrek the halls with bells of holly, falalalalalalalala..."

    I have but one thought for you all this holiday season, and Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol states it best, "You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato, there's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

    Chef Eric (Big E) Austin and Family reminds you to SAY IT LOUD!

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Ground Breaking News!!!
    "If the house is a rockin' don't bother knockin'
    If the house is a rockin' don't bother knockin'
    If the house is a rockin' don't bother C'mon in"

    _Stevie Ray Vaughn

    They say that the third time is a charm, and with that we are pleased to announce that we have purchased a spacious duplex that we are renovating to house our third venture "Chef E's House of Soul"
    I know that it has been awhile since our last post, but that wasn't to say that we were done. Melanie and I were busying ourselves cleaning up after the fall out of our last ventures while planning our next move. Our next move it seems, found us. I received an e-mail a short time ago from my book agent, who after several attempts to push my cookbook was frequently met with the response "great book, if he only had a restaurant we could launch it..." So, I could only imagine how the wheels of possibility started to turn in her head - she's an author and that makes for some outrageous synapses firing in the brain. I received an e-mail from her that started "You're going to think I'm crazy!" Too late (I thought to myself) but after reading the rest of the e-mail, it proved that she was crazy - like a fox - a hungry chicken wing loving fox.
    "What do you think about the idea of having a home that we could convert into a restaurant?" No sooner than I could scream yes, we received a call saying that she ("she" referring to Marlene) and family (Kelvin, Clifton and Debbie) had closed on it and not so long after that, breaking ground!
    One of the secrets to any successful partnership based business is the relationship of the partners involved. Many of you are aware of the highly publicized relationship I had with previous business associates - in short, not good. Many of you expressed great relief of our seperation. I am very excited about this partnership group It's a real family endeavor (which is what Chef E's is all about) It's about time too, because if you fool me once, shame on you. Six to eight more times, shame on me.
    It is my promise to make this the most unforgettable experience this city has ever known. If you thought we were the best that the city had seen before, and your presence and repeat business reflected that, well gentlemen buckle down and loosen up a belt knotch and ladies cut your nails so you dont cut your tongue while you're licking your fingers. We're back, bigger badder and better than ever. Stay posted for progress and our target opening. Feel free to send any comments, e-mails and message board responses you'd like. Lets get back in touch with one another. Your favorite Twin Cities Soul Chef, Big E.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    "With Liberty and Justice For All!"

    "Here comes the story of The Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame for somethin' he never done. Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been the champion of the world" _Song lyrics from "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy

    Millions of African Americans in the United States have come to regard and observe the month of February as "Black History Month" This month is dedicated to recognizing the great strides, accomplishments and contributions made by African American men and women that helped shape this Nation. A nation built on the foundation of Civil Liberties, Freedon and Justice.

    One man embodies putting this system of justice to the test. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, an African-American middle weight boxer between 1961 and 1966, is better known for his controversial convictions for three June 1966 murders in Patterson, New Jersey and his subsequent release from prison in 1985. The same court system that had convicted him, declared him an innocent man after an imprisonment of nearly 20 years.

    His story has been immortalized in film, portrayed by Denzel Washington, and in the lyrics of Bob Dylans song "Hurricane"

    I had the honor of preparing food and dining with Dr. "Hurricane" Carter at my restaurant. A dinner of Jambayala with White Chocolate Bread Pudding to follow was enjoyed. "Big E, I thought you had my grandmother back there in that kitchen" was his comment. "I do" was my reply.
    When I saw him portrayed on the big screen, he had a fierce dignity even in the face of adversity. "It's good to keep one's dignity in all things" he said to me. Up close and personal I joked that he was an older, smaller man now and that maybe I could take him...

    One squeeze of his hand as he shook mine, and I knew that I might have to wait until he was ninety or older, to try it.
    Know your Black History, it's something to take pride in. Cook well, eat well and as always Say It Loud!!!

    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    Only in America!

    "...my children will someday live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character..."
    -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    On describing his "rags to riches" biography, fight promoter Don King is known for saying of his journey "Only in America!" The fact that a black man in this country can rise up from illiteracy, poverty and minimal skills to become one of the most recognizable faces in his field, achieve a Doctorate, become synonymous with being one of our most colorful and articulate speakers as well as become a multi-millionaire is testimony of this great Nation. Where else but America is such a thing possible? No where else on earth.
    On November 7, 2006, Minneapolis voters elected Keith Ellison, an African - American Democrat, as the first Muslim in Congress. Tomorrow Congressman Ellison will make further headlines by being sworn in as per his wishes, on the Muslim (Bible) The Quran. Many have expressed disdain at his decision at being declared to an office with it's roots grappled on Christian values. Whether one agrees with his decision or not is a matter of personal opinion. This Nation was founded on his right to do so. Abraham Lincoln quotes "The assertion that 'all men are created equal' was of no practical use in effecting our seperation from Great Britain, and it was placed in The Declaration not for that, but for future use."

    I believe as Don Quixote, that no man truly knows or understands another without sharing a peck of salt with that man. I was invited to prepare a bit of food for Mr. Ellison. While there, I got to witness his message and understand his political wishes. It was a very intelligent action - the coming together with food. How can one make friends without exquisite dishes! It is mainly through [soul] food and the table that one governs.

    Whatever becomes of the political debates that surround Congressman Ellison, The Bill of Rights stands firmly behind him, "...Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." In short, the Constitution does not grant rights, it recognizes them.

    "(Say:) unto you your religion, and unto me my religion." _Quran 109:6

    Tuesday, December 26, 2006

    "Happy Kwanzaa!"
    "Soul is extra-scientific, that is to say, outside of science; therefore we will allow no scientific disproof of it" _Dr. Maulana Karenga

    During the holiday season, millions of African American families choose to celebrate Kwanzaa, which begins the first day after Christmas and lasts until New Year's Day. During each of these (seven) days a new principle based in African - American pride, community and heritage is practiced. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a young visionary on the West coast who was also the founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organization.
    The word "kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili word "kwanza" which means first fruits, and as a holiday comes directly out of the tradition of the agricultural people of Africa.

    They celebrate and give thanks for harvest at designated times during the year. Each tribe of the community comes together to sing, dance, eat and drink celebrating the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables. Dr. Karenga adopted these celebrations as a symbol of the unity in the souls of black folks.

    The holiday's daily ritual begins with the lighting of one of the seven candles placed in the center of a candleholder called a "Kinara" (kee-nah-rah). The first candle is black and is symbolic of "unity" followed by the lighting of red and green candles each day of each principle - three red on the left, and three green on the right.

    The principles are:

    Umoja (oo-moh-jah) - Unity
    Kujichagulia (koo-ji-chah-goo-lee-ah) - Self Determination
    Ujima (oo-jee-mah) - Collective Work and Responsibility
    Ujamma (oo-jah-mah) - Cooperative Economics
    Nia (nee-ah) - Purpose
    Kuumba (koo-oom-bah) - Creativity
    Imani (ee-mah-nee) - Faith

    "The task, as Us percieved it then and contends now, is to forge and embrace a culture that both prepares the people for struggle and sustains them in the process of the struggle for a world of human freedom and human flourishing. This meant then and continues to mean selecting and stressing elements of Black culture that represents the best of African and Human values, values which protect and promote human life, human freedom and maximum human development."
    _Dr. Maulana Karenga

    "The foods of Kwanzaa are a celebration of the foods of the earth. Do not be absent of taste when trying them, or rush past the experience of ingesting the wonderful bounty the earth has provided. Eat intently and embarrassingly passionately. Taste and enjoy the earth's food, she is the mother that suckles you." - Chef Eric Austin

    Chef E's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

    1 Medium to large Butternut Squash
    Olive oil
    1 cup vegetale stock
    1/2 cup heavy cream (optional) *soy milk to finish may be substituted
    Salt (Kosher) to taste
    Black pepper to taste
    1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic/ garlic powder
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/2 cup green onion (green part only) finely chopped
    1 tomato (small dice)

    Step 1: Peel the squash and cut in half lengthwise then using a spoon scrape out the inner seeds. Place the pieces in a casserole dish that will fit both halves. Rub the squash liberally with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper and garlic. Place in a 400 degree F oven until flesh is very tender about 20 minutes.

    Step 2: Once the squash has cooled slightly, place the pieces in a food processor and add the vegetable stock and process until the soup is very smooth.

    Step 3: Transfer to a soup pot and finish simmering on low heat to warm completely through (do not bring to a boil) add the cream or *soy milk (careful that the soy milk does not break) then the tomatoes, green onions, and vanilla extract.

    I like to finish the soup with some of the tomato and green onion as a garnish and a drizzle of olive oil. Then drizzle some of the olive oil on spears of baguette and a tapanade of olives on toasted crostini.

    "A luta continua" (the struggle continues)

    Monday, December 25, 2006

    "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag..."

    Presents had been placed around the tree, stockings had been stuffed and the morning was set to be filled with Christmas cheer from my three year old daughter at discovering that she'd recieved the latest rave - TMX Elmo. I was up as early as I could to make some last minute preparations for the day, so I turned on the television to keep me company. "Oh man!" I thought in sorrow to hear what the anchor woman was saying in the report "The Godfather of Soul, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Brown has died today. He was brought into an Atlanta hospital early this morning and passed away shortly after from complications due to pneumonia."
    Anyone who has ever visited Big E's Soul Food knows that it was built around James Brown's mantra "Say it Loud!" To me, those lyrics define soul - soul food, soul attitude and soul people. "...we're people, we like the birds and the bees, but we'd rather die on our feet than be living on our knees. Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud!" Big E's Soulfood will continue to reflect this attitude for as long as I am cooking. And no matter where there's a restaurant with my name on it, the logo will always read: "Say it loud!"
    I want people to remember me in this business as they remembered you James - "Soul brother #1, Mr. Dynamite, The Godfather of Soul and The hardest working man in show business..." You go James! You got it!...
    If you'd like to share any thoughts, please post your comments. If you'd just like to quietly reflect, go put on or (download) "I feel good!" and I dare you not to feel good.

    "Look at me, you know what you see? Look at me, you know what you see?
    You see a bad mutha. I got something that makes me want to shout! I got something that tells you what it's all about! I got soul, and I'm superbad!"
    __James Brown 1933 - 2006

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    I wish...

    "Looking back on when I was a little nappy headed boy. Then my only worry, was for Christmas what would be my toy. Even though we sometimes would not get a thing, we were happy with the joy the day would bring. I wish those days would come back once more. Why did those days ever have to go - 'cause I love em' so." _Stevie Wonder

    Hey all, it's been awhile since my last blog but I'm back just in time for the holidays. I bring you seasons of great tidings and joy and a few small treats for you to try during this most festive occasion.

    Sweet potato Corn Muffins

    For the filling:
    2 large yams (sweet potatoes) peeled - medium diced
    1 cup brown sugar
    4 teaspoons (unsalted) butter - melted
    1 pinch (Kosher) salt
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 medium eggs (beaten)

    Step 1: In a large pot boil the diced sweet potatoes until done - fork tender. Let cool and place in a large mixing bowl.

    Step 2: Add all other ingredients and mix well with electric beaters or mixer. Set aside until ready for use.

    For the muffins, follow the box directions of your favorite corn muffin recipe (I use Jiffy without shame) which requires 1 egg and 1/3 cup of milk (whole) for every box. For this recipe you will need three boxes (3 for $.99) Yeah, you know what I'm talking about;)
    After the muffin batter is made, combine with the sweet potato filling. Bake in muffin tins, yeilds about 18 muffins.

    P.S. If you want to be more festive, add some whole cranberries to the batter.
    Make some Honey Butter by adding 2 parts softened butter to 1 part honey and whip well with an electric beater until light and sweet.

    If you really want to get old fashioned try this Scripture Cake Christian or Atheist, this is good eating:)

    3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (1 Kings 4:22
    2 teaspoons baking powder (Amos 4:5)
    pinch of salt (Leviticus 2:13)
    1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon(1 Kings 10:2)
    1 teaspoon ground allspice (1 Kings 10:2)
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (1 Kings 10:2)
    1/2 teaspoons ground cloves (1 Kings 10:2)
    1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (Judges 5:25)
    2 cups granulated sugar (Jeremiah 6:20)
    6 tablespoons honey (Exodus 16:31)
    6 eggs, room temperature (Isaiah 10:14)
    1 cup milk (Judges 4:19)
    2 cups seedless raisins (Samuel 30:12)
    2 cups dried Figs coarsely chopped (Nahum 3:12)
    2 cups sliced almonds (Numbers 17:8)
    Confectioners sugar and cocoa powder for dusting

    Step 1: Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13 inch pan with vegetable cooking spray and dust with flour.

    Step 2: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves.

    Step 3: In another bowl combine the butter, granulated sugar and honey. Using an electric beater, whip together until well blended (about 1 minute on medium high speed) Add the eggs one at a time beating well with each addition before adding the next, While still beating, gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk until well mixed.

    Step 4: Using a rubber spatula fold in the figs, almonds and raisins.

    Step 5: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle baking rack until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean - about 45-50 minutes. Cool comepletely and dust with cocoa powder and confectioners sugar

    "Let the church say amen! This cake is good ALL THE TIME! And all the time THIS CAKE IS GOOD!"

    Let me know what you think...

    From Chef E, that other jolly big man!!!

    Saturday, September 16, 2006

    "Watch me! I got it..."
    This week while I was filming what will hopefully be my new cooking show Chef E's Soul Kitchen, I got the opportunity to sit with distinguished guest, African American and Civil Rights historian, lecturer and Macalester College Professor Dr. Machmoud El-kati. We spoke on the topic of the origin and nature of Soul Food (black American cuisine) and it's impact on America and the rest of the world. Honestly, to have that much knowledge and black experience in front of me was at first daunting - I could barely collect myself to ask the first question. But once Dr. El-kati began to speak about the dependence the South had on the slaves, the development of African American cuisine or, Soul Food by African slaves and its ability to transcend all calamities - being invented using very little means, throw away scraps and the like, my intimidation turned to intrepidity and pride. When asked of my neo - soul version and world techniques and applications to soul food (as he is a fan of my brand of soul food) Dr. El-kati had this to say: " Mr. E, I applaud you for having the courage to explore the future of this cuisine. This is afterall, what our ancestors did - being heaved upon this continent from Africa, they too had to become alchemists in a sense. They had been used to a mostly vegetarian diet of grains and fruits and fresh vegetables. Now they had to be very innovative with some of this foreign mess [we, you and I would have called it another name I can't say] But they took that mess and made it theirs. Just like Ray Charles. When he first came out, people, black people kept telling him that he couldn't take gospel and country and mix it with rhythm and blues - and he did. He made a sound that was his. It was recognizable and soulful. Every song that he sang became soulful. Listen, as long as you don't disturb the integrity of soul food, and respect it, how can you be wrong for making it yours?" Thank you for those pearls of wisdom Dr. El-kati. I will always remember that I'm a child of those beginnings. I am from "a people that can fly" and as James Brown would say, "I got soul, and I'm superbad!"

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    "Each one teach one!"

    I used to believe in family secrets when it came to cuisine and traditions, but then I rethought the idea. Some secret ingredients are okay when it comes to your special dish, but I have come to respect the idea of sharing recipes as well. A recent post from a fan asked, "how 'bout sharing a Big E secret to an old fan..." or something along those lines. Why not. It is my mission to become synonymous with the term soul food "Hey! you're the soul food guy!!!" much like Julia Childs with French cuisine in this country, and not to mention icons like Chef Emeril Lagasse or Chef Paul Prudommes when it comes to New Orleans cooking. With that in mind, please check out my homepage

  • www.BigEsoul.com

  • under Chef E's video clips I hope all of you out there who are Soul foodies will find a change of heart and share your recipes too! Check the Soul foodies Message Board so that you can lend a helping soulful hand to others in need or you may have a question to ask.

    It is our responsibility to give the next soul generation a piece of culture and taste from where we've come lest we forget - so, SAY IT LOUD!

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    "There can be only one!"

    I can almost hear the voice behind the premise of the popular (sci - fi) movie and television series Hilander, proclaiming to the immortal warriors that are to engage in battle each time they come face to face with one another, at the final battle, "there can be only one!" remaining as ruler of the universe. This story wreaks of that premise. It appears that I, Eric Austin (aka Chef E aka Big E), am being confused with one Mr. James Eric Walker, who also calls himself "Big E" It seems to me that there was no newspaper, radio or television mention of Mr. Walker before I coined the recognizable name with my first restaurant "Big E's Soul Food".

    Since then, Mr Walker has gained a particular amount of notoriety with using the name, some good, and some not so good... which brings me to my point. Recently in a Star Tribune article posted August 16th, 2006 in CJ's column, the headline reads "Big E and date have a bad night at Trocaderos..." While attending the restaurant / club, Mr. Walker, founder of a Minneapolis African American networking club called "First Fridays" and his date had allegedly recieved poor service (I don't know, I wasn't there) and vowed never to host the group there again. In any event, people all over Minneapolis have been coming to me asking me why I caused such a scene. We are not the same Big E, although I can see why people would think that from reading the name. What other Big E could they be talking about, right? While we both share the name, the issue becomes who can be most associated with it? Well, we would have to go into things like when did people first start calling each of us Big E, or which one of us is oldest and has sported the title longer. My contention is this; Google, yahoo or city search the name Big E's Soulfood and the search engine goes on and on. There's not one mention that I saw readily of Mr. Walker. Hey! whatever the case, when you say the name
    BIG E around Minneapolis, people think soulfood! As well they should because really, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!! Sorry James.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    "Say It Loud!"

    Something has been disturbing me for awhile, about the sometimes lowly image "soul food" connotates in some people's mind whenever they think of the term or the cuisine. Everything from, isn't that only what you people eat? or, what's the big deal about chicken and watermelon? and what makes your soul food so special? has been asked me by patrons in my restaurant and on the street among some folks in my own African American community.
    Even some of the images that I place on the walls of my restaurant have been at issue - one in particular which shows the layout of slaves on a slave ship. One person once asked me if I thought it put people off while eating. Look, it is part of my heritage and shows how far we've come as a people - we are survivors. I have never gone into a French or Italian restaurant and thought that about French or Italian scenes on their walls. I have never once thought while placing the order for my fried rice that "it looks entirely too Chinese in here, I can't possibly eat here!"
    Soulfood has a rich history, steeped in tradition and quilted in the fabric of America. It is the food that my ancestors (African slaves) developed out of throw away scraps, wilted field greens and left over grain (after most of the livestock had been fed first) Yet from these lowly beginnings, our grandmother's formed a cuisine that was not only delectable and gastronomic genius, but able to sustain generations on very little means, feeding not only your body but your very soul.
    I spoke to a young (African American) man in my community one day who said that he was disturbed that in one of the advertisements he saw me in, I was holding a plate of fried chicken in one hand and a watermelon in the other. "Doesn't that give (white) people the wrong image of us?" he asked. "Do you eat fried chicken?" I asked him. "Yes!" he replied. "Do you only sit around and eat it in the dark and in closets?" "What? No man, that's crazy!" he replied. "Of course you don't, and neither do I. And I'll let you in on a not so secret thing, neither does anyone else who comes to my restaurant and eat it - black white or other" I wonder if he would have been taken back by the image of a person of Italian descent eating spaghetti or Mexican eating a burrito. Anyway, he seemed to get it and walked away satisfied of the answer he'd recieved.

    We (the African American culture) wouldn't be here without it, and I am thankful to all of those ancestoral master chef's before me. Everytime I step into my kitchen, I think of how far I can push the envelope of what defines Soul Food. Where it has come from and how far I can take it. This passion is about the food, it's a beautiful thing!. If you've ever visted my restaurant and tasted the Watermelon Chardonnay Ice and some Honey Teriyaki, Carribean Jerk or Buttermilk soul wings, you'd wonder why everyone wasn't eating fried chicken and watermelon. So continue to cook well, eat well and be well folks.
    If you have some information out there for the hungry minded that read this blog and want to know more about Heritage Cooking or Soul Food Cooking in America, share your favorite books and references with them (and with me too - tell me what you know) It's not a family secret anymore folks - SAY IT LOUD!

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    "A Taste of the past and present"
    Tribute to Mr. Ernest C. Withers

    "I look for things of time and value. None of my images deal in violence - they deal in time."
    Ernest C. Withers has been a practicing photographer for more than 60 years and still maintains a Beale Street studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
    He documented the Civil Rights movement as well as the southern entertainment and social scenes during the 1950's and 60's. Well known and trusted, Withers often traveled with and photographed Martin Luther King, Medgar Evars and James Meredith.

    His closeness gave him a unique view of the events and people that shaped the course of American history.
    In 1988, Withers entered the Black Press Hall of Fame and is the recipient of the Gordon Parks Legend Award.
    I had the privelege of breaking bread with Mr. Ernest C. Withers in my humble restaurant. He is such an important documentor of human events that I knew I had become a viewable part of Black American history when he raised his camera toward me. On an autographed photo he left behind, the inscription read: "You are so great to me Big E, love and regards Ernest C Withers."

    He ate the very best Catfish Nicois Salad that I could prepare for him.

    -Chef E