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Life and Religion

Raise a plate to excellence of progressive African American chefs
Culinary professionals boost profile in industry
 
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2018 1:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Charlotte’s black chefs need a bigger table.


After founding Soul Food Sessions in 2017, their nonprofit endeavors include more than pop-up dinners highlighting their talents. They kicked off their first stop in their culinary and philanthropic tour titled “The Table is Set: A Four-City Tour Served with a Coke” on Juneteenth (June 19) at Free Range Brewing in Charlotte. Their next stops include Washington, D.C. on July 26, Baltimore on July 29, and Charleston, South Carolina in the fall.


Chefs Michael Bowling, Greg Collier, Jamie Suddoth, Greg Williams and Jamie Barnes’ collaboration with Coca-Cola Consolidated also includes a podcast. Stories from the Soul is available on iTunes and SoundCloud, and hosted by television personality Gina Neely.


“We felt like we had the opportunity to do something on a grander scale,” said Collier, who owns The Yolk in Rock Hill, South Carolina with his wife Subrina. “We hosted bigger dinners, and that first year, we did three of them. At all our dinners, we actually gave $2,000-$3,000 to different charities in the Charlotte area that we felt like affected the African American community.”


They met representatives from Coca-Cola Consolidated during the course of their events, which led to an opportunity to provide scholarships to culinary students on each tour stop.  A minimum of $10,000 will be awarded in scholarships.  


“Up until that point we really hadn’t even thought about what growth looked like,” Collier said. “We were all really happy being able to donate money to charity, and being able to highlight ourselves as chefs and more than anything, being able to be in the space together and just have fun doing what we love to do.”


Collier categorizes their growth as going from a “soapbox” to a “stage.”


“If anybody knows me, they know I love to be on stage,” he said. “That was beyond our dreams, to actually be able to take what we do here in our home base, and spread that message to different cities with large African American populations, where there are a lot of black people in the kitchen that may be at a certain level, but they can’t get to a level of leadership.”


Issues for people of color in the workforce don’t exclude the kitchen.  African Americans make up 16 percent of the nation’s chefs, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. African Americans comprise 14 percent of hourly restaurant employees and 9.5 percent hold management positions.


“Our ultimate goal is to ignite a movement that multiplies these numbers,” Bowling said in a statement. “The table will be set for a great meal and conversation at each event. Diversity issues can be difficult to talk about, but food has the power to bring us all together, and important conversations happen around the table. We’re convinced that now is the time to make a change for black chefs in America.”

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