A Celebration of Black Luxury, as Told By Honeysuckle Projects
Everything that chefs Cybille St. Aude-Tate and Omar Tate of Philadelphia’s Honeysuckle Projects create tells a story. There’s meaning and intention behind every deliberate choice of ingredient and how they choose to present each dish.
That’s why the married couple was the perfect choice to set the menu for the inaugural WE Gala, a celebration of Black excellence in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry held on May 17 at New York’s Bowery Hotel. Organized by To Be Hosted, a New York-based boutique event agency and supper club founded by Amber Mayfield in 2017 to create and spotlight more Black spaces in hospitality, the gala brought together nearly 100 Black chefs, food business owners, beverage professionals, and journalists for a night of conversation, recognition, incredible food and drink, and most importantly, joy.
The story they wanted to tell through their food was that of Black Luxury, and all that it encompasses. “We want to not only give people a good meal, but we hope people feel informed, and feeling more full, in a holistic sense, than when they came in,” Tate adds.
“There’s this huge misconception that Black food isn’t luxurious, so for us it was important to not ‘elevate’ or reinvent the wheel with anything that we created,” St. Aude-Tate says. “Our food is sophisticated. We are sophisticated, and it was really important that we drove that home with the menu — that we had things that people can relate to that signifies celebration, but also makes sense to eat in a ball gown.”
“Luxury doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive ingredient,” she adds. “It doesn’t mean something unattainable for others. The definition of Black Luxury I choose to participate in is celebrating joy — sometimes it does include crab legs, or caviar, or fried chicken — whatever makes me feel my best self. That’s how I’m choosing to understand luxury as I get older.”
“[Black Luxury] is about all the things that we love in our culture that aren’t necessary for anything other than desire and joy,” Tate adds, saying he hopes that if there’s one thing guests took away from the gala, it’s this: “We deserve more of these.”
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“Given the week everyone’s had with the Buffalo shooting, and everything happening, it was the perfect time to kind of come together, and to be able to celebrate ourselves, and celebrate each other,” St-Aude Tate says.
For both, the gala also felt like a bit of a homecoming. St-Aude-Tate, a Haitian American chef, grew up on Long Island. New York is also where, in 2017, Tate launched his critically acclaimed pop-up, Honeysuckle, which has now become Honeysuckle Projects — a network of community spaces that includes the upcoming opening of Honeysuckle Provisions, a small grocery and café in West Philadelphia, followed shortly by the opening of a larger grocery and café.
When it came to creating the menu for the WE Gala, St. Aude-Tate and Tate said they’d brainstorm with one another throughout the day with one another — in the middle of running errands, and working on opening the store, also while caring for their one-year-old son. And they credit their entire Honeysuckle team, including their local farmers, for helping them put everything together. “Our team is made up of a diverse staff where everyone is a person of color, and 90% of our staff is Black, and most of the farmers we work with are Black,” says Tate.
Here’s a closer look at the menu they created for the WE Gala, in their own words.
1. Marinated Snow Crab with Caviar
“I love crabs,” says Tate. “Crab in general is something that we grew up eating very, very rarely as a delicacy on a Friday or Saturday night, and we were always left with wanting more. Usually, it was served with just some butter and some lemon, and garlic, and paprika-based seasonings like Old Bay.
“But in this application, we got some really good, super fresh snow crab and we really wanted that to shine through. Snow crab is very sweet, so we just went with lemon and a combination of herbs, some good and expensive olive oil, and then it was paired with the endive because the endive has this sweet bitterness to it, so that contrast makes sense. And you know, it’s a gala, so why not have the crab wear a gown, and the gown be made out of Osetra caviar?”
2. Djon Djon Confit Mushroom Toast
“The djon djon conift was made with the djon djon we got directly from Haiti last year,” says St. Aude-Tate. “Djon djon is a delicacy in Haiti that’s normally dried and then gets rehydrated to use as a broth for stews etc. The Haitian djon djon mushroom is something that was really only brought out during family celebrations and special occasions because of its rarity, and how hard it is to attain back in the States when I was growing up. We decided to use the djon djon mushrooms with locally foraged mushrooms and served it on Yamz Bread toast — it’s a sweet potato bread we make in house that we will also be making in our store, that was inspired by George Washington Carver. It was inspired by how Dr. Carver emphasized the cross utilization of crops and varied uses of them. He was more than the peanut man. He was also the sweet potato man, and the black-eyed peas man. He came up with, I think, over 100 different ways to use the sweet potato, and one of those ways was in flour and so we make our own sweet potato flour to make bread with and we serve the mushrooms on that toast.”
3. Fried Chicken with Hot Sauce
“There was definitely a subversiveness in our plating and approach to the delivery of the food, like with the fried chicken,” says Tate. “People tend to think of fried chicken as a more pedestrian type of food. But in Black culture, it’s celebration food. It’s special occasion food and sometimes it can be everyday food, but to French a chicken leg and put it on a silver platter, you know, it’s a subversive way of displaying that.
“But fried chicken also still has this idea of stigmatization as well, right? A lot of Black chefs actually are afraid to serve fried chicken or put fried chicken on their menus because they don’t want to be looked at as the fried chicken chef, because of that stigma.
“And you know, I’ve been working through this theory about it, comparing it to a black eye: If someone punches you in the face and gives you a black eye, you have to wear the black eye, but it’s up to you to still stand erect with that black eye and be your full self. The fried chicken being served on the silver platter in the way that we did — just with hot sauce, the way that people typically eat it — but in the most elegant and ornate fashion, I think it was a real heroes’ salute for the bird. We made the hot sauce ourselves with cayenne peppers and Fresno chiles with just a little bit of garlic, vinegar, and onion.”
4. Endive Salad
Watermelon radish, chayote, black walnut, strawberries, epis goddess dressing
“The salad was probably one of the easiest things, at first, to conceptualize,” says St. Aude-Tate. “We were kind of just like, OK, what’s fresh? What can we get that’s good quality? And how can we really stretch the first-of-the-season strawberries [from K&J Organics in N.J.]? It’s very special and rare to be able to give people something that’s the first of the season. And it was paired with an epis goddess dressing, which is our spin on a traditional goddess dressing except the base is epis, which is a Haitian green marinade. It’s often used to marinate meats, or similar to sofrito or green seasoning, it’s cross utilized across Haitian gastronomy. So, we made a really tasty one with ramps that our team foraged themselves, and made that as the base for the goddess dressing. And then we served it with black walnuts because we just love black walnuts.”
5. Smoked Turnip Stew with Chicken Liver Mousse on Toasted Yamz bread
“At Honeysuckle, we make smoked turnips, and we use them in the same way that people use smoked deli turkey — we use it to build sandwiches,” says Tate. “And so essentially, what we thought of when we looked at the turnips and what we wanted to serve was how do we use these turnips in a way that kind of spins them into the leanings of meat? The smoked turnip flavor, and all the things that were in it, after tasting it ourselves, it kind of tasted like a smoked bean stew that had a little bit of smoked pork in it or something like that. And so that’s what that dish became. It really was just smoked turnips, cured and fermented, that were pureed with a little bit of celery root, garlic, and onion and some herbs and spices and then emulsified with olive oil.”
“The decision to serve it cold or at room temperature was a very last-minute decision,” says St. Aude-Tate. “We intended on serving it warm but tasted it and felt that it was so intense in flavor and so full of umami that serving it room temperature would actually be the best way to go. Plus, if you’re in a ball gown or in your finest tux, [having hot soup] felt a little too stuffy for us. It was served alongside the Yamz Bread that we made for the djon djon toast, and the chicken liver mousse was on top.”
“The chicken liver mousse had Hennessy in it, and there was some garlic, some cream, and some salt but really like the livers themselves — we slaughtered those birds [from Smith Poultry in Williamstown, N.J.] ourselves back in November and took the livers out so they were frozen immediately,” says Tate. “Super fresh, like right out right out of the animal, and we really wanted that to kind of shine through and then that was just garnished with chives and thyme.”
6. Unfried Fish
Grilled whiting, preserved corn, pickled mustard beurre blanc, mustard frills, fried cornbread
“The final savory course was the unfried fish, which is actually an old dish that I made for the Honeysuckle pop-up years ago, and we revisited here,” says Tate. “Growing up, eating whiting was just another special occasion thing. It was one of my favorite dishes that my mom makes. And typically, she marinates it in mustard and fries it in cornmeal. And what I wanted to do was treat it like a sardine because when it’s fried, you don’t get the full essence and full flavor of the fish. So by curing it and aging it over three days, you get that full flavor for the whiting, which is actually a lean fish, so that was grilled and then the mustard came back in as pickled mustard seeds in a beurre blanc with Moet in it, and the corn comes back in with fried cornbread made from cornmeal.”
7. Hennessy-Poached Strawberry Cornmeal Shortcake
“That was the genius of our pastry chef Aya Iwatani,” says St. Aude-Tate. “Originally, we told her that we really wanted to do a peach cobbler. We really wanted to do a classic Black dessert option, but just make it really tasty and creative and funky. And then because of those first-picked strawberries, we decided to do a strawberry shortcake and decided to utilize corn. Corn comes up so much throughout the various Black foodways including through various cultures within the diaspora. This is the first time she made it and she kind of knocked it out of the park with her corn-based choux; she made a strawberry Jell-O, she made a cream, made a corn cream filling. The Hennessy went into the strawberries. There were freeze-dried strawberries on top for the dusting.
“It was like three different textures,” says Tate.
“I think it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten,” says St. Aude-Tate. “This is something we’ve never done before, and she kind of put it together there. We put the flavors together individually, and when she plated it together, we had no idea how it was going to turn out, but everything sounded good. On its own, it tasted really good. When you put it all together, it was just really, really phenomenal. And we’re super proud of her and how far she’s come along. Her talents and what she’s able to do is just really inspiring.”
Scenes From the WE Gala