he black influence in the culinary world is both flavorful and far-reaching. It is black-eyed peas on a Monday afternoon, the deep sizzle of buttermilk covered chicken and vinegary steam rising from a pot of collard greens. It is also so much more than just soul food. For years, our gift has been to make something out of nothing in the kitchen. We have taken simple recipes and infused them with worldly flavors as bold and diverse as our heritage. There are thousands of African-American chefs in this country, from sous chefs, teachers, caterers, and Iron Chefs. They are creating art with food, feeding communities, and using their influence to change the face of the food scene in this country. Here are a few chefs that continue to pave the way for future culinary professionals.
Chef Connie Rousseau
Connie Cooks, New York City
To speak of Chef Connie Rousseau’s journey to becoming a chef, is to speak of a powerful story of conviction and inspiration. Rousseau was born to an Irish- French mother and Afro-Cuban father. Soon after, she was given up for adoption, raised by an Italian family for nine months then placed in an orphanage. It was there that that she found solace in food and the meals she was introduced to by the visiting families from all over the world. By age 8, she was helping to prepare Sunday meals at the orphanage. After leaving the orphanage, she bounced around to various foster homes, where food became an even more integral part of her life. “I lived with an African American family that taught me American cuisine; then a Haitian family. I learned everything about Haitian cooking from them, including killing the chicken, which I didn’t much care for! Then I learned about soul food from a southern black family and Mediterranean cuisine from an Italian family,” Chef Connie said. Food continues to be her joy and has brought her many accolades. She was honored at Ebony magazine’s “Taste of Ebony Event” in 2007, and continues to helm and teach with her company, Connie Cooks. Her clients’ favorite dishes include Porcini and Pistachio-Crusted Rack of Lamb Pops, Herb-Rubbed Salmon topped with glaze of Rum and Coconut Sweet Plantains, wrapped in cooked in banana leaf, and Crispy Fusion Egg Roll of Oxtail and Collard Greens, Bean Sprouts, Scallion, Jalapenos, and Caramelized Onions, with Sweet and Spicy BBQ Dipping Sauce.