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Taste of Black Austin Highlights the City’s African-American Chefs

This year’s theme will reflect black experiences during the era of the Green Book

Taste of Black Austin in 2017
Taste of Black Austin in 2017
The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

As Austin continues to grow and change, the city’s African-American community changes with it. This is where the Greater Black Austin Chamber of Commerce (GBACC) stepped in to create Taste of Black Austin three years ago. The goal of the event is to bring together the food, photography, and history of black Austinites at the same time in one location. The third annual event taking place on Thursday, June 20 at Peached Social House, tackles the theme of the Green Book, a Jim Crow-era catalog of businesses that catered to African-American travelers.

Austin’s African-American history is a complicated one that includes a legacy of systemic racism that was codified by the city’s 1928 master plan, which forced black and Latinx residents out of West Austin and into the east side. That past is evident in black cultural landmarks like the Victory Grill, which was established during the chitlin circuit era in 1945, where black musicians performed. The GBACC wanted to create a space to honor Austin’s black past, as well as to educate.

Victor H. Green, a Harlem postal service worker, published the first edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book (its full title) in 1936, which highlighted places where black people were welcomed, from hotels to restaurants to hair salons in the New York area during a time of segregation. It was updated and expanded its coverage throughout the country all the way through the mid-1960s after segregation officially ended in the country and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The listings included Texas establishments that still exist today.

The food at Taste of Black Austin, served as passed small plates and through food stations, will reflect stories from black experiences during the era of the Green Book. “It’s a multi-sensory experience we’re trying to create,” said GABCC spokesperson Hakeem Adewumi.

At the core of the event are 11 local black chefs, “who can help speak to those stories,” explained Adewumi. These include Joi Chevalier of The Cook’s Nook; Adrian Lipscombe of Uptown Bakery and Café; Jennifer Rodriguez and Christopher Howard of 3 Small Plates Catering; Ey Williams of Fauna Foodworks; Ilbersalle Fallon of Niella Catering; Amanda Turner of Juniper; Salimah Muhammad of Word of Mouth Catering; Ellen Sweets, who will conduct a cooking demonstration; Hoover’s Cooking’s Hoover Alexander, who is overseeing the meat-carving station; and Luv Fats Ice Cream’s Chi Ndika.

The menu will feature dishes like deviled egg croutons, which harken back to the “shoebox lunches” carried by African-American travelers. A hoisin meatball reflects the cultural exchange between Chinese-Americans and African-Americans. Both are from Rodriguez and Howard.

“That’s the story of moving that we’re trying to tell through this food,” Chevalier said, “but using our local ingredients.”

The program also features photography and recipes from the era, some of which came from the Library of Congress, and will follow the lifespan of the Green Book. The GABCC will also display some physical Green Books, which have had a resurgence in popularity since the Oscar-winning film of the same name came out last year.

“We have so many people from different walks of life in the African-American community,” said Chevalier, who helped organize the event. “We have people who have been here a long time, native Austinites, folks who are in church communities, folks who are younger professionals who are in the tech community, you have academics in the room who have been telling the story of black history and the black diaspora in Texas.”

“We have activists,” Chevalier continued, “and those who every day are trying to communicate different aspects of the black Austin experience.”

Taste of Black Austin takes place on Thursday, June 20 at Peached Social House at 6500 North Lamar Boulevard from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $85.