Published Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Soul Food Sessions returns this weekend.
Two culinary experiences will take place on Oct. 18 at Camp North End, with an outdoor block party beginning at 6 p.m. at the Mount at Camp North End, as well as a socially distanced sit-down dinner at Leah & Louise from 7-9 p.m.
“Life is not over—it’s just different,” Leah & Louise owner chef Greg Collier said of operating during a pandemic. “That is the important message to be put out there, because people don’t know what to think. They don’t know what to feel. ‘Are restaurants over? Is dining over? Is fun over?’ Nah, we just have to think differently. We can’t be so focused on packing the house full of people and making as much money as we can that we don’t care about people’s safety.
“Everything about Soul Food Sessions has always been family. It has always been inclusivity.”
Culinary creatives Greg Collier, Subrina Collier, Michael Bowling, Jamie Turner, Jamie Barnes and Greg Williams came together to provide a platform to promote Black chefs in 2017. The dinner series inspired the creation of a scholarship fund to support Black culinary students. They also traveled the Southeast in 2018 with a dinner-series tour titled “The Table is Set,” which benefited recipients of the scholarship. Jump to 2020, where COVID-19 has put everything on hold, including postponing husband and wife duo Greg and Subrina Collier from opening the dining room of their Memphis-style juke joint, Leah & Louise, until June. Greg Collier is the first Black chef in Charlotte to earn a James Beard Foundation nomination with consecutive nods in 2019 and 2020 for best chef in the Southeast.
Bowling is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Hot Box Next Level Kitchen, where Turner is the pastry chef, and Barnes and Williams celebrated the five-year anniversary of their food truck, What the Fries, over the summer. Leah & Louise as well as Hot Box Next Level Kitchen also received $25,000 grants each from Discover’s Eat it Forward program to offset the financial impact of the pandemic.
Basically, they have been busy, with their last collaboration at the James Beard House in New York City in September 2019. Yet like all families, they always make time for each other.
“Soul Food Sessions is a love child of all of the founders,” Bowling said. “With everything that has been going on between COVID-19, Greg and Subrina opening Leah & Louise, me opening Hot Box, the fame of What the Fries, it has been trying to get us all together at the same time. We are really excited to get back to work on our goal of uplifting minority chefs.”
Said Greg Collier: “It is important to show that even though we are all successful that we are still a group, that we are still together and that we are still family. I think it is important for people to see that, for restaurant owners to see that, for young chefs to see it. We still get together, and we still put out great food together, because we love each other like a family would. That is super exciting to be able to get together and cook again.”
The dinner will feature Leah & Louise’s bar manager, mixologist Justin Hazleton, and guest chef Tchnavia Carter, the sous chef.
“We are just excited to be back at it,” Bowling said. “Hopefully we will be able to do three dinners next year in different locations to be able to spread our wings, get the scholarship fund moving again and put some new chefs in the spotlight.”
The block party, which will include a DJ, will feature chefs Daryl Cooper and Oscar Johnson of Jimmy Pearls, chef Brandon Stanton of Bao Down, pastry chef Jasmine Macon of Leah & Louise and chef Anthony Denning of Another!? Food Truck. Popbar, Sumbucha and Davidson Wine Co. will also be part of the block party, where tickets are $65 plus taxes and fees, which include small dishes and two cocktails. Tickets for the dinner are $85 plus taxes and fees, and include a multi-course dinner with cocktail pairings. Tickets to both are $125 plus taxes and fees, and include the dinner and block party access after.