Innovation and creativity are two words that come to mind when acclaimed chef Omar Tate thinks about black foodways and culture.
The Philadelphia native has dedicated much of his career to honoring and uplifting Black and marginalized cultures, as well as making space for more Black farmers at the table. This week, he brings his skills and recipes to New York City with a new dinner series that honors those farmers on Wednesday, June 29th.
“Black culture already has a significant definition,” he says. “All that I'm truly doing with food is using it as a means to discuss the nuances of black culture and assert it in a way where it's equitable amongst all other ethnic and cultural foodways in America.”
Tate, who recently made it onto the Time's 100 Next list for 2021, got his unofficial start in the kitchen at a young age. His mother was a single mother of four boys, and the responsibility to prepare or finish dinner fell to Tate and one of his brothers, as their mother was often forced to work late into the evening.
“The first meal that I remember being taught to cook was roasted chicken and stewed string beans with potatoes,” he says, “which I still love to this day.”
Tate didn’t break into the professional world of cooking until a later age, and it was again a means of survival.
As a young man, he lied on a resume saying he knew how to cook when he applied for a kitchen position at a golf club far from where he lived. He would commute two and a half hours there and two and half hours back to work in the kitchen.
Once management figured out he was lying about knowing how to cook, they demoted him to a dishwasher. Thankfully, they then trained him to be a cook for real, teaching him the basics of what has now become his passion.
“That's where I really fell in love with the craft of cooking,” he says.
Flash forward 10 years, and Tate has been a chef in some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia and New York, including the Modern American-style Fork in Philly and the Michelin-starred Meadowsweet in Brooklyn.
Tate and his wife, Cybille St.Aude-Tate, recently opened Honeysuckle Provisions, a community space that works closely with local Black farmers in the Philadelphia area, and now, Tate continues to expand his talent and recipes with Cultivating Community: Dinner Series.
The series will feature a menu full of new recipes and kick off at Oko Farms in Brooklyn before heading to Atlanta and Charleston later this summer. The series is hosted in partnership with Bombay Bramble and the Black Farmer Fund.
Guests can look forward to bramble berry sour cocktails and summer ribs with legacy sauce, among other delights. Tate’s inspiration for the menu? The summer season.
“Whenever we're conceptualizing a menu, we're thinking about what's growing in season,” Tate says. “What are the celebrations around the seasons? Berries popped up immediately as this was summer. Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all crop up around June.”
As for those delectable ribs, “Ribs are just the quintessential summer meat in my opinion,” he continues. “Every barbecue, every block party, every cookout, there's some kind of rib.”
His favorite dish, however, is the sweet bramble tart.
“I tend to eat lighter in the summer. The tart is fresh berries with pastry cream and jam,” he says. “It's a very simple dish to eat, not a simple dish to make, and it's a little sweet.”
The dishes feature different “hero ingredients,” or as Tate explains it, any cash crop that’s doing very well. In the Brooklyn series, the Up South Pickles will feature fava beans because those have been especially abundant in surrounding farms.
The beans will come from K&J Organic Farms in Vineland New Jersey, a Black-owned farm. The “hero” in the rest of the series will, of course, be the blackberries and raspberries used in the bramble.
The host cities of New York, Atlanta and Charleston were chosen for their individual ties to the histories of Black farming and agriculture.
“In New York,” Tate says, “there's an often untold history and story of black farming and agriculture that stretches back to the colonial era, and is now being continued and revitalized in urban farming."
Tate also has personal relationships with local farmers in those areas who still operate and steward their land. This series put a spotlight on those and other Black farmers, and donates $25,000 to the Black Farmer Fund.
Founded by Olivia Watkins, the Black Farmer Fund acts as a “conduit between Black farmers, looking to uplift, and financially support black farmers,” Tate explains. “Then working with black businesses and other businesses as well to then purchase vegetables, ingredients and products from these farmers and makers, so that they're building a stronger ecosystem that circulates within the black food community.”
Organizations like these, and chefs like Tate, aim to fix the representation issue in kitchens and on tables across the country. In his 10 years working as a chef, Tate has noticed an increase in people of color in the industry and hopes that number continues to grow.
“More and more Black chefs and marginalized communities are taking up space, as if there's just more intention in the media to include these voices that, quite frankly, have already been there,” Tate says. “It should just be a part of our normal behavior and practices to have more inclusion and diversity, and that's why I hope it grows into a sense of normalcy.”
This Cultivating Community: Dinner Series is just another step forward toward fostering more diversity and inclusion in spaces where people of color have been lacking. It highlights the important work black farmers do across the country, and the legacy and history they have to offer.
“I hope that people walk away from this dinner with a broader perspective on what farm-to-table means and where inclusion does or does not show up in those conversations,” Tate says, “and [that they can] make more comfortable choices about how and who they're buying from in regards to where their produce is coming from, and think about how their dollars can help create a deeper change.”
Tate hopes this series and these new recipes introduce people to a history or flavor they had not yet known. He also hopes these recipes help make a memorable summer, bringing fun and deliciousness to family gatherings, cookouts and barbecues after nearly two and half years of “pandemic-ness.”
“I think people are looking to reemerge and come back outside,” he says, “[to] see one another and, pun intended, cultivate community.”
Photography by: by Haamza Edwards