There are various distinctions on what qualifies cuisine as “soul food”. To the majority of urban culture, “soul food” is anything on Big Momma’s table from the late 1990’s movie of the same name or any food we prepare that we season “until the ancestors say stop”.
Many consumers of soul food aren’t exposed to fine dining, and Mashama Bailey has pulled from her soul to create dishes that are only possible at the intersection of her teaching and her heritage. soulciti attended “Black Culinary Legacies”, a conversation with Chef Bailey organized by African Diaspora Studies and John L Warfield Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and we even got some time to interview Chef Bailey one-on-one.
This was Chef Bailey’s advice to upcoming chefs, what she had to do to persevere through failure, and how she ultimately answered the call to pursue becoming a restaurateur.
Before winning the highest culinary honor, the James Beard Award, Chef Bailey was compared to Thomas Keller as a student of cuisine. This compliment was delivered in Paris where Bailey learned the foundational skills she would need to grow as a chef. While in her residency, she felt a huge connection to French and Southern foods. While mastering the art of slow braising, she was also taken back to the roots of her experience of Black culture in the food she ate.
Bailey remarks leaning more into the roots of the food that felt good to make, that reminded her of her upbringing and the comfort she experienced through her family when preparing the menu for The Grey Market in Atlanta, her first restaurant. That instance of digging deep through her mentor rejecting her first menu was a moment that she references leading to her growth as a chef and person overall.
With Bailey now embarking on her third restaurant journey, and this time in Paris where the love all began, she attributes the success of her menus to prioritizing food that resonates with her deeply. Her first restaurant occupied an old historic, and segregated bus station. So not only was the food prepared from the history of her ancestors, but the actual location had deep roots.
Here in Austin, we encourage our readers to visit The Diner Bar downtown while we anticipate the opening of Bailey’s Paris restaurant. For aspiring chefs, digging deep may look like applying for the Edna Lewis Foundation’s Culinary Scholarship. As Chairperson of the board, Chef Mashama Bailey rewards talented artists with $5,000 for their pursuit of agriculture and farming, culinary arts, and storytelling.Chef Bailey is serving up her Southern goodness at The Diner Bar downtown at 500 San Jacinto Blvd & E 5th St. Happy Hour is Monday – Friday from 4:00 – 6:00 and Dinner is served in the Bar from 4:00 – 10:00 and in the Main Dining Room from 5:00 – 10:00