This week, our guest food editor, Sandy Ho, put something special together to highlight six Los Angeles-based chefs. We are so honored to share the work of these incredible creators and hope you will join us in support of their initiatives. Here, Sandy chats with Danielle Elizabeth Stevens, Founder and Head Chef of Danielle's Soul Kitchen, on how she got her start, what makes her move, and how she has been affected by this incredible and unprecedented moment in time.
SH: How has Covid 19 and the current Black Lives Matter movement affected you and your business?
DS: I have been a social justice educator and health & wellness consultant for over a decade, but in my most recent capacity, I am the founder and Head Chef at Danielle's Soul Kitchen, which is a brand new Ladera Heights-based eatery committed to culinary excellence and food justice. We started off being open to the public, however, as a team that is deeply committed to social justice and healing, and in the midst of seeing so much Black death and pain, we responded to what the moment called for and a few weeks ago launched #WeStillGottaEat as our way of protesting. #WeStillGottaEat provides healing and comfort to Black folks in our local community by preparing and providing high quality, farm-fresh, deeply lovingly made, mostly organic meals & food items to Black residents in LA (including families, individuals, & children.
We launched due in large part to our commitment to Black people's healing in the midst of being targeted by both racial injustice and a government system that has failed to protect our community from the COVID pandemic. We are humbled and prepared to rise to the occasion of expanding food access within Black communities in LA as it has been an often overlooked, deeply underfunded, but profoundly significant issue that needs to be addressed. Launching during COVID exacerbates the ever-present need for wholesome meals, as it is even more difficult for folks to access and afford fresh food and groceries; AND people are overwhelmed by, exhausted with, or unable to prepare meals for themselves and their families.
SH: Describe a pivotal moment in your career that has led you to where you are now.
DS: My work is deeply informed by resisting against Black peoples' subjugation. There has not been a moment in my life where it hasn't been clear that Black people are under attack via structural oppression. It is present in the culinary world, the food industry, everywhere. Anti-Black racism is wildly pervasive.
I learned at a very young age the importance in bringing healing to Black people. Whether it be through the way a home-cooked meal from my mother and grandmother comforted me after a high school teacher undermined my work and accused me of plagiarism because she could not fathom the brilliance of a young Black girl; or watching in awe as my grandmother cooked 'Picnic' for the 100th time, a deeply flavorful dish that we all race for during the holidays, that has a rich history as my grandmother recalls learning from her mother how to magically prepare this variation of pork shoulder -- the occasional edible food she was given to eat at the discretion of white landowners as a young girl who was stripped completely of food sovereignty and forced into sharecropping in North Carolina in the 1940s.
My work is unapologetically centered around the freedom, liberation, and healing of Black people. I believe that trauma, oppression, and freedom are inherited, intergenerational, epigenetic. Before I was even born I received information and energy from my mother and my grandmother about the world that we live in. It is in our legacy, it is in our blood, it is in our family, in our ancestors' commitment to freedom.
I still carry the weight of my grandmother's trauma; of my mother's pain, of my great grandmother's forced silence, of my ancestors/ history. And I ALSO carry the resilience, the unapologetic commitment to our joy, our freedom. The courage to stand for what's right. And most importantly to the commitment to deep care and abundant love, which I think are the most radical and revolutionary articulations of activism & resistance.
SH: What empowers you to wake up in the morning and what keeps you up at night?
DS: I am empowered by the energy of my ancestors and those that continue to dare to live our lives out loud. I am kept up at night aligning myself to my purpose. In a world that is working vehemently to render Black people extinct, it is a deeply spiritual practice to be self-possessed and self-determined as a Black woman and to continue to do the work that I do.
SH: Tell us about one dish that changed your opinion on food/people/love/ingredients.
DS: I can't think of any one single dish but I will just say that gathering people around food and having the honor of caretaking, sharing, and bringing healing through food to my community, no matter what cuisine or dish it is, really is a beautiful and universal medium to express my deep love to & devotion for Black people.
SH: Where do you see yourself in the future of food for the world?
DS: To me, food is deeply revolutionary. I was recently on the cover of the LA Times Food Section and the heading was 'Feeding the Revolution'. I believe this clearly articulates the work that I do. I see my work as a chef, culinary artist, and artist of many other modalities as being in service of Black liberation & social justice.
SH: How can we stay up to date with what you're doing?
DS: Ig: @danielleelizabethstevens
Link for more info: https://linktr.ee/WeStillGottaEat