When Kool-Aid Is the Start of a Culinary Education

I wanted to celebrate the food of my childhood — regardless of what that food may be

Omar Tate


Photo: Meet Resident

I am a fan of the television show “Chef’s Table,” even if every episode invariably follows the same arc: There is a staid opening scene that leans toward establishing the legitimacy of the chef. Next, it dives into that chef’s background. The storyline tends to highlight the guidance or mentorship of an elder or parental figure, and it includes experiences centered around intimate moments of joy in food — in fields, gardens, or in the kitchen with family. The camera shots are beautiful. Affirming interviews with contemporaries and peers are carefully placed. And the narrative tends to position that chef as an innovator.

These introductions are magnificent in every way except one: They have never made me feel like my story could ever be told there. I see myself in the very same space as a Grant Achatz, or Massimo Bottura, or Magnus Nilsson: These men are innovators who have used their personal experiences to create food that not only tells their story but also has moved food and dining culture.

I was born a Black boy in Philadelphia in 1986 in the middle of a crack epidemic in the ghetto where I grew up. My mother raised four boys on her own while maintaining work and…