The PBS Emmy award-winning documentary series The Migrant Kitchen took its viewers to Houston for the first time Tuesday, February 15 — exploring the city’s soul food scene, African American foodways, and the importance of promoting Black businesses through the eyes of Chris Williams, of Lucille’s, and Jonny Rhodes of Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries.
The featured chefs and guests gathered at the Power Center in Houston on the night of the premiere to screen the 27-minute episode, a poetic and educational look at the city’s top Black entrepreneurs and how they’re telling stories and building legacies through food.
Williams, for example, cooks up classics, including homemade biscuits, as he tells the story of his great grandmother — the first African American businesswoman in Texas — and how he’s living in her legacy with his restaurant and her namesake, Lucille’s.
“What we’re doing and what Lucille did is showcasing Black success in so many different lights,” Williams said in the documentary. “For African Americans, there is no generational wealth. When we come into this world, we come into this world with nothing. The gift that the family’s been able to give us ... is the sense of entrepreneurialism and purpose. That’s the importance of highlighting these different looks of entrepreneurialism.”
Rhodes, who closed his restaurant Indigo to focus on his grocery store, is spotlighted, too — cooking with preserves and ingredients grown from his farm. Fire, he says, is his way of representing his Black ancestors, including the enslaved, and people still living in Houston without access to electricity and gas.
The chef, who emphasized the importance of owning land and growing food, also seeks to make “soul food” more accessible and inclusive — noting that the cuisine stemming from the Civil Rights movement can, at times, be polarizing for Black people, especially Black Muslims, who might not identify with the movement and don’t eat pork. Thus, paramount in Rhodes’ work is using the highest-quality, homegrown ingredients and pork substitutes, like his “vegetable ham,” a cured and hung smoked pickled turnip.
Most fascinating is Rhodes’ dessert, the “Banana Republic.” The avocado parfait, cradled in a dark chocolate shell that resembles the skin of the fruit and a “pit” filled with preserves, is a commentary on both America’s ironic love and consumption of avocados but also its disregard for the many workers from countries like Mexico who supply them. In the documentary, Rhodes draws parallels between “banana republics” and communities in the United States that are valued more for their skills or talent in farming, sports, or entertainment than they are as people.
With an emphasis on the need for more accessibility and representation within the community, the chefs featured in The Migrant Kitchen episode also connected with other Black-owned vendors that help keep their businesses running. Williams went fishing with commercial fisherman Fred McBride — one of the few, if not, the only Black commercial fisherman to supply fresh catches in Houston — while Rhodes visited with Lloyd Prince at Prince Farms, a Black-owned, grass-fed Angus beef cattle company used to supply his meat.
“I think it’s really important that we work with other Black producers and purveyors to create more Black producers and purveyors because if people see [them] making money off of agriculture, it will give them an incentive to make money off of agriculture as well, which creates longevity and sovereignty for our communities,” Rhodes said.
The show’s creator, Antonio Diaz, said the stories featured were essential to include because they were unique to Houston and provided possible ways to fix the country’s systemic issues. “We try to show solutions through journalism, and the pioneers who do something about it. If we can do it through food, we can do it through anything,” Diaz said after the screening.
The show, which streams online and airs on PBS, has expanded outside of California this season, said Diaz — diving into food scenes in its home base of Los Angeles; Brooklyn, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Puerto Rico.
Stream the episode on YouTube or by clicking the video below.
- The Migrant Kitchen [KCET]
- The Migrant Kitchen S4 E4: Houston [Life and Thyme]
- Chef Jonny Rhodes Will Open a New Market in the Fifth Ward
- How Chef Chris Williams Served 200,000 Meals — and Counting — to Houstonians in Need During the Pandemic
- Houston Recipes: Chris Williams’ Shrimp & Grits From Lucille’s [Houston Chronicle]