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Chef Keisha Grigg’s Food Fete spread, which consists of roasted duck ravioli, curry crab dumplings in a coconut broth, a colorful kale salad with beets and pomegranate, and a Trinidadian seafood soup with mussels.
Black Chef Table gives people the opportunity to try a multi-course meal powered by the personality of that evening’s chef. 
Di Tubbs Photography

Houston’s Kulture Is More Than a Restaurant. It’s an Incubator and Performance Space for Black Chefs.

With a special chefs’ table series, local restaurateur Marcus Davis and chef Keisha Griggs are providing a spotlight for Black chefs around the country

On a hot night in June, Kulture, a restaurant-turned-community gathering venue, came to life at the corner where Capitol Street meets Avenida De Las Americas in Downtown Houston.

A live band with a steel drummer, keyboardist, and guitar player provided the soundtrack as a group of stilt dancers performed in front of the waiting crowd. Those who peered inside the restaurant could see chef Keisha Griggs walking briskly through the space, checking table settings and conversing with staff before welcoming diners to an event known as Black Chef Table.

On most days, this location is quiet; the building dim with only large letters spelling out “Kulture” visible. But the brainchild of Houston native and restaurateur Marcus Davis is far from closed. Since November 2021, the Kulture building has been used as an events space — home to Black Chef Table, a vibrant dinner series that showcases some of the region’s most talented Black chefs, though that wasn’t always the plan.

The bar at Kulture with blush seating, TVs, and its name “Kulture.”
Kulture has evolved from a restaurant to a comfort kitchen and event space for Black chefs around the globe.
Kulture

Kulture began in 2018, with Davis, the owner of other successful restaurants like the iconic Midtown brunch spot The Breakfast Klub and Reggae Hut, leading the charge and Top Chef alumna and finalist Dawn Burrell serving as the executive chef. The restaurant was innovative and received rave reviews for serving up a beautiful fusion of Caribbean-Southern cuisine in a casual but elevated atmosphere. But in 2020, things changed. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard, and like many restaurants, Kulture was forced to temporarily close its doors.

For months, Houstonians wondered about the state of Kulture. Would it ever reopen, and when? Reopening seemed probable. Davis witnessed many Houstonians supporting the local restaurant scene by ordering takeout from preset menus, but Griggs felt something was lacking. Organizations she was a part of were fundraising for businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but those benefiting were largely white, she recalls. “I would look around and see the support and the net that they have created for their community, [but] as a Black chef and restaurateur, I kept asking myself, ‘Where is the net for our community?’”

After voicing her concerns to Davis about the lack of support for Black restaurant businesses during the pandemic, together they devised a plan — a way to regroup and stay afloat while supporting Black chefs. Enter: Black Chef Table.

“It’s time to put our money where our mouth is,” she recalls Davis telling her. He wanted to create a platform for chefs to showcase their talents, but Griggs was thinking bigger.

Today, Kulture’s restaurant space largely operates as a performance space for Black chefs from across the country to truly express themselves while showcasing their talents and individual cooking styles and addressing head-on the underrepresentation within the restaurant industry. Each month, hand-picked chefs create multicourse dinners on set nights, for which patrons can purchase advance tickets.

Past menus have explored a plethora of cuisines within the African diaspora, ranging from ChopnBlok chef Ope Amosu and James Beard Award winner Kwame Onwuachi’s collaborative take on West African cuisine to Uchi Houston chef Jeff Taylor’s spin on the Puerto Rican staples from his youth and Griggs’s ode to her Caribbean upbringing. More events are on the horizon.

In October, Kavachi Ukegbu will host her sold-out Belle Fulle, an Art of FuFu dining experience that spotlights Nigerian cuisine, while chef Lamar Moore will host a Chicago culinary feast. In November, Justin Lawson will host a Winter gala and chef Toya Terry will showcase a combination of American Southern food and Criollo-Peruvian Cuisine. “[Black] food is global and the platform for all food, so to be at the forefront of all of this is just exciting,” Griggs says.

Houstonians gather at Kulture for the Black Chef Table series.
Kulture’s Black Chef Table series draws in diners with multi-course dinners prepared by featured chefs.
Di Tubbs Photography

And while some participants’ Black Chef Table takeovers center solely on food, others have complemented their culinary prowess with festive activities, like vibrant performances by live bands and stilt performers. No matter the night, though, guests are guaranteed to walk away knowing more of each chef’s personality and story, and that’s by design, according to Griggs and Davis.

The founders have also been intent on not only building up chefs in whom they see a spark but also allowing guests to experience a multicourse meal. Beyond that, chefs can be invited back for other chef events or offered a three-to-six-month chef residency where they manage the day-to-day operations of the restaurant and showcase their skills. Chef Shawn Osbey — one of the first chefs to be showcased in the Black Chef Table series, for example — also serves as the first chef resident. His training includes helping prepare the day-to-day operations and opening procedures for Kulture, which is slated to fully open by the end of the year.

Griggs and Davis say they are also intentional about ensuring that their platform highlights other Black purveyors and businesses within the industry who might otherwise go unnoticed or uncredited.

“Chef Keisha and I would sit down for meetings in the beginning, and she would come with pages and pages of notes,” Davis says with a laugh. “It wasn’t just about cooking for her. It was about the purveyors. What about the farmers? The butchers? The bakers? The hot sauce makers? [It wasn’t] just about the chef. [It was] a movement to address the underrepresentation that exists in this industry.”

Kulture’s Black Chef Table sources food from local Black producers, including farms and food purveyors like Ivy Leaf Farms, Plant It Forward Farms, and Fresh Life Organic. Griggs, for example, most recently partnered with Ivy Leaf Farms for her Summer Nights in the Garden event, where she hosted her intimate farm-to-table dinner with food provided by the local Houston farm. Griggs says this intentional collaboration is vital because “Black people are so ingrained with the origination of flavor in this country.”

“Black food is not a monolith because we are all from different places and have our own experiences with food,” Griggs. “Black Chef Table is allowing more people to share their stories on a plate.”

Chef Keisha Griggs speaks on a microphone at a Black Chef Table event.
Chef Keisha Griggs became the mastermind behind Black Chef Table after seeing the need for additional support for Black chefs during the pandemic.
Di Tubbs Photography

The history of Black people across the diaspora can be traced back to its roots by examining the foods eaten across communities and how they influence the cuisine in other cultures, she adds. Often, though, the work of the people who helped build these cuisines is erased, resulting in appropriation; many Asian, Latin, and Indigenous groups are fighting back against the renaming and misrepresentation of cultural staples in their cuisines. Writers and culinary experts like Michael Twitty have taken great efforts to showcase the often erased cooking influences of Black and Native people in American barbecue, and Griggs, too, wants to make sure that Black culinary history and culture — where ingredients like okra, sugar cane, goat, and sweet potato are mainstays — are both preserved and championed.

“As Black people in this nation, our forefathers made their living being butlers, porters, waiters, and more. We were in the kitchen before it became sexy. We made this country a tremendous amount of wealth because of our relationship with the soil and the food that came from it,” Davis says. Still, Black people have been underrepresented in the food and dining industry, with far more visibility as consumers than as the professionals creating and producing culinary creations, he says.

“And we are way too talented to just be consumers,” Davis notes.

For Osbey, the opportunities and exposure that the series has presented thus far have been invaluable.

“Having a platform to showcase your skill, nurture your recipes, meet face-to-face with the community, and do it all in a space like this is really incredible,” says Osbey, whose dishes like crispy pork belly with sweet tomato ham glaze, and watermelon and cucumber salad have enthralled guests in his role as a traveling chef. “For me, this is a live art exhibit. You have different chefs cook amazing food, and then they come out and explain each dish, what they thought about the ingredients, how they felt, how they want you to feel,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

Keep an eye on the Black Chef Table’s website and Instagram for event dates.

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