This week for #BlackFoodFridays, I want to introduce you to Chef Rodney Gray. Cooking in the kitchen has always been a part of Rodney’s life, and the time spent with family while growing up inspired him to further pursue this passion and turn it into a career. After honing his skills in the kitchen, most recently at Bacco in Mt. Pleasant, Rodney is now expanding into private chef services. I talked more with Rodney about just that and how his culture continues to be a source of inspiration as he expands his career into preparing delicious dinners for people at home.
What inspired your love for food and cooking for others?
I really like interacting with people, and some of the best experiences I've ever had with others always comes down to the food. Serving food to people, interacting with them, seeing them smile - the gift of nourishing people and the experience of it all is something I enjoy and have always wanted to do.
Growing up my whole family cooked, and I learned from watching them in the
kitchen- mainly my Grandma. Cooking and eating together has always been a big part of our family, and there's not many things that bring people together better than food. I’ve held on to those lessons and feelings of joy from the kitchen and still do, but end up going a little further beyond what everyone else did when I cook now.
As a private chef, you focus on cuisine that represents your culture as an African-American. Why do you feel it is important to continue to honor those traditions in your food?
Our food is under-represented at times, and a lot of our cuisines are interconnected: there's an intersectionality within it all - for example Red Rice in Charleston and Jollof Rice in Africa. These both have similar origins, especially with the tomato being native to America and nowhere else, and interconnected via the slave trade. For me, the ability to be able to turn that negative aspect of our history into a teachable moment by preparing those traditional dishes for others is something I take pride in.
I consider myself a food creator and cultivator more than a chef, but am a conversationalist and people person first and foremost. Whenever I prepare a meal, I always aim to please while still leaving my mark on the dish. And when its over, I hope that I've introduced the people I cooked for to new things - and that they’ve learned something new from the experience.
This is a meshing of different cultures all on one plate – centered around Afro-centric cuisine:
Jollof Rice: “This is more of a Nigerian based version that I learned to cook from the Nigerian members of my family. My favorite thing about the Jollof Rice is that it's really similar to Charleston Red Rice, one of the staples in Gullah Geechee culture.”
Jerk Chicken: “I have Jamaican in my family and their chicken is a labor of love. Most of the time chicken is considered a quick dish, but with jerk chicken you marinate it for two days and slow smoke it over three hours. For this marinade I incorporated Red Clay Hot Hot Honey to add a little sweetness and heat.”
Cabbage: “Cabbage is one of those dishes that is soulful, but easy to grow and cultivate. In South Carolina, it’s a dish that’s a go-to just about every Sunday, but of course I do it a little differently. These are braised with a little olive oil, bacon, chicken broth, curry powder for a little extra spice, and some shredded onions - nothing too complicated. Just good old cabbage- always by your side.”
Plantains: “Plantains are cousins to the banana - basically I call them bananas that went to college and specifically an HBCU. They have a little more flavor, a little more spice to them, and are really versatile. I did more of a kind of Caribbean style here: sauteed with brown sugar and a bit of Red Clay Hot Hot Honey.”
To learn more about private chef services from Chef Rodney Grey, contact him via Social Media on Instagram and Facebook @RodneyGrayCooks, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Jai Jones (Jai Eats)