Black chefs are often left out of conversations about food history. Despite their methods and recipes being the backbone of the culinary world for some time, their contributions have continuously been overlooked. Thankfully, chef Omar Tate and the network he co-founded, the Honeysuckle Projects, are on a mission to change this.
Tate’s career began in the kitchen — namely his family kitchen. He and his brother were often responsible for cooking for his family because his mom worked long hours and multiple jobs. “As much as I appreciate my now 18-year career I would not be here had I not experienced being the co-charge of making sure my family was fed alongside my younger brother Cassim who was more the cook than I was when we were teenagers,” he says.
The chef, who was mentioned in the prestigious 2021 Time100 Next List, worked as a dishwasher and porter in the trenches of some of Philadelphia’s biggest hotels. He then used his charm, skills, and a few fibs to work his way into the city’s fine dining scene.
In 2017, Tate embarked on a journey that ultimately led to the creation of a pop-up dinner series called Honeysuckle, which was named pop-up of the year by Esquire in 2020. One of his primary objectives for creating this venture was to encapsulate Black culture within the culinary experience he provided.
“When Honeysuckle began as a pop up, I did not see anyone approaching Black culture in the way that I felt that I could,” he says. “I wanted Blackness to be the canvas and for that canvas to be a part of the larger organism of exchange that food ultimately becomes. This would need to exude from the plates, to the language in the menu, to the decor, and to the personality that exists within the techniques and the ingredients. I wanted a world where your mama’s kitchen wasn’t exceptional, it was the default.”
Eventually, Omar and his wife, fellow chef Cybille St. Aude-Tate, decided to move from NYC back to their native Philly, and Honeysuckle relocated with them. During this period, it evolved into Honeysuckle Projects, which now includes a working farm and an Afrocentric grocery and cafe called Honeysuckle Provisions. The space, in line with his reverence of Black history in food, pays homage to the legacy of George Washington Carver and his research of the sweet potato. The tuber is utilized at the spot in the making of everything from flour and sweeteners to vinegars, aminos and breads.
Outside of the community focused Honeysuckle Provisions, over the past three years, Tate has emerged as a visionary and a leading thinker when it comes to the restaurant industry’s cultural development as a whole. He specifically focuses on race and ethnicity to tear down structural barriers through food.
“Blackness is the center of the universe in my work. I make food in ways that relate specifically to Black experiences and Black foodways and do so with respect to the agricultural traditions of Black people. I believe that food as art, as with any art, is a form of messaging and storytelling. I intend for folks to ingest love and knowledge in every bite.”
Keeping with his mission to support underrepresented voices in the culinary community, Tate was recently approached by premium gin brand BOMBAY to bring his expertise to their Cultivating Community: Dinner Series, which shines a much-needed spotlight on the Black farming community.
“When the Bombay Sapphire team and I decided to partner it was important to all of us to truly represent me as a chef and as a personality,” he says. “One of the core parts of who I am as a person and who my wife Cybille and I are as a business is the assertion and nurturing of Black culture in all that we touch. Our relationship to the land and our intentional focus on the Black farmers in our community is paramount in our store in Philadelphia and we felt that it was equally important in this relationship if not more so.”
Held in partnership with the spirits brand, the Cultivating Community: Dinner Series celebrates the work of Black farmers in the U.S. with dinners in NYC, Atlanta, and Charleston, spotlighting fresh, homegrown ingredients culled from nearby Black-owned farms. Each course is dedicated to honoring an ingredient from each farm, with the farmers attending as honored guests. The flavors of each dish will also showcase fresh berries, and be complemented with a signature BOMBAY cocktail, the Bramble Berry Sour, which utilizes their latest blackberry and raspberry gin.
The kick-off to the series started on Wednesday, June 29 at Oko Farms in Brooklyn. All Cultivating Community: Dinner Series events, including upcoming ones in Atlanta and Charleston, will benefit the Black Farmer Fund with a $25K donation, which is designed to spotlight Black farmers, their produce, and integral contribution through seasonally inspired tasting menus, as well as the disparities that they face at large.
“I was thrilled that we could partner and utilize this platform to continue to honor Black farmers and their incredible contribution to American food culture and their stories, which need to be told,” Tate says.