Just in time for Mother’s Day, Melba Wilson, owner of the Harlem hot spot Melba’s, dishes on family and brunch. Try our menu from her new cookbook, Melba’s American Comfort: 100 Recipes From My Heart to Your Kitchen.
1. Collard Greens Omelet
2. Oven-Fried Chicken
3. Sweet Potato Waffles
4. Cucumber Splash
Melba’s Brunch Tips: Here the chef offers some hosting how-tos
1. Try Something New
Collard greens in an omelet–We love it!
“You may want to have some traditional items,” she says, “but don’t just do the things you do every year.”
2. Turn Off Your Phones
“The world is not going to end. It’s not going to stop. Everything will be okay for an hour or two.”
3. Do a Potluck
“I love when other people get to show off. Cooking is about bragging rights.”
4. Keep it Cute
“People eat with their eyes first. Make your table look special with some nice garnish, and make sure your food is aesthetically pleasing.”
“Everything in my family was done over food,” says Melba Wilson. The New York–based chef and restaurateur learned to cook from her grandmother and mother. “Comfort food especially evokes wonderful memories: my grandmother with her apron on, in her house dress, at the stove telling me old stories that we’d heard a million times before but still excited us,” she says, reminiscing about her summers while growing up in Hemingway, South Carolina. After building her career at Sylvia’s Restaurant and Rosa Mexicano, Melba launched her own establishment to share her favorite soulful recipes with the world.
Food and Fellowship
This Mother’s Day, gather your sister circle and host a brunch. We’ve got your menu covered with a few fabulous selections from Melba’s new cookbook (see above). “I like the fact that I don’t have to get up as early and that I can still have grits if I want to,” she says with a laugh. “It’s good to mill around the house and then meet my friends or family.” But there’s more to creating a space for loved ones to connect than the timing of the meal. “There’s nothing better than food and conversation,” notes Melba, who has a strict no-phones policy at the table. “A great home-cooked meal is like a handwritten letter: You can always relate back to it and think of things you may have missed the first time.”
One of the chef’s favorite childhood memories is surprising her mom with a figurine for Mother’s Day. Melba had wrapped it in a napkin and presented it with a homemade card. “Her eyes lit up. I don’t think there is any greater joy than warming the heart of the person who birthed you,” she says. Now she is the recipient of love and even good food. “My greatest Mother’s Day joy was when my son cooked and served me breakfast in bed one year. He was 8,” she recalls. “Sometimes the best gifts are not the ones we buy but the ones we make.”
This story originally appeared in the May issue of ESSENCE.