Grab your passports; we’re searching for soul food this summer! Onyx Collective and Hulu’s new series Searching for Soul Food (airing June 2, 2023) follows rock star celebrity chef Alisa Reynolds as she discovers what soul food looks like worldwide. As she seeks out the food, she’ll also explore the stories, the people, and the traditions of each place she visits, bringing her distinctive flavor. The international journey finds Chef Reynolds exploring the culinary worlds of Mississippi, Oklahoma, Appalachia, South Africa, Italy, Jamaica, Peru, and Los Angeles.
While soul food can be considered globally as culinary delights enslaved Black Americans created out of scarcity and lack of resources, Reynolds is actively dispelling those perceptions and stereotypes and instead framing soul food as not only a love letter and language to our Black culture, ancestors, but for the world, as she found through her international travels that there are many commonalities to our beloved soul food dishes, like her time in Oklahoma, where she met and ate with Native Americans who helped deepen her connection to her Black heritage, through their traditional food. She mentioned that particular episode was her favorite at her Searching for Soul Food tastemaker dinner at the swanky Casita Hollywood in Los Angeles on June 1. “That episode taught me so much about my Black self. The connection between indigenous and Black people of this country blew me away,” she said.
As much as she’s committed to curating delicious recipes globally, Reynolds also feels she has a duty to educate others about our culture’s beauty and food history. “That’s the beautiful thing about being a Black American, we do things, and we touch the world in places, and sometimes we don’t check to see what we did,” she said exclusively to ESSENCE.
Reynolds continued, “Many times, we don’t even know the effect we have on the world and the word soul food and what it means. I was so taken aback by the similarities, commitment to community, and even using something that might have been thrown at you. Soul food was developed out of creativity and ingenuity. To turn something somebody’s scraps into the love you can’t contain. You can’t bottle it up; that’s why it’s called soul food. I want this show to be looked at by us differently.”
She added, “I feel like my life, and this show is a story about perseverance and not stopping. If you believe in something, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything; you have to be willing to go without. My journey is something that I wanted to inspire the world because it’s the journey of my ancestors.”
During the tastemaker dinner, which included influencers like Lionel Boyce from FX’s The Bear, Syd Tha Kyd from musical group “The Internet,” and Yung Taco from Hulu’s Dave, guests had the unique opportunity to experience soul food reimagined globally, with a decedent eight-course meal, reflecting the standout meals she experienced and enjoyed in each location on the show. From South African spiced braised lamb shank to fried quail and watercress, the menu was thoughtfully curated from Reynolds’ point of view.
While she’s grateful to the cultures, people, and food that rounded out her experience abroad, Reynolds is eternally appreciative of the leadership team at Onyx Collective, notably Tara Duncan, President at Onyx Collective, who is also a 2023 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood awardee.
“Well, it’s been five years of belief, perseverance, and good love around me. I want to thank Onyx Collective. They believed in us,” Reynolds stated, reflecting on her arduous journey to land a television show with a reputable network.
Duncan also shares her excitement and gratitude as she believes in the show wholeheartedly. “Searching for Soul Food was one of the first projects pitched to us for Onyx. My 2 Cents [Chef Reynolds restaurant] is a restaurant that I enjoy. Partnering with a filmmaker, chef, and producer whom we knew and loved, was an amazing idea. We wanted to explore something that we were connected to, and it made sense,” she said.
She added, “The show is about how [Black Americans] story is everyone’s story, and we can see that through food. We’re all connected that way, but we rarely see the story told from that lens.”
Jihan Robinson, Vice President of Nonfiction at Onyx Collective, also chimed in. “The show is really about the heart. It’s about the heart and what connects us on every level beyond being Black women. It explores what drives communities and cultures to find their identity in places where they might feel outside of the mainstream or outside of something that feels that it’s outside of their cultural tradition. It’s about the heart connecting people and showing that connectivity exists in every culture, in addition to Black folks,” she stated.
You can follow Chef Reynold’s journey throughout several countries on her quest for soul food, as all series episodes are live on Hulu.