SUSTENANCE. Food is an incredibly significant part of Black communities. Heritage, traditions, and memories are preserved through dishes and recipes passed on through history within communities and families. Food brings people together.
As part of the OBSIDIAN experience, Amber Mayfield, the founder, and editor-in-chief of the Black-owned food and home magazine While Entertaining, will chat with chefs and food professionals from across the country to explore the role of food in their homes. This week, Amber chats with chefs and co-founders of Food Plus People. Food Plus People offers a line of hot sauces, flour mixes, and spice rubs crafted so people can simply cook. This week, we chat with Sicily and Mavis-Jay about how they bring their family together through food, cooking, and conversation.
Q. What does family dinner look like at your home?
A. Dramatic! With two professional chefs in the house, how could it not be? Most of our meals have a motive behind it whether it’s fulfilling a need to create, recipe testing/development, or comfort food for one of our girls after having a rough day in class. Our crew also has a wide range of allergies to consider so most ingredients are sourced in their natural states or from trusted small producers with good practices. Coming up with options that aren't super repetitive but also good for palettes of all ages keeps us in an innovative state of mind.
Q. How do you get your children involved in dinner preparation?
A. With their allergies, we have to. It’s imperative that they know how to cook for themselves, read labels, and ask questions. There’s a slim chance that they’ll grow out of their allergies so these are skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives. Madison has mastered the art of a good potato while Marlee is the queen of gluten free pancakes and specialty simple syrup. They’re also great at setting the table and crafting creative beverage options.
Q. What family traditions or practices do you maintain at the dinner table?
A. Grace and gratitude. Every ingredient in a dish has a story and has been nurtured from seed in soil to pan and plate. We always want to acknowledge that and thank God for these blessings, being grateful for all the hands that played a part in making sure we’re fed. Also, no phones at the table is a big one. With everything being virtual now, it's important to find ways to practice being present in a moment, focusing on what is tangible in front of you. We also don't push limitations on how our children dine. We don’t force them to order off a kids menu when we’re out. If we’re buying crab for a boil, we buy crab for everyone who’s dining.
Q. What does the dinner table represent in your home?
A. It’s our heart. It’s where we gather to connect and enjoy each other unencumbered by what's happening beyond our 4 walls . Luckily we have enough space in our New York City apartment to have our dining table in a separate area than our kitchen, so we can all sit and serve each other. We purposely got a table that seats 2-3 extra people so there’s always space for our friends and family to join us.
Q. How are you encouraging conversation and tackling tough topics at your dinner table?
A. We are intentional about fostering a safe space that encourages our children to be open and honestly curious. 2020, was a lot to comprehend for most adults, let alone young people. We want them to ask questions and guide them through how they’re coping with such strange circumstances. We’ve both spent our entire culinary careers focusing on food through a lense of advocacy for the Black community. At our dinner table we have conversations around sourcing quality ingredients as well as access and its boundaries. There’s discussion throughout concerning Black food sovereignty and creatively imagine a path to such a destination.
Q. Do you have any Sunday dinner traditions? What are they?
A. We grew up in the church and in families that kept the traditions of Sunday dinners being a time when everyone in the family gathered together to wrap up the week in fellowship. Being so far away from home [Sicily is a California native and Mavis-Jay hails from Georgia], we use Sunday dinners and the desire to be in community as a motivator to support our extended food family and patron independently owned establishments. It also eliminates any stress going into the new week of staying up trying to clean the kitchen on top of getting our daughters ready for the incoming week of school, our professional lives, and going to bed at a decent hour.