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‘Gumbo is just as important as cioppino’: La Cocina celebrates Black chefs

Boug Cali serves Creole staples and California favorites, including po’boys, gumbo, red beans and rice, potato salad and tacos. | Courtesy La Cocina

It’s the final week of Black History Month and chef Tiffany Carter is hard at work preparing a Dungeness crab gumbo. The Bayview native owns a West Coast soul food kitchen called Boug Cali at La Cocina’s municipal marketplace in the Tenderloin. She’s also a member of the nonprofit’s culinary incubator program, and on Feb. 28, she plans to share her gumbo with a room full of friends and strangers as part of The Gathering—a family-style feast at the marketplace to celebrate chefs and recipes of the African Diaspora. 

“It’ll be like pulling up to your grandmother’s house and everyone sitting down for a good meal,” Carter said.  

Along with the communal feast, The Gathering will present exhibits and performances by Black chefs, activists and artists. 

Naomi Maisel, La Cocina’s community programs and policy manager, told The Standard she hopes the event will highlight the chefs of color who work in the group’s kitchen, as well as honor the communities that they serve. 

“Our marketplace is based in the Tenderloin, where there’s such a rich history of Black chefs, and there hasn’t been enough emphasis on them,” she said. 

Carter characterizes her restaurant as a “soul bodega with Creole influences.” Po’boys and tacos live in easy harmony on her menu. A classically trained chef who grew up with recipes from her family’s ancestral home in the Deep South, Carter points out that most African Americans living in the Bay Area today have roots in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama or Mississippi as a consequence of the Great Migration of Black Southerners from the 1910s to roughly 1970. She told The Standard that Boug Cali is a byproduct of her Bay Area upbringing and Creole roots, a complex culinary tradition that she said she’s excited to represent at The Gathering.

“The event is meant to honor our history and also our future,” Carter said. “A lot of the time we’re left out of the conversation here. Gumbo is just as important as cioppino.” 

Chef Tiffany Keeling, owner of Mexican soul food pop-up P-Town Birrias in Pacifica, told The Standard that for her, The Gathering is a crucial meetup of San Francisco’s best upcoming Black chefs. She plans to serve smothered pork chops, creamed spinach and vegan fried chicken.

Along with Carter’s and Keeling’s cooking, The Gathering will include dishes from chefs Nafy Flatley of African super food eatery Teranga, Shani Jones of Ferry Building newcomer Peaches Patties, Charles Farrier of Crumble & Whisk bakery in Oakland, Binta Ayofemi of Soul and Collardz + Yard, Aaron Stewart of MexiQ, Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, Tina Stevens of A Girl Named Pinky bakeshop and Gayle Hart, who owns a mobile soft-serve ice cream and daiquiri shop called The Geez Freeze. 

Chef Nafy Flatley, owner of Teranga, poses with one of her dishes at La Cocina's municipal marketplace on July 10, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Maisel said that several partner organizations have helped make the event happen alongside La Cocina—Code Tenderloin, the New Community Leadership Foundation, Skywatchers, In the Black and Carter’s preservation nonprofit, SF Black Wallstreet.

While The Gathering is, in part, meant to close out Black History Month, Maisel said that she and the participating chefs have already discussed the need to add more Black food events to La Cocina’s calendar beyond the month of February. “It should be a priority all 12 months throughout the year,” she said. 

Carter added that she hopes The Gathering will bring attention to Black chefs working in San Francisco.

“Any opportunity to put my people and our stories on the map is a priority for me,” Carter said. “The story tells itself.”  

The Gathering

🗓️ Feb. 28 | 4:30-8 p.m.
📍 101 Hyde St., SF