Harlem, New York
When it comes to soul food, one name has come to encompass the rich and flavorful taste of this celebrated cuisine: Sylvia Woods. Recognized internationally as the “Queen of Soul Food,” Woods began making her mark in 1962 when she opened Sylvia’s Restaurant in the historic neighborhood of Harlem. Since then, the restaurant has evolved into a family-owned enterprise which consists of Sylvia’s Also Lounge; a full-service catering hall, Sylvia’s Catering Corp.; a nationwide line of Sylvia’s Food Products; two cookbooks; and ATOC Inc., a real estate firm.
Next year, the restaurant will celebrate 50 years in Harlem, a rare and impressive achievement that inspired Rolling Out to head into the kitchen and discover some of the magic behind this establishment. To do so, we spoke with Woods’ daughter, Bedelia Woods, who carries on the legacy of the restaurant as the owner and chef. Woods shared with us how traveling influences her menu items, which foods to avoid abroad and even revealed the secret ingredient that makes Sylvia’s Restaurant so popular.
When you’re designing a complete meal, what factors do you take into account? How do you achieve harmony and balance?
I always consider my guests and event type, especially with catering. I want to make certain that I completely understand their needs and that I strive to exceed their expectations. It’s about the perfect blend of tradition, while adding an element of surprise through preparation and ingredients.
The look of a plate is as important as the taste. How do you build a plate that looks like a work of art?
Colors first and perfect placement of the items. Each item should complement the other but have enough space on the plate to stand out on its own.
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