Yesterday we lost the “Queen of Soul Food,” Ms. Sylvia Woods. Sylvia was nothing short of an inspiration to me. She proved that as a black restaurateur you can make foods that are authentic to you, your culture and your experiences and still gain worldwide notoriety. People from all parts of the globe travel to Sylvia’s Harlem restaurant to taste such things as her signature collard greens, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. What’s more impressive is the fact that Sylvia’s fame came well before there was a Food Network and the age of reality cooking shows.
I will always be reminded of Sylvia’s legacy every time I and countless other Americans open up our pantries. Whenever I need to quickly whip up some collard greens, there’s nothing better than opening up a can of Sylvia’s collard greens. This is testament of not only her culinary talents but her ability to extend her brand beyond the four walls of her half-century year old establishment.
While Harlem is said to be undergoing another renaissance, it is Sylvia’s restaurant that has continued to be a constant in the community. You can’t have a conversation about food and Harlem and not mention Sylvia’s. As Rev. Al Sharpton put it, “Sylvia was not just a pillar in the community but her brand resonated across the world and her business acumen helped put Harlem on the map.”
I had the privilege of being able to meet Sylvia briefly about five years ago in Harlem during the 45th anniversary celebration of her restaurant. What I remember most about her is how full of life she was and how welcoming she was to me, a young chef.
It is her shoulders that I and many other young blacks in the culinary industry stand on. I would be fortunate to live to see a career that has half the impact and reach Sylvia’s had. So tonight in honor of Ms. Sylvia I’ll be opening up another can of her collard greens.