Maiysha sits down with award winning chef Keith Corbin about his new memoir “California Soul” documenting his life growing up in the streets of Watts, to going to prison and then changing his life after prison to become one of the top chefs in the world. Chef Corbin tells Maiysha all the ups and downs he endured on his way to becoming a top chef.
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Maiysha Kai [00:00:09] Hello Grio Fam. We are back with another episode of Writing Black. I’m really thrilled with this week’s guest. It’s a little different than what we typically do because this is the first time author. This is somebody very special who has a very special story to tell and a pretty delicious one as well. Today we have Chef Keith Corbin, who is here to talk about his memoir, California Soul: An American Epic of Cooking and Survival. Hi, Chef Keith, how are you?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:00:43] Hello. I’m pretty good. Pretty good. So when you said.
Maiysha Kai [00:00:48] Joining us from.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:00:49] So when you said not usually, so who do you usually have on?
Maiysha Kai [00:00:54] You know, Writing Black we started this podcast to kind of talk to writers from all walks of life. So, you know, playwrights and authors and, you know, poets. And you are the first chef we’ve had on the podcast, which is exciting for me. I love food. I like to consider myself a bit of a foodie. But you are the first chef we’ve had. We have had other people on who talked about their memoirs. But you are our first chef. And California Soul is such a special book. You know, I. You have an endorsement here from none other than Ibram X. Kendi, just to tell our listeners how special this book is. And I want to just, like, jump right in here. So, you know, you are a James Beard Award nominated chef. You are co-owner of an acclaimed restaurant and executive chef at that restaurant. And this is an area in which we don’t we still are not seeing enough Black talent, even though we know that, you know, our flavors and our talents are the backbone of American food culture. And this memoir is really about. I guess how unlikely it was that you would have gotten there, or maybe very likely. But you said you didn’t. I’ve heard you say in a couple of interviews that you didn’t want this to be like a typical redemption story. What do you think people typically get wrong in telling these kind of stories?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:02:24] They never tell the whole story. Right. Like I was saying, a lot of interviews were just like from prison to executive chef, from project to restaurant. It’s like there’s so much more in between that that’s left out that I wanted to make sure that I shared. You know, I wanted to own my story.
Excerpt from “California Soul” [00:02:52] When some people say they grew up in a drug gang, they mean it metaphorically. That’s not what I mean. My mom spent been part of her pregnancy with me in jail, on a drug charge. When I was a baby, my uncle used to carry me around and sell drugs out of my diaper. When I was a little kid, I lived in a drug house with my mother in a Jordan Downs projects in Watts, until it was raided by the police. So when I say I grew up in a drug gang, this *** ain’t an allegory, I mean it literally.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:03:23] It feels like it’s always this magic door that you go from this one circumstance to boom, you get a job or you get an opportunity or some level of success, and everything in your past just stays on the other side of that door. And it’s been my experience that that’s not true. So I wanted to make sure that I informed people, on one, who I am, where I come from, and that it wasn’t that easy. I didn’t just come home from prison and got a job and here we go. No, I’ve battled a lot to get here. You have some people that.
Maiysha Kai [00:04:05] Absolutely.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:04:05] You have folks that that we in the restaurant industry or the culinary industry for 20, 30 years before they get to where I’m able to sit right now. And some may say, well, did he earn it? And I’m like, Hell, yeah. Excuse me. Yes. I went through a lot in life to get here. You know, to where I’m at. It may or may not be 20 years in the kitchen. It was 20 years of struggle either way, though.
Maiysha Kai [00:04:32] Yeah. You know, even the way you open this book, it’s so it’s so interesting to me, you know, basically saying that the first thing you learn to cook was crack. And really, one of the fascinating things for me about California soul is you are giving us as much of a history lesson about what’s about redlining, about some of these huge kind of, you know, headline making events, you know, talking about Rodney King, talking about the Watts riots that those of us who are not from that part of the country may not get the nuances of the nuances of gang culture. I thought was really fascinating. I mean, I’m from the south side of Chicago. I’m sitting there now. So, you know, while that’s not a part of my personal back story, I have grown up in an environment and around that in my periphery. And I felt like I was getting a new lens into how that dynamic works.
Excerpt from “California Soul” [00:05:30] Growing up in that house I had no set rules. No scheduled nap times or square meals. No one to wipe my ass or to tell me to brush my teeth. Life was a random accumulation of events.
Maiysha Kai [00:05:45] And also, you know, you point out something that I found so relatable, which is for a lot of Black kids going to school, it’s not cool to be smart.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:05:58] Yeah.
Maiysha Kai [00:05:58] And you were a smart kid. And you liked school. Yeah. And there seemed to be this kind of tug of war of having to choose between this, like, natural proclivity you had for school and.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:06:12] Survival.
Maiysha Kai [00:06:13] Having street cred, for lack of a better term.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:06:15] Yeah, but it was. Yeah, but. But even before the street cred, it’s just survival. Right. It was a struggle getting to school. It was a struggle at school. You know, and so. That that battle of surviving. And focusing on school was a tug of war, of dealing with those nuances, dealing with the gang culture, dealing with poverty, dealing with being hungry. I mean, when I was in junior high school, if you even said, you know someone ask you, “Man, where you from?” It’s like “Man, I don’t bang, I’m not into that.” Then they follow up and ask you “Well, where you live?” You know, there’s an association either way it go. They’re going to find a way to associate you with an area, and then you’re going to have to deal with those consequences. So it get to some point where it’s like, I mean, If I’m gonna keep getting my butt whooped for this I might as well you know, you know, I might as well like join or I might as well group up with some people to protect myself.
Maiysha Kai [00:07:27] And also, you know, the rest of us in the country, in the world, I guess, know, you know, South Central LA or Watts or you know, we know it. You know. Yes. From the news, from hip hop culture. You know, and I think we don’t think, like one of the most striking things that stood out to me was just this this thing that you recall with Nancy Reagan coming to the neighborhood to talk about how irredeemable.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:07:57] That we were.
Maiysha Kai [00:07:58] You know, the community was. Yes.
Excerpt from “California Soul” [00:08:01] After everyone’s handcuffed, Gates brought Nancy Reagan through for a tour. Posing for the photo op, the First Lady commented, “These people here are beyond the point of teaching and rehabilitating.”
Maiysha Kai [00:08:16] You know, and it’s like we could talk about like the villainy of, you know, Reagan, Reaganomics, the war on drugs, like how strategic and hypocritical so much of that was. But for some reason that stuck out like that, that like hit me in my in my core that that particular anecdote growing up with that as your backdrop and I know you know. And that and as you said, that being also at the same time, the government disinvesting in the community. And so, like. Right, you’re left with like what options, right?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:08:56] So for one, it’s human nature to for self-preservation to survive. Right. You’re going to do things to survive. You’re going to fight to live. Like you could hold your own breath to your own demise, right. You’ll pass out of your body would automatically go to breathing again. So it’s in our nature for self-preservation. So when you take and strip resources and strip of community and disinvest, like we’re going to create an underground economy, you know, and outside of the drugs, because the drugs have to get to our community, they don’t talk about, you know, the mothers that’s cooking food to feed their family. The grandfathers like mine that turns his garden into a bike shop. This is all part of the underground economy, you know, where you can’t get loans to open a business, so you begin to do these things out of your home. Right. They have that that the family that’s selling food on a corner. My grandmother sold burritos out of the liquor store. You know, so it’s bigger than just drugs when they come to our community and being creative. And they shine a light only on the drugs, the robberies and these things. But there’s more to it than just that.
Maiysha Kai [00:10:21] I want to talk more about that, but we’re going to take a quick break and then we’ll be back with more from chef Keith Corbin and California Soul. And we are back with Chef Keith Corbin, who’s talking about his brand new memoir. This came out in August, I believe California Soul and American Epic of Cooking and Survival. This beautiful book right here. There’s so many layers here. One of the things that sticks out to me the most, though, you know, you were just talking about community and the underground economy that forms when you don’t have the external resources. But there also is this incredible conversation about community. In your book, you know, talking about your family, your extended family, and and, you know, when you talk about the death of your grandmother, who obviously is like part of the through line in your life and like how 500 people turn up to this funeral like she’s, you know, the big mama of the community. I want to talk a little bit more about what that means. I think, like a lot of us can relate to that kind of matriarchal energy, like this person who holds it together for everyone. But she had her hustle, too, right?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:11:37] She had to. She caught herself tapping into the underground economy.
Maiysha Kai [00:11:43] And in terms of like, you know, growing up with parents who, again, you know, were surviving by the means that they knew how to survive. And you kind of growing into that same mentality, what happens like what happens to then, would you say it was prison that kind of tipped the balance of, you know, I’m just over it. Or was it something else that just kind of, you know. Like, I know that there’s a passage where you talk about wanting to get out of the darkness of it.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:12:21] It was something else. I came home from prison. You know, I left my daughter was seven months when I went to prison. I came home in 2010, she was about seven years old. And I went right back and I came home the second time. And while I was there in prison over that first seven years, I had a celly. So we both were watching my daughter, watching my daughter grow up through pictures. You know, we’ll share pictures, share mail. And so he had wind up coming home from prison and he ran into my daughter. I think she was 11 or 12 at the time. And he ran into her at the Delamo Swapmeet and he recognized her from the pictures. And when he seen her he was like, “Is Fresh your dad?” And my daughter, you know, was taken aback, like pause, like, who are you? And in order to convince her that he know me, he started sharing these stories about our activities in the streets and in prison together.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:13:28] And so my daughter came home for the first time and was like, “Dad, are you a gangster?” And I’m like, “No, I’m just your father,” you know? And then she start telling me the stories in the gentleman’s name and my whole street career I always thought I was proud of what I did, whether my butt whooped, whooped some butt, sold drugs, whatever it was, you stand on that because that’s your reputation and you build in it and you don’t deny things that you’re proud of. So when I had to deny my lifestyle to my daughter. I knew in that moment that I really wasn’t proud of it. You know, I just wasn’t proud of it. And then over the course of the years of being gone, my crew members, my core crew members were either deceased or now in prison for a long time. So with a combination of my daughter, me had to deny my activities to my daughter and then not having my friends. You know, these guys were irreplaceable. Like, I wasn’t coming home, hook up with no new crews or hanging with kids younger than me or any of that. I just figured, you know, if I die today, will I really be proud of the stories and conversations that people will have about me? And I just chose to change my legacy and change the narrative and conversations that people were having. Because if that’s how you’re going to convince my daughter that you know me, then like, I wasn’t proud of that. And so I sought to change that, to change my narrative and my legacy. And that’s where it started. That’s what you know.
Maiysha Kai [00:15:14] Mm hmm. That’s quite a story. And I can’t wait to hear more. We are going to take a quick break and then we’ll be back with more Writing Black and Chef Keith Corbin. And we are back with Chef Keith Corbin, author of California Soul An American Epic of Cooking and Survival. And we’ve been talking about both, but we haven’t really talked so much about the cooking part, which is obviously a huge and amazing part of your story, particularly because, you know, you you write in the book that you like prison is actually where you kind of started to refine your palate, although I guess it could also be argued that growing up with the grandmother, you did, who was this amazing neighborhood cook and fed everybody in the neighborhood. Maybe that started way earlier. But, you know, for those who don’t understand how one would refine their palate while incarcerated, can you give us a little recap of how that happened for you?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:16:14] Well, I don’t it wasn’t like an intentional thing of, you know, where, like now I work with, you know, other chefs and we’re tasting things. And, you know, there’s some explaining about what’s going on and what you’re tasting and things like that. For me, in prison just the quality of food was horrible. So you have to have this creativity and ingenuity around, you know, your cooking or what you preparing to eat to make it palatable. And so, like, I will make let’s sell you make a ramen and then eat, there’s so many, the soft textures and your palate began to ask for things to accommodate that with. You know, then the next time you make it, you may add a little beef sausage that has a little smoke on it, and then you eat that. Okay, we’re getting somewhere. You know, is there anything that can add some acidity to it? You mean as some Jalapeño peppers, or some pickle or, you know, and my palate just begin ask for things as I’m creating this food. And then when I make it, the next time I’ll add that and try it and it may ask for something else. And then it got to a point to where I was just gourmeting stuff up. And when people went to trying it, they was asking me to make food for them and then OK like, I turned it into a hustle. So I started cooking and selling food in there along with liquor. You know.
Maiysha Kai [00:17:54] I you know, I think there’s something about that. That. Like there’s a texture to that. You know, as a reader. That, that conversation, that even just that exploration of this other side of a narrative that a lot of us don’t know. I just thought that was so I don’t know. It moved me. It moved me because I think food is such a it’s also you know, it’s such a bonding thing. It’s such a, you know, really, it’s so food is so intimate.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:18:26] I mean, I’ve I’ve been in food my whole life and I’ve never had my palate or my body responded that way when eating food. So a lot of times all the time I just feel that this was just all divine intervention, right?
Maiysha Kai [00:18:45] Mm hmm.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:18:46] You know, I didn’t ever know I would be in this position. I never. I never dreamed of being a chef of those sort or actually own a restaurant like this. I did mention to some of the fellas, you know, behind the food that I was creating a prison that I would love to come home and open a restaurant and gourmet up prison food. You know, and fill out that little niche and expose people to what we was eating in there just on another level. But I just think that. My position and where I’m at is about more than just being a chef. You know, because I’ve just been a passenger on this journey. You know, there was no long term goal and benchmarks or short term goals along the way to accomplish to get to this point. You know, I’ve been put here by God, I’ve been put here by my higher power to do something. And that’s just what I believe, you know? And I think my palate awakening while I was in prison are, you know, my my palate on my body begin to associate these different ingredients or different textures of different acidity, salt, sugar and all that to food, it was just God, you know, working on me at the time to prepare me for what was ahead. And that’s just what I believe.
Maiysha Kai [00:20:20] You know, and I could believe it, too. And I want to talk about what happened after you left, because I do think that that was a huge part of the reason you wrote this book. We’ll be right back with more Writing Black and more Chef Keith Corbin. All right, chef. Keith, I want to get into, you know, for some reason the phrase “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” comes out. But like, you know, one of the things you mentioned at the top of this discussion was that people think, you know, oh, you get out of prison and, you know, you just kind of make it happen for yourself. And as I think we know, that is not the case for most people. A lot of people will go back. A lot of people will never thrive because they’re not going to be employable. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience was like for you coming out of prison for the last time and really, you know, trying to make another life, build another life.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:21:22] So coming home from prison. I wanted to just do something different. I didn’t want to go back to hustling. I came home from prison the second time when I came home, you know, I had family and friends that welcomed me with hay bales of marijuana to get right back started. Bought me a car. They bought me a car. They gave me some drugs. Put me right back in the game. I went back to prison shortly thereafter. So when I came home the last time, just want to do something right. I had lost that edge and that carelessness that I had in my youth, you know. So I want to do some different and the only thing the only example that I had from coming home from prison was getting a labor job.
Excerpt from “California Soul” [00:22:17] When I got out of prison in 2014, I was over it. Over prison. Over anything involving police. And over their gang intervention training, that’s for damn sure. But if I wanted to get over hustling, I was going to need a job.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:22:33] You know, everybody around me growing up, come home from prison, you go get a job at some construction site or, you know, somewhere like that. So I’m like, if I got to get a laborer job, I want to get the highest paid job. So I went and got a job at the oil refinery and at the time I wasn’t doing background checks or any of that. And I got hired. And how I got hired was I took I went to Long Beach City College and took out a loan. And then I took that money and invested in myself. And I went and got my RSO, I went and got my Hazmat, and my confined space and all the certificates. So when I go befoer this, this company is like I already have everything. You don’t have to spend the money on me to get certified. I’ve done it. I’ve invested in myself and they hire me. And, you know, I worked my butt off and I did one turn around. And when I came back to the and turned around, you know, I was offered a foreman position. And that former position required me to drive company cars. And at the time, this was going on they are now implementing background checks, but not for the people that’s already working. But because of the promotion and looking into my license, it opened me up. It exposed me. So they fired me. They didn’t not overlook my prison background due to my hard work or any of that. They just fired me, walked me straight to the gate and took my badge.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:24:13] And I was devastated. And I just felt like, you know, maybe the streets and the hustle was the only way to go, you know? And I went through that emotion for about a couple of weeks. And then I got a phone call from my mother saying that, you know, boy, you got to get over here. They just opened a restaurant up. I went down there. I got the job. They was hiring on the spot. But when I got the job, I didn’t treasure it, you know? And it treasure to opportunity, because I didn’t know where the opportunity could lead me. There was no example before me that I can look to and say, Wow, he started right here and look where he’s at. You know, for me, it was just like another check. It was very uncomfortable. You know, I had reached a status in the streets where I was one of the loudest voices in my community. You know, people, you know, follow my lead or things like that. And then here I am in this restaurant getting yelled at and get beat up on, criticized, I just couldn’t take it. So I tried to quit. I tried to quit numerous times. But Daniel Patterson and the company wouldn’t allow me to quit. They just kept encouraging me. Like, you’ll get through it, you’ll get through it. And that’s why I say this is all God, because I tried to walk away from it and they just kept encouraging. And eventually that uncomfortable situation of comfortable space began to get comfortable.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:25:54] You know, the things that I didn’t know. Like I didn’t know how to cook professionally. I didn’t know a lot of things. And I began to learn. And about six months in I got asked to join the executive body and moved to Oakland. And help oversee the expansion of the company. And when I did that, when I got away from Watts and went to Oakland is where things really began to open up for me. I felt this decompression of pressure. You know, I was in another city. So everything that applied to me in L.A. didn’t apply there. I was able to go to the grocery store with my slippers on. I was able to walk the streets. Didn’t have to duck behind cars. You know, I didn’t have to drive everywhere, move fast. And Oakland, the Bay Area, is also the first place where I experienced the farmers market and the first time I experienced the Whole Foods.
Maiysha Kai [00:27:03] Wow.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:27:04] You know, 37 years old. And, you know, I watched my granny as a kid get up five in the morning, four or five in the morning and slow cooking for hours, pouring love into it and cooking it slow to tease out all the love and flavor in the meat and the food. And then here I am in the Bay Area and I’m seeing all this food coming preloved. You know, like food from the farmer’s market pre-loved already. Been cared for from a seed. I’m seeing food pre-love at Whole Foods. And I’m just dreaming about what my granny food would have been like, what she would have been able to create had she had access to what now I have access to.
Maiysha Kai [00:27:54] Wow. We’re going to take another quick break. But that just that really spoke to me. We’ll be right back with more chef Keith Corbin. All right, Chef Keith, you know, you were just talking about just having a different example set for you. And I know that you do not intend for this to be a redemption story, but you are now an example to others. Like what do you hope that people reading this will glean from your story?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:28:24] To be that very thing that I was missing when I got my first opportunity to be that example. Right. I would hope that now people can look to me as the example of what can be accomplished coming from these uncomfortable circumstances. Impoverished communities. Marginalized communities. Broken homes. Overcoming drug addiction. Overcoming incarceration. I’ve done it all, you know. So when I speak a lot of times when I was coming up, he tried to give me advice, it’s like, I don’t want to hear that. Like, you don’t know what I’m going through. Well, brother, there’s not one thing you can tell me. Not one person can tell me that going through something that I have not experienced and you can hear me. You know, and that was the importance of being transparent and honest in the book. It’s like, okay, yeah, we don’t get to the success. Well, let me connect with you first so you can see yourself in this sense that this can be you.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:29:33] But I wanted to be clear about the transformation and transition, because this idea we talked about earlier of this magic door. There’s no magic door. Yeah, you walk through this door. And the door opens as you walk through, but it doesn’t close behind you. And everything that was on the other side of that door comes to the door with you. And you have to fight every day to hold on to every step you take, every accomplishment, every level of success, you have to fight to hold on to it every day. I always this example and it’s because it’s important, I was working, I opened a restaurant, you know, I was working on a line, preparing food when I got a phone call, you know that my 76 year old father was murdered. And in that moment, the first thing I did, was ran out the restaurant, jumped in the car, and the emotions I was feeling was that of the old me. Finsta go tear some stuff up. You know? And like, I had to stop in the car before I start the car, had to stop and just take a moment. And not ignore that emotion, you know, go through it. But try not to react off of it. And once I got through the process of, you know, feeling that emotion, then reality set back in and it’s like, okay, how do we deal with this? You know, because it’s, can’t throw everything away. You know, I worked and working hard and my whole. My whole purpose. My purpose to me and for me is to be that example and like to throw everything away because of some struggle. You know, what does that say to people? You know and like that’s what the book for me the book is just to represent that you can overcome your struggle. But a lot of times we want people to do it on their own. But we need support. And we need opportunity. You have to give people opportunities to succeed.
Maiysha Kai [00:32:11] I want to talk a little more about what opportunity looks like in just a minute. We’re going to be back with more chef Keith Corbin. And we’re back with more Writing Black and Chef Keith Corbin, who is talking to us from his restaurant, Alta Adams, in Los Angeles. And, you know, you were just talking about opportunity, you know, and as we know, most amazing cooks or even chefs will not get the chance to own their own restaurant, let alone receive some of the acclaim that you have. Obviously, you yourself are an example to, you know, kids coming up, how you were coming up or even adults kind of coming from those same sets of circumstances or similar circumstances. But do you also hope that your story is an example to those gatekeepers who,.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:33:05] Of course.
Maiysha Kai [00:33:06] You know, as you said, you know, they’re the ones granting the opportunities. There is no magic door. But seeing someone like you walk through a door or create a door or when the door was open, you know, however hard it was for you to hold on. You did. What do you hope that like, you know, when people are looking at former hustlers, former formerly incarcerated people. What do you what lens do you hope that your story puts on them?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:33:34] So for the gatekeepers, I’m showing them now. Right. If the if the prerequisite for getting a job is to have experience in that job, then we’re going to, like a lot of people will have an opportunity, right? If no one is going to hire you coming home from prison because you don’t have the experience and how do you ever get the opportunity to get the experience? And then how get the employees that you have now gain experience, right? Somebody has to give an inexperienced person opportunity. So I hire people that’s formerly incarcerated. I hire people who do not have experience. Like that’s what I do. I’m going to train and I hope you use this restaurant as a stepping stone to go off and do better things. Right. And then hopefully that we instill in you, you know, our values and that’s being that representation to the community and to people that’s coming from your situation to continue to give opportunity. So like you have, for example, you have someone like Corey from the Bay Area that worked with us at Loco, who now has his own cleaning company who hire formerly incarcerated. You have me, you have Quanisha Coleman, who has a trucking company who hires formerly incarcerated.
Chef Keith Corbin [00:35:07] And like we just, you know. It’s like tentacles, right? Everybody go out and they do their part. But that’s what we hire. That’s how I hire. You know, you don’t need any training. I’ll tain you. I’ll put in the work. I’ll put in the time, and I’ll be patient and I’ll support you. I’ll give you an opportunity and I’ll support you in an opportunity because I know how important that is. I tried to quit numerous times, and without support within that opportunity, I will not be here. I will be back in the streets, prison or deceased. So I know how important supporting people in this opportunity. Like if I’m hiring you, no, you don’t have any experience. No, you’ve never worked before. And then from my experience as well, knowing that when I got my first job and then the hood was throwing a party, like I want to go party. I might even call off work. I might make up an excuse. I might just do a no show, you know? So I know what those struggles are like. I know how to support you coming in, getting your first job. I’ve had that experience. But then it also tells you you can’t beat around the bush with a see through it because I’ve experienced it. Yeah, but I want to be the example to the gatekeepers. Right now like you can give a chance to people. You just never know what will come. You know, I feel like I’m a point guard in this sense. Point guards are designed to facilitate plays and assist people in scoring. That doesn’t mean that I can’t score for myself. But my job is to help other people score. So for those that can’t get in the rooms that I’m in, that can’t, like host, like speak in the meetings like I can, that’s what I’m there for. I’m there to help them.
Maiysha Kai [00:37:21] I love that. We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back with more chef Keith Corbin. All right, Chef Keith, you know, there’s a question I ask every guest. You know, now, I told you at the beginning, you are not our usual guest because you are a chef. And I’m so glad that you have been our first. Who do you look to for inspiration? Who do you read? Who? Who do you think? You know, I might even open this up. You know, it’s been an interesting time, I think, for the history of Black food has been recognized more in recent years, which is hilarious to me because we’re everywhere. But. But like what? Where do you draw inspiration? Whether that’s people that you read, people that you’re watching?
Chef Keith Corbin [00:38:03] I look back to my community. I look back to the people that is in the struggle. I look back. Right. I have older people in my community that literally has told me, you know, that’s proud of me. Right. That they’re looking they’re watching. That my neighborhood is on my shoulders. As far as being the example of what what can come. Being a person that is able to give opportunity to these people are my people. You know, so I always look back, no matter how they write the story, how they promote it. Me personally, I never detach myself from Watts and front communities alike, ever. Right. These are folks that has people have died for me to be here. Right. They have died. And our youth, you know, going through this life with me, you know, as a kid, not having a father or mother due to drugs and having my friends right where I’m trying and all parts of them and they’re trying all parts of me. And we are a representation of each other. Like, there’s no separating me from these communities. I am these communities, no matter how the story’s written, you know, my roots are in Watts, and no matter what a tree grow, that’s where my nutrients come from. From my people, you know, from my community. So I always look back to get inspiration, to keep moving forward. Right. I’m doing this for someone. I’m doing this for a group of people. Right. Like it’s on me to keep breaking these barriers and opening these doors for others to come through. So that’s what my inspiration come from, my folks.
Maiysha Kai [00:40:14] I love it. I love it. And they are lucky to have you. Chef Keith Corbin, thank you so much for your candor today and your transparency and for this story, for sharing your life through California Soul, which I know is also a reference to the food that you cooked. So I hope people in the L.A. area, if you are not already checking out Alta Adams, you should, but you should also check out this book. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderfully written. We should also shout out your your co-writer, Keith Kevin Alexander. Excuse me, Kevin Alexander. But this is really inspiring. And, you know, the holidays are coming, y’all. So this is a good one. Put under the tree. Thank you so much, Keith.
Maiysha Kai [00:41:03] Chef Keith was such an inspiration and talk to and, you know, redemption story or not, California Soul is such an excellent book, and I really think that people from all walks of life can really get something from this narrative. But as I did note, this is a really incredible time for Black chefs in general in terms of, you know, just like the rest of us, we’re trending right now. People really having conversations about the history of Black food, the culture of kitchens, and the fact that despite our incredible influence on this facet of American creativity, we have not always gotten the access to these kitchens. So there’s another book I’d really love to recommend by another young star, which is Kwame, Chef Kwame Onwuachi who wrote Notes From a Young Black Chef, I believe the book is called. And, you know, really talking about and this is something you’re also going to be seeing come to screen, I believe Lakeith Stanfield is on deck to play Kwame, but, you know, really talking about what it means to be coming up in the kitchen as a young Black talent, maybe with not all the access in the world getting into the field and that struggle to be recognized, be respected, and to bring new flavor to the industry. So highly recommend. Check it out. Notes From a Young Black Chef. And we will see you next time on Writing Black. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.
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