At this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards — the Oscars of food, as they’re known — women and chefs of color took home a historic number of awards in a reckoning not unlike the one that swept through the actual Oscars last year.
But the accolades and newfound media attention bestowed upon historically marginalized restaurant professionals mean little if they don’t lead to structural changes that address the pervasive inequities of what’s still very much a male-dominated, Euro-centric industry.
What might a more equitable food future look like?
A temporary restaurant popping up Thursday through Tuesday in Detroit will attempt to answer that question. For those six days, the Cass Cafe in Midtown will transform into the Dream Cafe.
“The Dream Cafe is demonstrating that a different way is possible,” said Allied Media Conference Culinary Director Ora Wise. “What we’re doing is we’re saying, ‘This is the hard work and the many, many, many hands that it takes to have a truly sustainable, equitable, harmonious-with-the-planet, people-centered food system.'”
Part of this year’s food programming for the 20th Allied Media Conference — an annual event held in Detroit for media activists from around the country — the Dream Cafe centers on cooks of color while employing food as a platform for social change.
“Through a collaboration of a bunch of folks from Detroit, from New York, from the Deep South, from all over the country, we are coming together to create the most epic pop-up that this city has ever seen,” said FoodLab Detroit Executive Director Devita Davison. “It’s a restaurant and cafe that’s not only open to Detroiters but also where we can use food as a way to aid ourselves in creating this just world we want to see.”
FoodLab is a community-based small business incubator and entrepreneurial collective that aims to create a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable food system in Detroit. A number of FoodLab member businesses will be highlighted during the Dream Cafe’s run.
“The heart and the spirit of it all is about community and collaboration, about building and visioning and having the space to come as you are — to sit in a space and not order a damn thing if you don’t want to and not worry about the police being called on you because you sat there too long and didn’t order nothing,” Davison said, making reference to the March arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks that went viral. “It’s just a very welcoming space where we can imagine and dream about this food system from seed to plate and actualize it.”
The Dream Cafe will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner from rotating guest chefs of color from Detroit and beyond. All of the dinners, in particular, include an educational or social justice bent, celebrating things like Latinx and Palestinian identity and matriarchy in the kitchen. Sunday night will also see a free brunch inspired by the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast program.
On Friday night, an autonomous group of “indigenous chefs, knowledge keepers and seed savers” named the I-Collective will serve a dinner focusing on “pre-colonial cuisine” and educating folks on historical indigenous contributions.
“One of the main reasons why the Dream Cafe program is so impactful is it’s kind of what a lot of our main goal is: reconnecting through food, building community around food, and it’s part of the larger movement of knowing where your food comes from and knowing the food stories from those that have been using these ingredients first,” said I-Collective member Kristina Stanley.
“And also for us, it’s just about owning our own story,” she said. “Especially for native people, our story has been told for us by others. That kind of reconnecting and learning the true history is just so important. And anyone living in Detroit on the land of the Anishinabe people, its an opportunity to learn more about the place that you’re at today that you’re really going to be hard-pressed to find in a book.”
The Dream Cafe is open to the public, but some events require registration or tickets purchased in advance. For a full schedule, visit alliedmedia.org/dream-cafe/amc.
Dream Cafe, 4620 Cass (inside Cass Cafe), Detroit.
Contact Mark Kurlyandchik: 313-222-5026 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mkurlyandchik and Instagram: curlyhandshake.
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