The Pivot: How Chef Omar Tate Is Shifting Gears During the Pandemic

In 2018 Omar Tate traveled to South Carolina to the plantation on which his ancestors were enslaved. For Tate, who’d been cooking in Philadelphia and New York for a decade, the experience helped nourish what he calls the “equitable and truthful roots” of his pop-up, Honeysuckle. Pre-COVID-19, Tate was hosting four to five dinners a month at a Wall Street penthouse—“Guests would come to the top floor and have this experience immersed in black American culture in the Financial District, kind of this ironic space,” he says—and on the road, popping up in New Orleans, Charleston, and in Bucks County, PA. “Eight to 12 courses, intricately produced. It was doing well,” says Tate (who is also one hell of a poet and writer). “Now fine dining is crashing and burning all around us.”

The Pivot: Tate has had to adapt Honeysuckle to new logistical challenges posed by the pandemic. He’s back home in Philadelphia and has flipped the business from a ticketed high-end experience to a once-weekly pick-up operation at South Philly Barbacoa, the taqueria as acclaimed for its lamb tacos as its social justice mission. His menu has included callaloo-stuffed perch, Ghanaian suya chicken, and his mom’s banana bread, dishes possessing the same personal and black cultural resonance as his more conceptual cooking but “reflects this mental and emotional space—I’m back home and back to basics,” he says. “The food is simple in terms of perception but the complexity is still there—I feel like I’m rebuilding an old car.” The repackaging of the Honeysuckle experience has been instructive. “Prior to this, Honeysuckle was dinner plates at a seated table with stemware, silverware, all rooted in fine dining. This simple packaging brings me back to what restaurants originally were: restorative places to have a meal. It’s about offering you food and thankfulness, nothing to do with a show.”

It’s about offering you food and thankfulness, nothing to do with a show.

The Future: “It’s hard for me to say what will happen, but I know what I think should happen: a shift in power dynamics and equitability,” says Tate, who sees the potential for the COVID crisis to be an inflection point that makes evident the restaurant industry’s underlying systemic issues. “It’s very interesting you have these Michelin-starred places posting GoFundMe [campaigns], so independent chefs now have to compete with that. It’s showing the industry for what it really was, and how naked everyone was.”

Tate is also launching a crowdfunding campaign next month to raise money “to acquire a building for a community center that uses food as a conduit for social progression in West Philly,” he wrote on Instagram yesterday.

View this post on Instagram

Hey 👋🏿 y’all! I was actually going to make this announcement later on but in this recent week I’ve been so full with the consumption of energy towards purpose. . . . I will be beginning a fundraising campaign to raise money to acquire a building for a community center that uses food as a conduit for social progression in West Philly. I will be selling bean pies for $100 each and shipping them across the country in an attempt to raise 100K over the summer. This unique idea is inspired by my upbringing in Philadelphia as a Black citizen who’s been steeped in radical activation and engagement throughout my personal history. I am seeking to acquire a space that will serve as a food focused community center that will hire and serve the community thoughtfully and respectfully. The aim is to have Honeysuckle be a model and example for food spaces of the future ethically and civically. There are more details to come. The official launch of this campaign will begin at the end of June. 🖤 . . . Please share this campaign as it develops. I truly appreciate the support! . #honeysucklepopup #blackheritagecooking #whatisfinedining #newschool #brick #mortar #purpose #art #food #nourishment #culture #blackfoodways #fundraising #philly #america #beanpie

A post shared by Omar Tate (@honeysuckle_popup) on May 28, 2020 at 3:55pm PDT

The chefs will be baking and shipping bean pies for $100 each, with the goal of raising $100,000. “The aim is to have Honeysuckle be a model and example for food spaces of the future ethically and civilly.”

banana bread
Adam Erace

Omar Tate’s (Mom’s) Banana Bread

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 large very ripe bananas, mashed

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup candied walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. (This can be done in a stand mixer or by hand with a whisk.) Add the eggs one at a time, whisking vigorously each time to incorporate air. Add the bananas and buttermilk and mix to completely incorporate.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate mixing bowl and slowly add them to the wet ingredients. Gently fold together with a silicone spatula, then fold in the walnuts and vanilla.

Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with melted butter or vegetable oil and line with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes.

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