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Here's why we can't wait to get in the Hella Black Brunch kitchen with Chef Shonda

When we decided to have a Hella Black Brunch pop-up in New Orleans, we knew we wanted to expand our focus from simply building community with Black and queer folks of the African diaspora, to also embracing and supporting the burgeoning entrepreneurial community in their historically Black spaces.

In order to do that, it became important that we partner with folks native to the beautiful New Orleans community - folks working to build for themselves and those around them.

When we came into contact with Chef LaShonda Cross - most well and lovingly known as just: Chef Shonda - we knew it was a perfect match.

chef shonda new orleans chef lashonda cross

The partnership between Chef Shonda and Khafra grew organically, and - as most things do these days - over the Internet. Since our first fateful interaction, Chef Shonda has joined Hella Black Brunch Bonne Fete as our Executive Chef - and we’re so excited to share what we have in store with this collaboration!

But first, we wanted to give you a chance to learn about the person behind the chef’s coat.

We spoke to Chef Shonda earlier this month and discussed her origins, her love for New Orleans, her thoughts on the growing Black business community, and much more.
Below are some of our fave moments from the conversation!

 


Who is Lashonda/Chef Shonda?
I am a kind, fun loving soul who is honestly trying to spread a little peace, love, and happiness in this world. Because, honestly, the world needs more of it.

What drew you to the kitchen?
It started when I was 12 or 13 at home, of course - with family and cooking with my sister. Every Thanksgiving, we’d gather at her house. I was the one with her - in the kitchen, going to the grocery store, and learning. I was previously a carpenter building houses, and I found this peace in the kitchen. This quiet, this calm. It was unlike any other space.

chef lashonda cross chef shonda new orleans

Can you talk a little about being a Black woman working in the food industry?
So, I quit my job and I found a job in the kitchen at The American Sector Restaurant + Bar in The National World War II Museum. And then I found out that Chef Nina Compton, who was on Top Chef Nola, was opening a restaurant. I reached out to her and told her I wanted to work for her. She’s a Black female executive chef and I said “I promise you won’t regret it.” To this day, I don’t think she does. And we have such a beautiful working relationship.

In the culinary world it’s difficult for women, period. It’s a very male dominated game. To see Nina (who has not yet reached her pinnacle, because she has so much more in her) … but to see her and to know that I can too can reach such heights in this culinary world and be a force is such an amazing feeling.

chef shonda nola new orleans

A major facet of HBB centers on building community with Black folks over food. What is your relationship to food and community?
When you think of Nola, you think of food. And as far as community is concerned, food is one of the things that over time has always brought everyone together. Everyone is welcome at the family table. So I think that’s honestly how it all ties in. We’re all connected by not only the fact that we are all human, ut that [we have a universal] need to survive. And it is food.

Nola post katrina new orleans

Have you noticed anything different pre- and post-Katrina about Black entrepreneurship and the energy of New Orleans as a city?
I have never seen so many Black businesses ever, growing up in Nola and throughout my childhood. And not only are there so many, but they’re also flourishing. That’s because of the support that we have in the community. It’s happening all over and there’s no way we can fail if we are supporting one another.

Why did you decide to partner with HBB? What are you hoping comes from this?
When khoLi. reached out to me I did a little research on who she is and what she does with Khafra and what they stand for. Honestly, I couldn’t pass it up. The community support was a big thing for me. The LGBT community, that support was a big thing for me. And I said “Hey, why not?!” Why not support someone who is supporting us and what we do and not only chefs but just as people?

I hope that everyone who comes to sit down at the table and eat with us takes something away from the experience. That there’s some positivity and light in it all.

We hope so too. In fact, if you're ready to get into this menu with Chef Shonda ...

PURCHASE YOUR TICKET NOW.
AND GRAB ONE FOR A FRIEND, WHILE YOU'RE AT IT!

 

(all photos and video courtesy of Chef Shonda)

 

arts + entertainment, good news, entrepreneur tips

#WomenatWork: 'LADYLIKE' director Tiffany Johnson schools us on art as freedom

Welcome back to our "Women at Work" series, where you're introduced to a curated selection of working women discussing their professional lives as well as the impact they're making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around them.

Closing out Women's History Month, meet Tiffany Johnson.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

Admittedly, I wait until the morning each WaW story is due to write it. As an entrepreneur whose entire life is now guided by one giant Passion Planner, I get joy out of being able to wake and feel my way to useful words - hopefully, accurate words - describing these women who move me so much.

When I started thinking about Tiffany this morning, I started thinking about freedom. I started thinking about "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint," the "absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government," "the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved."

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

As a graduate of the Los Angeles Film School - one who majored in Directing and minored in Screen Writing - I can imagine that Tiffany knows a lot about engaging the right to speak, think and act without hindrance. I'm probably projecting my 8-year black girl experience as an English Ph.D. student, but I'm willing to bet Tiffany would bring brilliance to a discussion of art, particularly Hollywood filmmaking, and the feeling of foreign domination.

We just haven't discussed that yet.

I think about freedom when I think about Tiffany because (well, look at her, so in and of herself)  since graduating, she's worked for CBS, Overbrook Entertainment, and Academy Award-winning Producer Peggy Rajski.  She's also worked as an Associate Producer on numerous live television award shows, including MTV Movie Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards and the 2011 Primetime Emmy’s. She also serves as assistant to another fave, Lena Waithe.

Tiffany is a woman not just standing in, but operating from her multiple freedoms: to desire, to choose, to create, to redefine. If you're not quite sure how I got there yet, you will be after further reading.

 

Check out the best from my correspondence with Tiffany below.

 

On owning her professionalism ...

I didn't always, but I definitely do now. I had to learn to change the way I speak. When asked what I did, I would say, "Oh I am an aspiring director." That's bullshit--I am a director. Filmmaking is what I do. 


On the logistics of life ...

There's definitely a lot of music ... Music gets me through my days. As an assistant to a Showrunner/Writer, my day usually consists of lots of emails and reading scripts. In the evenings, I'll sometimes grab drinks with friends, maybe catch a movie I've been wanting to see or go home and binge a new show. It varies.

 

On the last year ...

I actually have 2 important projects I completed last year. One was my short film LADYLIKE.
We screened it at a few festivals and even went to Cannes--such a wild, life changing experience! It's currently streaming on Issa Rae's YouTube channel.
I also completed a short documentary last year, entitled The Ride Home. It's the most emotional and personal film I've ever worked on. It was the first time I turned the cameras on myself--it follows me and my dad on the day he was released from prison and the ride home we shared. 

 

On what's up next ...

I'm currently in post on a short film I recently shot called Dead. Gay. Fictional. It's a fun rom-com send up, written by my good friend Caty Zick.
via wesjanisen.com

via wesjanisen.com

Also, my writing partner, Nick Williams and I are developing LADYLIKE into a feature which I'm really excited about!
via ladylike.com

via ladylike.com

On sustaining your craft ...

I think it's super important for creatives to fuel their craft. What I mean by that is: surround yourself with other creatives that inspire ... and encourage you. Learn from each other. Study those you admire and dedicate time to your [calling]. I'm constantly watching films or reading books or articles on filmmakers I'm obsessed with.  

 

Do you see why I'm thinking about freedom?

Before I began writing this, I kept scribbling a phrase in my journal: "Do not complicate your freedoms."

Over and over.

DO NOT COMPLICATE YOUR FREEDOMS.

It wasn't until I reread Tiffany's correspondence that I realized what that phrase was really getting at. We, like Tiffany, will often have to enter into spaces that others might dictate as never having been meant for us. However, what's important is our presence there, that we have shown up, not the narrative surrounding our entrance.

Tiffany Johnson reminds us all that we have a right to exercise our freedoms, uncomplicated in whatever form they appear to us. We can show up as ourselves, for ourselves, and tell the stories we want to have heard. Or in Tiffany's case, seen.

via @tiffanyjenellej

via @tiffanyjenellej

 She is a vision, with sublime vision. 

The only appropriate way to end this is by butchering Bambara, is to say all of our freedoms are real, all of our dreams, attainable. "The failure to realize is the only unreality." 

entrepreneur tips, good news

#WomenatWork: @ItsAriFitz brings out our deepest feels

Welcome back to our "Women at Work" series. If you joined us last week, then you already know that our newest series introduces you to a curated selection of working women discussing, of course, their professional lives. But Khafra's always trying to help you look good and live great,  so we explore the impact these women are making - through an audacious blend of professional and personal passions - on the world around us.

Allow us to reintroduce Tomboyish founder, Ari Fitz.

photographer: Brenton Gieser

photographer: Brenton Gieser

It's difficult to discuss Ari Fitz without reaching into the most vulnerable depths of my feels (or fee-fees as my lil sis would call them). In 2013, Ari and I had one very important phone call, followed by a few strategic meetings, and a short stint in a world of surreality. From that, we made magic.

Like. A lot of it.

A whole lot.

Today, the feels are lovely, dark, and deep, not because we're more homies than creative partners these days. That's to be expected of magic makers - those who come together at a brief moment in the universe's juncture for the sole purpose of sharing.

I speak about Ari from a soft spot because I look at her and see the manifestation of intentional desire matched hunger, unimaginable work ethic, and indestructible self-belief.

photographer: Brenton Gieser

photographer: Brenton Gieser

Ari is proof that if you dream it, build it, do it, it can and will come ... and in ways, that (even to me, thank god) were unforeseen. From the day I began collaborating with Ari, I recognized in her what I see in so many of us who know that we know; I saw will. And for the last three years, I've been proudly watching her wield that will, shaping a future (and undoubtedly the next media empire) along the way. 

This is the shit that moves me, folks.

I recently checked in with Ari on the current status of life. Check the best of her interview below.

On the architecture of dreams ...

I'm one of those creatives [funding] their projects with a day job, so a day in my life is pretty hectic. My nights, weekends, and lunch breaks are spent ... curating content on TOMBOYISH's Instagram, casting/producing/filming/editing fashion films, engaging with my audience at every moment, and in my spare time looking for new collaborators (photographers, videographers, brands, etc.).

On her most important project of the last year ...

Late last year, TOMBOYISH launched a partnership with Reebok Classics where we had complete creative freedom to develop something dope for their new styles. That [partnership] was definitely one of my most exciting, rewarding, and impactful projects in the past 12 months.

On what's next ...

Right now, [I'm] hosting meet-ups for TOMBOYISH to bring other tomboy-ish folk together. [I'm] headed to nine cities: SF, LA, Chicago, Toronto, NYC, Philly, London, Paris & Cape Town in the next few months.

Some sound advice ...

Don't let anyone else decide what success is for you. Define it for yourself and don't sleep until you have it.

Define it for yourself. Don't sleep until you have it.

Noted.

Need more Ari in your life? Complete our  STYLE SURVEY and request an invite to Ari's INVITE ONLY salon at Relove Vintage Boutique in SF on Friday, March 25.

 

By khoLi.

 

EXPLORE: #WomenatWork - We spoke with @Pathbrite founder Heather Hiles. It was everything.