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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
(all photos and video courtesy of Chef Shonda)