Coastal Cuisine: African Diaspora Meets the South
“I believe that food should be more than something you just shove in your mouth… If you can make food that also has medicinal benefits, to me it’s a bonus. I am striving for that balance as often and as much as possible and if I can’t achieve it in a dish or recipe then I strongly believe in keeping the poison to a minimum. Culinary Arts is an opportunity I get to be creative as well as change people’s lives.” – Chef Marvin Woods
Coastal Soul Cuisine is the embodiment of the African Diaspora meets the American South and that is exactly what chef, TV personality and owner Marvin Woods creates at Atlanta’s newest downtown eatery Asante Restaurant and Lounge.
With a career spanning 30 years which includes hosting an Emmy Award nominated television show, authoring a best-selling cookbook and cooking for First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, the chef incorporates a lifetime of travel and experiences into each and every bite serves to patrons.
A fusion of African and Southern flair, the chef’s specific choices of local vegetables, such as okra and sweet potatoes, and blend of international spices and techniques are used to create Asante’s spiced crispy okra, mahogany glazed rack-o-lamb as well as sweet potato creme brûlée with toasted almonds. Think Sunday dinner at your Geechee or West African grandmother’ table. Even the name speaks voumes: “Asante” means “Thankfulness” or “Gratitude” in Swahili.
With Asante already positioned as a standout in Downtown Atlanta food scene, this experienced entrepreneur shares with us his culinary experiences, the future of ‘soul food, settling in Atlanta and much more.
Here’s what we learned when we spoke directly with Woods:
On the concept of Asante Restaurant and opening shop in Atlanta:
The concept of Asante has several directives and all of these I deem very important and high on the priority list but are not in any given order: to become a chef driven, 21st century restaurant which means sourcing the best ingredients, creating, inventing and education guess staff and all alike; paying close attention to large parties especially those individuals who may have food challenges such as allergies, restrictions and intolerances; and, showcase culinary artistry in people of color who have a high level of sensibility in the food, beverage and arts industries.
As far as settling in Atlanta, I felt it was very important to cement my roots in a strong African American city known for having an extremely successful entrepreneurship pedigree, historical mean and a progressive state of mind.
On the concept of “Coastal Soul Cuisine”:
A celebratory cultural experience showcasing many cultures, but rooted in one lineage.
On culinary influences:
The late great Charlie Trotter, Norman van Aiken and Marcus Sammuelsson.
On the importance of infusing heritage into food:
It’s important because it truly shows who you are as an individual and community and that it is not a Black thing. This is a valuable lesson learned from every European chef I ever worked for and it tends to make your food more personable.
On extensive culinary background:
Classically trained and armed with 30-years in the business, the first part of my career was spent in New York City working at established institutions as well as stints in Europe, Caribbean, South American and Africa.
On earliest food moments and realizing a possible culinary profession:
I began cooking at a young age and my mother really supported it by purchasing a Betty Crocker recipe card subscription. I would receive new recipes every three weeks and my family, consisting of mom, dad and three sisters, would be my guinea pigs. By the time I reached high school I enrolled in home economics until there was no more courses available. It was my home economics teacher that suggested I pursue the culinary arts as a profession.
On the future of soul food:
I don’t believe soul food is necessarily a Black thing or that African Americans own the term. If you are white and grew up in The South, you probably ate similar fare and the confederate folks would probably label it the same. In today’s world I think that soul food is a generic term. For instance, if you were to ask an Italian from Naples what soul food is he would say Neapolitan pizza. It all has to do with the food from one’s homeland that feel comforting and soulful.
On the importance of black chefs:
I believe black chefs are important but even more important than that, I believe, is the labeling and usage of the word “chef.” Being classically trained and having learned the old school way, I know the true meaning of the word and what it takes to be a chef; I do not think most people in America do. I did not go into this business to become a celebrity chef … I just happened to become was a chef who excelled in this craft and was recognized for that and not because I won a contest or some competition.
Try two of Chef Woods’ recipes:
Butternut Squash, Chive and Cottage Cheese Fritter
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Ready Time: 25
1 ½ Butternut Squash (pre-boiled and pureed)
1 1/2 cups lactose-free cottage cheese
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour (use for rolling)
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 large eggs
Olive Oil, for frying
1. Preheat the oil to 350 degree (check temperature by using a thermometer)
2. For the Fritters: In a small bowl combine the butternut squash, cottage cheese, salt, pepper, chives and smoked paprika. Add the flour to the mixture and mix. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop and shape the fritters with your hand to be uniform in size.
3. In another bowl place eggs and whip until liquid. Place the panko bread crumbs in another bowl.
4. Put the flour in a fourth bowl. Roll the fritters in flour and coat completely, roll fritters in egg next completely roll in bread crumbs.
5. Place the fritters in the oil and cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown.
Yogurt Dipping Sauce
½ cup Plain Greek Non-Fat Yogurt
1 tablespoon agave
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1. For the Yogurt Dipping Sauce: Combine the yogurt, agave, lime juice and orange juice in in a blender.
2. Blend until combined.
3. Serve in a small bowl alongside the fritters.