Omar Tate is a Philadelphia-rooted poet, farmer, father, and multimedia artist that views food as one of his many mediums. He is co-founder of Honeysuckle Provisions, an Afrocentric grocery and cafe in West Philadelphia and Honeysuckle Projects, a network of community spaces centered around the values of ancestry, nourishment, and reclamation. Omar was named Esquire Chef of the Year 2020, included in TIME100 Next 2021, and featured in Netflix’s “High on the Hog.”
Cybille St.Aude-Tate is a Philadelphia-based Haitian-American chef, children’s book author, farmer, mother, and social entrepreneur. She is co-founder of Honeysuckle Provisions and Honeysuckle Projects. Separately, she is the creator of CAONA, her modern Haitian pop-up concept. Cybille has appeared at the acclaimed James Beard House in New York City, Charleston Wine + Food, and season 35 of Food Network’s “Chopped.” She has been honored to cook at The Haitian Embassy, Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Creole Food Fest, Goût et Saveurs Lakay (Haiti Food & Spirits Festival), and many other events.
Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations.
Produced by BlackStar Projects in partnership with Rowhome Productions.
Executive Producer and Host — Maori Karmael Holmes
Producer — Kayla Lattimore
Associate Producers — Irit Reinheimer & Zoë Greggs
Managing Producer — Alex Lewis
Executive Editor — John Myers
Final mix and mastering engineer — Justin Berger
Music Supervisor — David “Lil Dave” Adams
Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by Lil’ Dave.
This episode features music by Maleke O’Ney and DJ Applejac.
François Duvalier aka Papa Doc (1907-1971)
Octavia Butler (1947-2006)
Parable of the Sower (written by Octavia Butler, 1993)
The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (written by Toni Tipton-Martin, 2015)
The Bear (created by Christopher Storer, Hulu, 2022-present)
Ratatouille (directed by Brad Bird, Disney, 2007)
Like Water for Chocolate (directed by Alfonso Arau, 1992)
High on the Hog (Netflix, 2021-present)
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)
[00:00:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: As part of their enduring commitment to justice, equity, and expression, the Open Society Foundations are proud to sponsor Many Lumens.
You’re listening to Many Lumens where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change, and popular culture. I’m your host, Maori Karmael Holmes. In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with chefs Omar Tate and Cybille St. Aude-Tate, who are the founders of the African diaspora inspired grocery store and cafe, Honeysuckle Provisions, in West Philadelphia. Omar is a Philadelphia native who has worked in acclaimed kitchens throughout the northeast where he witnessed firsthand the gaps in representation in the culinary world and decided to devote his career to showcasing the legacy and diversity of black food. Cybille is a talented chef who has appeared at the acclaimed James Beard House in New York City, on Food Network’s Chopped, and at the Charleston Food and Wine Festival. Raised on Long Island by Haitian parents, her heritage is a cornerstone of her cooking, as she sees food as a window into the culture and history of her people. Omar and Cybille joined me in person here at the BlackStar Project’s office. And now, for my conversation with Omar Tate and Cybille St. Aude-Tate.
[00:01:30] Maori Karmael Holmes: Thank you for agreeing to do Many Lumens. Welcome to the show. I want to talk a little bit about your earlier life. And before we started recording, Omar, you were talking about being from the neighborhood that our office is in, in South Philly. And I know that your family also has deep roots here, but also roots in Germantown. And I was curious what kind of food or even cultural dishes represent these neighborhoods to you?
[00:01:58] Omar Tate: Well, oddly enough, one of the first smells that I remember is not like soul food or anything around here. There’s a huge Southeast Asian population. But to me, in my head, that was the epicenter of something that wasn’t mine. Because we never had the food that I was smelling when I was a kid. At home, there’s rice, there’s greens, fried fish was a big deal. Grits is the big thing that comes to mind when I think about South Philly. Again, we moved to North and Germantown when I was quite young. But when I think about these neighborhoods, I mostly think about Southeast Asian food and then the intermingling of cultures and relationships. And now there’s Mexican food that’s very present in this neighborhood. But then moving to Germantown, in North Philly, this is also kind of coinciding with when my mom became Muslim. Pork’s gone, it disappears. I was eating pork when I was a baby and all the way up until four years old. But that’s gone, and that’s when the blanket of blackness and food kind of becomes… I never saw white people ever. Seriously. In North Philly and Germantown, where I grew up, if you saw a white person in the neighborhood, they were there for a fucking reason. There was a cop, they were coming to deliver stuff. So no more Italian deli smell, no more of the Southeast Asian food. No more Italian food. I don’t smell that anymore. All I smell is I smell greens, I smell fish, I smell chicken. But then also, the backdrop of all that, because there’s the mingling of these smells. There’s like frankincense and myrrh and the incense. All this stuff, it’s like a freaking Badu video all the time. So yeah, it’s hard to not recall all those other smells along with the food, because that’s the nostalgia piece. That’s the comfort because food alone doesn’t satisfy that thought to me.
[00:03:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Cybille, I read that you’re the youngest of four siblings and you were the first to be born in the States, and that your parents immigrated from Haiti and settled in Long Island. And I was curious what sort of food and tradition did they bring over and how did that intermix with what you were witnessing in Long Island?
[00:04:14] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: When they first came over, they settled in Queens, much like a lot of the Haitians were doing back in the late ’70s, early ’80s. And that’s not really fair because you’re in basically little Haiti. At that time, if you’re in Cambria Heights, Queens, you’re surrounded by Haitians. You miss the motherland, you miss home, you miss the island, but you can catch up because everyone that’s there has kind of already set their flag and have found places to get all the ingredients and everything you need. And the bakery started opening up and there were places to go. If they weren’t cooking themselves, they could go and get Haitian food. So for them, they were still kind of trapped in that bubble of Haitian identity and eventually moved into Long Island. I grew up in Hempstead, which is a predominantly black neighborhood, but it’s surrounded by a very rich, white suburb. So our neighborhood was Haitian, it was Jamaican, very, very Caribbean. It was interesting because I was in private school. My parents put me in private school because they were not sending me to public school. My older brothers went to public school and they were like, “Not the girls.” My peers in Catholic school were very white. So it was like I was living in two worlds. School outside of my neighborhood was one experience and then within Hempstead, Uniondale, that was a different experience of just being in a very Caribbean environment. And our neighbors were Caribbean, and we would hang out on the street with our neighbors and eat at their homes. And so it wasn’t really too difficult trying to kind of latch into those communities because the work had already been done for them, and they fell into the communities that they needed to be in to make them feel whole. So it was quite the experience. But yeah, it was all Haitian food all the time at home, yeah.
[00:05:54] Maori Karmael Holmes: Omar, you grew up Muslim and also with an activist family and a lot of Black people, Black Americans, like pork is the first thing to go. And then I know for Haitians, pork is never going. So I’m so curious for both of you in becoming chefs, how did your eating change as a part of your career trajectory?
[00:06:18] Omar Tate: Well, mine is easy. I started eating pork. But it took a little while. I guess by a while, it took me maybe seven months. But I had been working in kitchens prior to that as a dishwasher as a porter, and was still practicing Islam and praying and acknowledging Ramadan. But I couldn’t just jump right into pork. So there was this meatloaf that we were serving as a special that had bits of bacon in it. And I ate the meatloaf, and I was like, “This is the best meatloaf I’ve ever had.” And I’m not even sure if it really had anything to do with the pork. But at that time it did, so I just started eating pork.
[00:06:51] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Was that the only thing that you started eating? Were there other things you had not had in your diet?
[00:06:57] Omar Tate: Yeah. Food opened up my entire world. My mind became global just because of food. So things as simple as a shallot or fennel or leaks, that I go to Whole Foods now they’re just there and I can identify the quality of them before, I was just like, “What the hell is a leak?” So I began to eat more varied vegetables. I began to eat fattier foods. I gained some weight, but then the rigor of the job forced you to lose weight too, rapidly. So my diet and health significantly changed. Oh, alcohol consumption skyrocketed at first because I was curious. I didn’t drink a whole lot of beers. I started with drinking a lot of beer and then getting into wine and then pretending to understand the nuance of wine, and then actually knowing the nuance of wine.
[00:07:46] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: For me, being that Haiti was colonized by the French, a lot of our food ways had a lot of French influences. But it was still in the context of it being hearty and stewed and very, very rich. And rice was with every meal. And so when I started working in kitchens, I was familiar with certain things, but it was a different approach. And so my relationship expanded similar to how Omar’s does. Your mind just starts sizzling with all the possibilities. And it was neat because we get to take all the traditional dishes that we grew up with that we kind of got turned off with because a lot of it doesn’t look as, for lack of a better term, prim and proper as the European standards of food. So it was kind of cool having that background and being in restaurants and being in kitchens and seeing the possibilities of our food and what we could do, and then kind of reverting from that and saying, “Eff that, we don’t need to change the way our food looks like. It’s fine the way it is.” So it’s been a really interesting trajectory, kind of the relationship that you have with food in the industry, especially when having a basis of Black food waves as your foundation.
[00:08:36] Maori Karmael Holmes: Omar, your mother raised you largely as a single parent, and you learned to cook in order to help out around the house. Can you talk about some of those early dishes that you mastered?
[00:08:46] Omar Tate: Well, the first dinner that I learned how to cook was roasted chicken. And I loved my mom’s, and still do, my mom’s string beans that she stews and chicken stock with potatoes. And so I asked her to teach me that. She told me how to make that. So those are two things that I learned how to make. And then rice obviously, but I can’t really make rice that well now. I think the first real thing she told me how to cook for myself was eggs. And to this day, eggs is my favorite food.
[00:09:15] Maori Karmael Holmes: How?
[00:09:16] Omar Tate: Scrambled, with cheese.
[00:09:20] Maori Karmael Holmes: Cybille, you’re the youngest. So I’m wondering when did you learn to cook, if at all? Because sometimes the baby gets away with it.
[00:09:27] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Yeah, yeah. But we, in Haitian households, the girls are taught to cook and clean and do all the things at like age five. So while my brothers were living their best lives as little princes, my sister and I were learning how to cook very early on. The little feminist in me was like, “Why? Why aren’t they learning how to do this? Why aren’t they doing it?” But now I understand it was less about being in the gender roles, and it was more so about my mom just wanting to connect to her girls, and the way she did that was through food.
[00:10:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: So with that learning to cook with your mom and with your sister, what were some of those first recipes?
[00:10:05] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Actually, the salad russe that we sell in the store. It’s a beet potato salad. And salad russe translates to Russian salad, and it’s one of those kind of neat things about Haiti. We had a lot of migrants come to the island and a lot of Polish and Russian migrants in the ’40s and the ’30s, and salad Russe has been one of those dishes that the tradition is to kind of eat it, especially around Easter time, but we really eat at any time. But I distinctly remember understanding and learning how to make it, but really peeling hot potatoes because my mom wouldn’t peel the potatoes before she boiled them. She had to boil them skin on and give them to me to peel, and they had to be peeled hot. So I remember just my fingers, as a kid, just trying to peel it and it’d be really, really hot, the potatoes and the carrots.
[00:11:11] Omar Tate: You know what? She probably learned that in French… you should tell her that your mom went to French culinary school in Haiti.
[00:11:16] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: She did go to culinary school.
[00:11:18] Omar Tate: Because that’s how they teach people in French culinary school to cook potatoes and then peel them afterwards.
[00:11:21] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Oh, hot. Oh, I didn’t know that. I was always like, this is a rare form of punishment, but I’m doing it. I want to eat. So that’s the one that sticks out for sure.
[00:11:33] Maori Karmael Holmes: Omar, I read that your grandfather was a community organizer in South Philly and that he and your uncles were affiliated with both the Black Panther Party and MOVE. And I was curious, how did growing up in a household rooted in black radical politics shape your understanding of what was possible for you?
[00:11:54] Omar Tate: I used to think that my mom was angry. Anything and everything, my mom was busting through the school door, “My son’s this, this and that.” I still remember this one time a cop was, I mean, this shouldn’t have happened, but a cop was riding by her house and just turned the light on to her house for seemingly no reason whatsoever. My mom comes up, “Why you shining lights on my house?” And I’m like, “Oh my God.” All my friends are like, “Your mom wild.”
[00:12:17] Maori Karmael Holmes: She’s drunk.
[00:12:21] Omar Tate: So it used to be a little embarrassing for me because I’m always like, “Mom, we ain’t got to be fighting the power on everything all the time.” But it also kind of gave me a true understanding of racial dynamics. The activism that I saw displayed by my mom was about her own agency and more of a nurturing kind of radicalism. I took a lot of it for granted. And then also there’s something about my grandparents’ generation where they just don’t talk about a lot of stuff. And you ask them, “We ain’t asking no questions.”
[00:12:56] Maori Karmael Holmes: Right. There’s nothing to say.
[00:12:59] Omar Tate: And I was also taught part of respecting your elders is to not question. So they’re not offering, there’s nothing to ask. So I don’t really know much about that period. And it’s not until now as an adult that I’m having conversations with not just my uncles, but my aunt who was a seamstress for long… she’s in her 80s now. I want to catch her before she goes and I want to hear about that business, the entrepreneurial spirit, the radical spirit, the community spirit has always been in my mother’s side of the family.
[00:13:30] Maori Karmael Holmes: Cybille, is there an ancestor in your family that has inspired your practice?
[00:13:37] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: One of my great uncles. He actually trained with the Tuskegee Airman. Growing up, I heard the stories of my Uncle Raymond and hearing about his commitment to expanding just the positive image of Haiti. And he was very anti-establishment at the time. It was during the Papa Doc dictatorship. So he did quite a lot against the regime and got himself exiled out of the island. And it’s always been just a real fascinating story. But he’s definitely been the one living relative that’s been inspiring.
[00:14:17] Maori Karmael Holmes: This just, you can answer it however you’d like, but what is a favorite dish that you’d like to make right now?
[00:14:29] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I really enjoy making soup. But not just like soup, soup.
[00:14:33] Omar Tate: I was going to say the same thing.
[00:14:33] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Really?
[00:14:34] Omar Tate: Seriously, yeah.
[00:14:35] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Oh my gosh. So we make Buoyon. In Haiti, it’s a soup that is just super hearty and has all these provisions, all these root vegetables, and typically you have smoked or salt cured meat. Lately, I’ve been putting crab in it. It’s delicious and it’s supposed to take all day, but I found a little hack where it takes only maybe two hours to make. But it’s just very delicious and it’s just fulfilling. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed making lately.
[00:15:08] Omar Tate: Well, we recently had a baby. We have two babies under two.
[00:15:13] Maori Karmael Holmes: Congratulations.
[00:15:13] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Thank you.
[00:15:14] Omar Tate: Thank you. But we also birthed another baby called Honeysuckle Provisions almost at the exact same time.
[00:15:21] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: So three under three technically is what we have.
[00:15:25] Omar Tate: But because of that, I work around the clock. So something that’s very quick for me to make when I actually do cook for myself, which is at this point pretty rare, it’s just heating up broth, like chicken broth or beef broth. And I can take soft greens and canned sardines and just condiments, just put it in a bowl and pour that boiling hot broth directly over top of it. And it’s like a-
[00:15:46] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Ramen.
[00:15:46] Omar Tate: Almost like a ramen. And it’s the most satisfying thing for me to eat because it still tastes like a home cooked thing, and it only takes five minutes. And it’s a reprieve from eating the midnight o’clock fried food I tend to eat because I just don’t know what else to do and it’s no fuss.
[00:16:05] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. I think maybe because of watching chefs as part of our popular culture over the last decade, or just even, I think living in Philly has made me really conscious of food in a way because we’re not acknowledged for the food scene. And I think it’s incredible and innovative and it’s like you can have amazing meals from dives to fine dining. But all of that to say, I’ve just personally become really aware of all these things. And something I had never considered was what chefs eat, and learning the chefs hate brunch and just thinking about all these things. And so yeah, I just love to know what is it that you cook? Because I’ve really come to love restaurants that are industry restaurants. There’s a cafe in LA called All Time. That food is amazing, and it’s so simple.
[00:16:59] Omar Tate: Something that I wish that that would change here in Philly, as great as the food scene is for restaurants, for sit down restaurants, it’s great. But living in New York, it was very, very easy to pick up my phone and order something that wouldn’t make me feel terrible. And that’s actually very challenging here. If you’re ordering online to be delivered to your home-
[00:17:19] Maori Karmael Holmes: It’s not Sweetgreen.
[00:17:22] Omar Tate: No, it’s not. And if you find it, it’s going to cost you almost $200 when you include delivery. And that’s not even an exaggeration. We’ve spent 150, 180 just trying to order food that won’t make us feel like shit. And that’s something that we’re trying to change through our stores, to be able to do that and have it be more affordable. But that’s just one. We want more places to be like that because I don’t want to eat this food all the time. It’s great. Love salad russe.
[00:17:47] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: It’s like literally we got food at home, but times 20. And it’s like, okay, let’s try something else.
[00:17:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: Who has been a mentor to you in the industry?
[00:18:00] Omar Tate: Specifically here in Philly, we have a great relationship with Ellen Yin, who owns High Street Hospitality. Branden McRill, who owns Walnut Street Cafe.
[00:18:09] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Ben Bynum. Chef Ben.
[00:18:12] Omar Tate: Chef Ben Bynum from South. I’d be remiss to not mention Craig Samuel from Brooklyn who owns Peaches.
[00:18:20] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: BJ Dennis has been a good big cultural mentor. Stefan Duran is a chef from Haiti who’s been really influential in my career. He brought me to Haiti to cook for my first time ever, which was pretty life-changing.
[00:18:35] Maori Karmael Holmes: Cybille, you co-founded Earthseed Provisions, which is a culinary studio and food lab, and the name originates from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. And I’m curious what resonated in that text for you to name your project after?
[00:18:50] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: It was actually my very, very best friend and partner in Earthseed. Her name is Alice Grandoit. She actually is a maker, a phenomenal maker. A friend of hers started Deem Magazine, which is a really cool magazine about space and community organizing and how we can redesign our communities to better suit society. From very early on, we’d always had this kind of shared connection in regards to community and place-making, and just making a space for ourselves and having agency and a lot of the things that we were doing. She’s also Haitian-American, so we had a lot of similarities in how we grew up. Also from Long Island. And so we were really always trying to figure out how do we call this studio and this home base of where we can make all the things we want to make? What resonates with that? And it was really thinking about the future of what we wanted to do. It wasn’t the now when we were in it. We were planting all these seeds and doing all these root works to kind of establish ourselves in the now way back when, 15 years ago. And that’s evident in Honeysuckle. That’s evident in what the work she’s doing with Deem. And so Octavia Butler just made sense, and thinking about the Earthseed series and thinking about just black futures and community.
[00:20:09] Maori Karmael Holmes: Omar, you decided to abandon your life in New York after attempting to have a conventional path to chefdom. And then you came back to Philly in 2017 and started from scratch. And I was curious, what was your aha moment or breaking point that inspired this shift? Did you have a Bear style breakdown?
[00:20:32] Omar Tate: No. I actually came back to Philly in 2020. But it was in 2017 that I was actually managing kitchens. And I was working at this place, it was called Once Upon a Tart in SoHo. It had a 30 year history in that neighborhood. But I was working under a chef, actually a married couple. It’s an all day brunch place that did dinner and throw pastries, not dissimilar from what we’re doing, minus the grocery aspect. But I was being stifled in that position. I’d been denied a couple of other head chef and executive roles in other places, and I’d never experienced that kind of denial as a line cook. Anyone wants a line cook. But when you start wanting positions where power is an issue, people look at you differently. And I received emails that said things like, “You don’t look like the kind of person you want to run this place.” But there were several other things that took place there where I just felt pretty marginalized in my creativity. They had no problem with me spreadsheeting and telling people what to do and hiring and firing. But when it came to idea making, which is my true passion and creativity, it is no. So the one good thing, well, one of the good things because it wasn’t a totally bad experience, but one of the good things that happened that once Upon a Tart is that the owner at the time ran, during women’s history month, a pie a day to represent a woman who inspired her. And I was like in my head, if I wanted to do that for Black History Month or for any purpose whatsoever where I was inspired by a black person every day in food, would I even be able to get to day 10? Seriously? Seriously, would I be able to get to day 10? And at that time, the answer was no. So I went to the Schomburg in Harlem and just asked for every book they had on black food, assuming that they had some, because I didn’t even know that books existed on black food at that time. I was looking for historical documents that cataloged our experience as human beings through food. And one of the first books that I came upon was Toni Tipton-Martin’s the Jemima Code, which is an amazing academic catalog of not just black food waste, but there’s branding there for better or for worse, obviously, because it does go back to there are old recipes and old cookbooks, but there’s some blackface and stuff involved in the project. But it just taught me, and it reframed my thinking that I stopped thinking about slaves and I started thinking about people. I stopped thinking about slave diets and slave foods and all, and then it just became food. And honestly, it was that moment that I always felt a little guilty eating pork. But when I started learning about black humanity through food, I didn’t feel guilty because I felt like it was mine. So that was the real shift. And the further I went into that, the more confident I felt in my ability to show up and demand what I wanted from this industry.
[00:23:32] Maori Karmael Holmes: You’ve talked about moving away from making pretty plates to beautiful ones. And I’d love if you could explain this difference. How do you define beautiful food?
[00:23:43] Omar Tate: So the word pretty etymologically goes back to Latin, and I can’t remember what the original word was, but it means to lie or to deceive. And whenever you think about things that are classified or categorized as pretty, it is almost always superficial. It’s a stage, it’s something that’s been staged. It’s something that we all can kind of like ooh and ah over. But beauty’s about depth. And I don’t really think that there’s a way to discuss or describe beauty. Not in English, at least. It’s hard. I feel like English is one of those languages where all the words that so exacting that it doesn’t allow room for your mind to imagine its volume. And beauty is about that, that expansiveness. It’s the cloud that we all live in, that is the collective experience of life. And you can find that in several different things.
[00:24:44] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I’ve heard you say that before and every time I hear you say it, I have to remind myself, next time he calls me pretty, throwing hands.
[00:24:54] Omar Tate: Sometimes, people want to hear that. There’s value in pretty. But I do think that pretty has become the new beauty. That’s what I thought.
[00:25:02] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: No.
[00:25:02] Omar Tate: I cleaned it up.
[00:25:03] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: No. I’m going to start making a mental note of the next time you call something pretty.
[00:25:09] Maori Karmael Holmes: So do you share this philosophy?
[00:25:11] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I think to a certain extent. Yeah, I think to a certain extent. In terms of food specifically, have challenged myself in the way that I perceive food visually over the years, specifically our food waste and the words that we use to talk about them when they’re positioned differently than the traditional way. And a lot of folks like to say elevate a lot. And it really grinds my gears because to say that you’re elevating something means that it wasn’t shit to begin with and that that’s harmful. If that was the case, then generations wouldn’t be fulfilled off this stuff. Communities, families wouldn’t be fulfilled off this stuff. So pretty and beautiful are wonderful ways to describe art. And food is art, to a certain extent, or food is art period, actually. Not to a certain extent, it’s art, period. But I don’t know that I think about it in that way anymore. I think especially after having given birth, I think about food and I think about dishes as just sustainability and nurturing and what that means for your body and how we can share that with our kin and I don’t think about it from that perspective so much anymore.
[00:26:46] Maori Karmael Holmes: How did y’all meet?
[00:26:51] Omar Tate: It’s your favorite story to tell.
[00:26:51] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: No, no, no. But I’ve been the one telling it, and so you can tell it.
[00:26:56] Omar Tate: So we met March 5th, 2020. I remember the date.
[00:27:01] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Tell him what kind of moon––
[00:27:02] Maori Karmael Holmes: ––Height of the pandemic.
[00:27:04] Omar Tate: Yeah, just before, right before the pandemic. It was creeping in. People were already talking about COVID. It was an orange moon.
[00:27:10] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Thank you.
[00:27:11] Omar Tate: Orange Moon. We were both invited to cook for Charleston Wine and Food. We were both called upon by BJ Dennis, our friend and mentor.
[00:27:20] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: And Cupid, apparently.
[00:27:22] Omar Tate: And apparently Cupid. Yeah, we were doing the festival together, over the course of a weekend, and we spent a lot of time with one another. I like to think that we went on 10 hyper intimate dates all in one weekend and doing different things. We went to brunch, we went to go visit the homes that my family still own in South Carolina and the church that they used to go to.
[00:27:43] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: We karaoked.
[00:27:43] Omar Tate: We karaoked.
[00:27:47] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: We Sang. We rapped “What We Do”.
[00:27:50] Omar Tate: Oh, yeah.
[00:27:50] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: And that’s how you know marriage.
[00:27:53] Omar Tate: That’s when we knew.
[00:27:54] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: That’s when we knew.
[00:27:57] Omar Tate: Yeah. So she left first and I was there for a whole day after she left. I think that this is it, she’s the one and I love her.
[00:28:10] Maori Karmael Holmes: Since this whirlwind, not only romance, but life shifts, what continues to surprise you about each other, this week maybe or recently?
[00:28:25] Omar Tate: You know what? Cybille’s energy. Seriously. As we mentioned, we had two babies, Jupiter and Apollo. Apollo’s the younger one, Jupiter’s the older one. Jupiter was a night sleeper. He was great. He was like, “Oh, it’s time for bed. It’s time for bed. Let’s do this.” Apollo’s like, “It’s time for bed, I’m good. I’m going to sit up. I’m going to cry.” And so Cybille has had to sit in a rocking chair for the past five months and pretty much hold him so that he can sleep. And then when she comes to the store, she’s like, “Hey, everybody,” all excited. And I’m like, “How do you have not just the energy, but the joy?” You know what I mean? The happiness. Because I’m also not sleeping in a very different way, and I am not that person. And as much as I want to be, and I used to try to be, but now I’m just like, “Y’all getting this Omar today?” That surprises me. And it actually makes me a little envious that I can’t carry that. But it also makes me love you a lot because I think it’s beautiful.
[00:29:41] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know. I can’t say it’s just coffee. I think it’s just, well, I’m certainly inspired by the sacrifices you’ve had to make while our family’s been growing alongside this business. And there was a period in time when I was on maternity leave that Omar was working overnights because we needed bread. We bake our own bread, and we only had one baker, and it was an overnight process. And multiple days working overnight and well into the day, actually working those shifts. And it was just very inspiring how he continued to keep doing it. And he kept doing it and he kept doing it, he kept doing it. And I was like, “Man, if he could do that for a month straight, I could wake up and make sure that everyone knows that the energy is still there in the store.” And that it might be rough times sometimes, our attitudes, our moods might not be there, but this is still the safe space where people first and foremost should experience joy because it’s food. And so I think that’s the motivation.
[00:30:47] Maori Karmael Holmes: What gave you all the courage to open a food-based business in the pandemic?
[00:30:52] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Insanity.
[00:30:53] Omar Tate: Yeah. I mean-
[00:30:54] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Yeah.
[00:30:55] Omar Tate: I don’t know if it was a thought about this is a downhill thing. Between both of us, we have 25 years experience in cooking and speaking for myself, I’m only able to do all the other things that I do because I put that apron on. And the logical next step for myself was, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I sold t-shirts and I did this and I did that. So the only logical next step was to own a business. And despite what was going on in the world or naivete or just ignorance, because half the time I can’t even watch the news, it was Honeysuckle or nothing.
[00:31:42] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I think we were also very much fueled by the desire or the need to nourish this one community, our community. We live two blocks from the store now. And that motivation, when you have kids and you think about their futures, and you think about the food ecosystem that we live in, that we kind of came up in professionally, we think about just how toxic and trash it is. Our kids are going to have to exist in this food system. And so why not do our part?
[00:32:10] Maori Karmael Holmes: Where does the name Honeysuckle come from?
[00:32:13] Omar Tate: So growing up in Germantown, there was a honeysuckle bush that grew along the side of my house. But for me to get back to a place of remembering family and childhood innocence and creativity, remembering home was it, and that smell and taste of honeysuckle was always that.
[00:32:31] Maori Karmael Holmes: What are your hopes for the future of Honeysuckle and what are you hoping its impact is on the industry?
[00:32:39] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: If you would’ve asked us this question maybe even a year ago, a few months ago before we actually opened, we would’ve been like, we want Honeysuckle everywhere. But I think now it doesn’t have to be Honeysuckle as it exists now. I think immediately what I know we want is that we want to establish West Philadelphia as a place where people can go and eat really good food.
[00:33:06] Maori Karmael Holmes: West Philly needs that.
[00:33:07] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: West Philly needs that. West Philly deserves that. The people that exist in West Philly deserve to have to not go downtown or go to south or go anywhere else to get food or to celebrate moments. And so I know for us in this moment, immediately, we want to establish a few concepts in West Philly. And we want to just create safe spaces for all types of people to enjoy the food that we grew up with, the food that we enjoy making. And then from there, once we do that, then maybe Honeysuckle and some transportation hubs. It’s important for a Honeysuckle to exist really close to a farm so we can continue to do the work that we’re doing. And I think if that’s the case, then more up and down the East Coast could be really dope. Then we can connect all these farms and create this supply chain and this circuit of food running up and down the east coast highlighting, celebrating black farmers, supporting black farmers and supporting the black owned businesses, restaurants, and food services that the black farmers can kind of sell to. And I think that’s immediate 10 years, 5-10 years is what we want.
[00:34:15] Maori Karmael Holmes: And what is the most realistic portrayal of a kitchen and a chef’s life that you’ve seen in film or television?
[00:34:20] Omar Tate: The Bear.
[00:34:22] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Definitely The Bear and the Ratatouille too.
[00:34:24] Omar Tate: The actual food was real.
[00:34:27] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: The food was real. And also the pressure of a critic coming in and-
[00:34:29] Omar Tate: Oh, well, there’s that. But the rat and the hat? okay.
[00:34:33] Maori Karmael Holmes: The Bear felt real, which is why I wanted to ask you all because I was like, this feels like a documentary. What is happening?
[00:34:38] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I had to take a break. It gave me anxiety. It reminded me of all the things I hated about the industry.
[00:34:45] Maori Karmael Holmes: Are there any cooking shows or documentaries that have shifted how you’ve viewed or experienced food? For myself, I think about Like Water for Chocolate changed my relationship to food in some ways. And I also really enjoyed High on the Hog, and I feel like it made me think about some things. But for either of you, so Anthony Bourdain, what are-
[00:35:05] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Anthony Bourdain is always going to be inspirational for us. He just went to the places that no one was really trying to go to, at a time where when I was working on the line… when he went to Haiti, I was just like, “What?” The episode was what it was, but he still went there. And he did that with a lot of other places. And the cooks that I worked with from Central America or South America were always so hyped when he would go to one of their countries. And it gave us special kind of camaraderie in the kitchen for us at the time. I thought it was pretty dope. Ina Garten is super fly, and I aspire to be that great when I retire.
[00:35:45 Maori Karmael Holmes: You both have creative interests beyond medium of food, and I’m curious if there’s any desire to expand on those other interests professionally or even on the side, as you make space for less work. Are you going to write more? You’re both writers.
[00:36:01] Omar Tate: Well, I’m actually actively pursuing my artistic endeavors at the same time. It’s actually driving me crazy, but I am quietly writing a book right now. And also-
[00:36:15] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Not so quietly, you could publicly say it. Say it with your chest, you’re writing a book.
[00:36:20] Omar Tate: I hate being the person that says, “I’m doing this thing.”
[00:36:23] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: She asked the question.
[00:36:24] Omar Tate: Yeah, I know. I’m just not really a flashy guy. And I feel like that’s the new flash, people are on Instagram and all this kind of stuff and publicizing the things that, “I’m going to do this” or “I’m doing that.” And they’re not even really doing it. And maybe it’s the Philly in me. I think that’s where-
[00:36:43] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Definitely the Philly in you.
[00:36:44] Omar Tate: That’s definitely the Philly in me, real stuff only. But the book is real. My actual goal for peace and joy in my career is to be a professional working artist by 50.
[00:36:55] Maori Karmael Holmes: Okay.
[00:36:56] Omar Tate: That’s what I want to do.
[00:36:57] Maori Karmael Holmes: How old are you now?
[00:36:58] Omar Tate: 36.
[00:36:59] Maori Karmael Holmes: How about you, Cybille?
[00:36:59] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: I would like to write more. Yeah, I would definitely like to write more. I wrote one children’s book, but I don’t know, with two kids running around, I’m just always thinking about the messes that they can get into if they do get into, and how that would translate in a book form for other children to read and engage with. So that’s always something that I’m always thinking about and would like to do when things settle down. We are trying to figure out ways to visually tell our story, whether it be a documentary form or a cooking show or some type of segment. Just really go further and take people to the farm and have them talk to the farmers and to meet our neighbors. And always just thinking about ways to creatively tell our story.
[00:37:47] Maori Karmael Holmes: So I have two final questions, and you can choose which one you want to answer or both. One is, where do you find inspiration and for whom do you make food?
[00:38:00] Omar Tate: I’m going to choose the inspiration. Nature. The infinite, the ellipses of life. Even when I’m hyper stressed and anxious, I’ll notice the moon, flowers, leaves, breath, my children, our nature. That is the impeccable curiosity that they have is just natural human element. Jupiter likes to, one of my favorite things, I love watching him line up things. He’s very meticulous. He will count his little colorful balls and just place them and place them and place them. Then just smashes it. I love that. But then it’s going to sound really cheesy, but birds chirping, it’s beautiful.
[00:38:52] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Yeah. So to the other question, who do I make food for? Literally, obviously, I make food for my family and my kids, myself. But in the communal sense, I think, and this is something I’ve been thinking about more so as I kind of think about just how I want to approach Haitian food in Philadelphia and how I want to engage in this community, I think I make food for not only people with Haitian background, but for folks who straddle two cultures and they’re trying to find their center. And it’s a little bit of one side, it’s a little bit on another side, or it’s a little bit of a lot of nothing at all. But I think within that, there’s this imagination that can kind of occur, that is still rooted in history, that’s still rooted in our foundation, but it is also just very, very fun. And I think that’s what I make food for. I make food for the person that’s still exploring their identity with the influence of everything around them.
[00:39:49] Maori Karmael Holmes: Thank you.
[00:39:51] Omar Tate: Thank you.
[00:39:52] Maori Karmael Holmes: Thank you so much again for agreeing to do this show. I really appreciate it.
[00:39:56] Omar Tate: It was good.
[00:39:56] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Thank you.
[00:39:56] Omar Tate: Thanks for making us feel comfortable.
[00:39:58] Cybille St. Aude-Tate: Yeah.
[00:40:05] Maori Karmael Holmes: To keep up with more of Omar Tate: and Cybille St. Aude-Tate:’s work, you can follow them on Instagram, @HoneysuckleProvisions. This season of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. It is produced by BlackStar Projects in partnership with Rowhome Productions. The host and executive producer of Many Lumens is me, Maori Karmael Holmes. This episode was produced by Kayla Lattimore. Associate producers are Irit Reinheimer and Zoë Greggs. Managing producer is Alex Lewis. Executive editor is John Meyers. Justin Berger is our final mix and mastering engineer. Our music supervisor is David “Lil’ Dave” Adams. Our theme song was composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by Lil’ Dave. This episode features music by Maleke O’Ney and DJ Applejac. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard so far this season, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and let us know what you think of the show.
Sending you light and see you next time.