Roux40 in Oakland to Celebrate Black Women and Heritage Cooking



Jambalaya de Roux40 with prawns and lobster topped. Credit: Roux40

A restaurant celebrating black heritage cuisine and run entirely by black women and women of color will open in the Temescal neighborhood this fall.

Called Roux40, the restaurant is a project by Christina “Lala” Harrison, a native of the Bay Area, and will be located in the former Hog’s Apothecary space (which was briefly Magpie) at 375 40th St. Harrison has an ambitious vision for his restaurant; she wants it to be more than just a place to eat.

“This restaurant is me literally living my dream and the product of all my hard work,” said the 35-year-old chef. “I really want to be able to provide a space for women to be leaders, whether they are gay women or young women or women of color.”

At Roux40, Harrison intends to present diners with more nuanced versions of dishes they may already be familiar with. A lot of people think Cajun or soul food is representative of all of black cuisine, Harrison said. She credits culinary writer Stephen Satterfield’s popular Netflix series “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America” ​​to help her define the food she wants to cook.

“Through this restaurant, I hope to tell my story as a Black American,” Harrison said, adding that Roux40’s menu is much more filling than fried chicken and mac and cheese, although these dishes are included.

For example, one of her favorite dishes is her own take on kidney beans and rice – a farro risotto with kidney beans, a sweet potato gremolata, and a toasted green onion vinaigrette. “People are blown away by it and think there is meat in it but there isn’t,” Harrison said of diners who tried it at the tastings. “I want you to get the flavors of a traditional dish like this in a different package.”

Harrison’s version of the classic kidney bean and rice dish is a farro risotto with kidney beans, sweet potato gremolata, and a grilled green onion vinaigrette. Credit: Roux40

On Sunday evenings, she intends to offer a dinner menu meant to evoke dishes that many black families might recognize as a post-church meal, but with a farm-to-table sensibility. A preview menu for Roux40 also features dishes like vegan okra, with collard greens, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas. There’s also a jambalaya with shrimp and lobster with head, and a ‘Greens & Beans’ with black-eyed peas, greens, shallots, peppers and a sherry-bacon vinaigrette.

Much of the produce used at Roux40 will come from Brown Girl Farms in Hayward and local urban farmers owned by people of color, and its wine and beer list will come from black-owned vineyards and breweries.

Noting that pig’s head cheese – an economical way to use every part of a pork – was a staple in many Southern black households, Harrison said she plans to eventually include it on a plate. of cold cuts. “My grandma would put it on crackers, and I thought ‘disgusting eww’, but there’s so much history behind it,” she said.

Harrison grew up in Richmond and Berkeley, the daughter of single mother, Yvette Radford, who is “that incredible woman, like a superwoman,” Harrison said. Now vice president for external and community affairs for Kaiser Permanente, Radford has worked for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and other local politicians. Harrison said his mother was this “incredible role model, who has always inspired me so much to this day.”

Roux40 founder Lala Harrison is considering plans for her next restaurant, Temescal. Credit: Roux40

The only thing she didn’t get from her mother was her interest in food. It came from Patricia Curtan, former sous-chef at Chez Panisse. Curtan, the longtime illustrator of Chez Panisse menus and Alice Waters books, had been the mother of Harrison’s best friend since childhood.

“She always made the freshest food, much of it from her own garden, and handmade pasta,” Harrison said. “Even though I wasn’t that much into food at the time, it definitely caught my attention.”

It wasn’t until a friend started taking cooking classes at Laney College that Harrison felt drawn to doing the same. “It just sparked something, immediately on my first day, and I thought, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,’” she said, noting that she liked “even the job. growling “.

Starting out in restaurant kitchens, she said she often had to prove herself as a woman of color working among predominantly male chefs, suffering discrimination and disrespect.

At one point, she responded to a Craigslist ad for a then unnamed Uptown restaurant. The job was at the iconic Oakland Flora location, cooking under the direction of Chef Rico Rivera, who is now Chef / Owner of Oakland’s Almond & Oak. She stayed for nearly seven years, moving from pantry (cold dishes) to sous-chef. “Rico really took me under his wing and invested in me as a person and as a leader,” Harrison said. “He’s had a huge influence on every decision I make. “

It was also at Flora that she worked for the first time on an all-female line of chefs. She still remembers it fondly, saying “it was like magic, like butter”.

From Flora, she went to Youth UpRising and then opened her own restaurant business, JusLa Eats. When the pandemic began, JusLa partnered with Jose Andres’ Global Central Kitchen, providing hundreds of meals for those in need. Eventually, Harrison started doing JusLa pop-ups, refining his vision and refining his ideas for what would become Roux40. A GoFundMe has helped her raise money for the business (she accepts donations but doesn’t want investors, she said).

When Roux40 opens – Harrison’s target date is October – Harrison is hoping to prioritize hiring young people of color who are interested in the hospitality business. She has worked closely with many like this at Youth UpRising, an East Oakland organization that provides opportunities for at-risk young residents.

There is a lack of people of color in lead roles in restaurant kitchens, Harrison said, an issue she has experienced firsthand. With Roux40, she hopes to change that by offering members of historically under-represented groups a new path to success.

“Some are able to learn from experience, but they don’t always get the opportunity if they don’t have the experience,” she said. “I want more of these young people to have the opportunities that I have had that have brought me to where I am now.”

When it opens, Roux40 will be located at 375 40th St. (near Opal Street), Oakland. Watch Roux40 on Instagram for the latest news on openings and pop-ups.


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