Imagine a family reunion, where biological relations are replaced by cultural relations, where people who are connected by their experiences share and indulge in all elements of Black excellence.
The Family Reunion, the first to be held at the Salamander Resort & Spa, attracted dozens of the nation’s top Black chefs to the five-star sprawling horse country estate, owned by entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, in Middleburg, Va. from Thursday, Aug. 19 through Sunday, Aug. 22.
Co-host Chef Kwame Onwuachi described the venue as a “Black Aspen,” similar to a retreat for notables in the Rocky Mountains.
He and Johnson collaborated for the Family Reunion event because they saw a need to showcase the reality of Black excellence, not only in the DMV area but around the world.
Chefs, wine enthusiasts, artists, and creatives gathered throughout the weekend to share and experience Blackness at its fullest.
“It feels good. It mostly feels good because our people are able to celebrate. We are able to celebrate ourselves and celebrate everything we’ve got going on in our culture, in our music, in our food, in our style. It’s beautiful,” said Onwuachi.
The Family Reunion opened with a cookout featuring food from D.C.’s iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl and pit-masters Rodney Scott and Bryan Furman. Drinks were provided by Remy Martin and several vendors.
Throughout the weekend, panel discussions and presentations were made by food leaders including Virginia Ali, Julia Coney, Carla Hall, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, and Padma Lakshmi, to name a few. Other prominent leaders within the food industry mingled with guests and entertainers such as Dave Chappelle, and others. Estelle delivered a performance that added more soul to the eventful weekend.
D.C.’s own Chef JR Robinson, owner of Kitchencray, was also present at the weekend-long event and felt like this family reunion was needed for the Black community.
“I really feel like we’re at a family reunion. Last night we were playing spades and dominoes. We were chilling with all of the chefs and everyone [was] coming together. It’s a good event because I feel like they don’t show this side of Black excellence. When we watch tv and the news it’s always us against each other and us killing each other when this [excellence] is going on every day as well,” said Robinson.
Robinson is also thankful for this event because of the vision and work that was put into bringing Black chefs and their talent together in one space. It was an opportunity for Black chefs to share their art of food and learn from each other to grow as a community.
Diners explored dishes from the African Diaspora. Midway through Friday afternoon, activity breakout sessions took place featuring chef presentations showcasing the history behind the food they cook. Chef Andre Fowles and Peter Prime hosted a session titled, “Jerk: The Dish that Freed the Nation.”
Reflecting on his Jamaican roots, Fowles educated attendees on the influence West African culture has on Jamaican food while also including a brief history lesson on the effects of slavery in the country. That presentation led to a discussion on how Black people worldwide are connected and how that shows through food.
“For me personally it’s a very exciting feeling, it’s an amazing feeling because for me growing up in Jamaica we have those influences from West Africa, you know. So those roots are very strong and run deep. So we’re here in America to share those traditions that [may be] so far away but we’re also connected,” said Fowles.
During the reunion, Virginia Ali, co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl, received a lifetime achievement award.