Story by Kerri Ebanks
Special to NOLA Messenger
Walking into Backatown Coffee Parlour while DJ Chinua is spinning Caribbean Funk vibes could make you feel a little guilty because you’re out on a weeknight, but when it’s carnival season, the word “guilt” is never mentioned. There’s more of a crowd than there would be on a typical weekday, and that’s all due to a pop-up event hosted by Eat NOLA Noir.
Just in time for Black History Month, Eat NOLA Noir previewed New Orleans Black Dining Week last Wednesday (Jan. 31) at Backatown. The semi-annual event will begin Feb. 12 and last until Feb. 24. The organizers previewed what’s to come for the themed cuisine week, set to bring more exposure to Black-owned eateries in New Orleans through social exchange.
The inception of this idea sprouted from the desire to bring social engagement and economic growth to the well-known establishments and new culinary ventures within the African-American community. The restaurants featured will explore dishes of Creole, Caribbean, African, Soul Food and Black American culture.
Erica Durousseau, co-founder of Eat NOLA Noir, said that she is passionate about helping Black businesses elevate themselves. Durousseau expressed that her partner Zella Palmer is “very passionate about food, and passionate about getting Black and minority chefs the recognition that they deserve.” Durousseau herself is passionate about helping people and “helping our own selves get to where we need to be,” she said in reference to minority food businesses.
While all events will take place in minority-owned restaurants, this non-traditional culinary excursion is not limited to just restaurants; it will highlight the work of local chefs, bakers, caterers, food truck vendors, and even bartenders.
Durousseau is not here to bask in the spotlight or take credit for the New Orleans eatery industry; she wants to join the likes of others who are already doing the work to highlight minority businesses. “Not to discredit or undermine their work, we just want to contribute to it,” she said.
Zella Palmer, also co-founder, is the Director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Food Studies Program. The Ray Charles program focuses on research and preservation of African-American culture in New Orleans and the South. Palmer, described by Durousseau as a “food extraordinaire,” writes about the food pioneers of New Orleans—namely Linda Green (The YaKaMein Lady), Nellie Murray, and Leah Chase, to name a few.
Palmer, who also works closely with chefs and vendors of the culinary industry, said that she empathizes with them. “I also hear their sorrows, their joys, their pain. And this is something that I know they wanted to see happen,” she said.
She shares that the current state of food culture in New Orleans is changing due to the access to food and the economic growth of the Black community.
Palmer said that she simply wants those who attend the Black Dining Week festivities to simply “celebrate the culinary genius” and support the city’s minority establishments that provide the indulging atmosphere to food lovers.
The Big Easy joins the likeness of cities such as Atlanta, Houston, St. Louis, and Memphis that also host similar culturally-influenced restaurant exposés. As of now, New Orleans Black Dining Week will feature about 25 restaurants that includes Neyow’s Creole Cafe, 14 Parishes, Dooky Chase’s, Tasty Treat, Heard Dat Kitchen, Sassafras, and Dook’s Place.
Find more details about New Orleans Black Dining Week and Eat NOLA Noir at eatnolanoir.com.