Hospitality brings a thought of people welcoming others with lavish treatment involving offers of exorbitant gifts or delectable food prepared by a giving and generous host. These displays of kindness often occur in the home of the giver, where the guests are invited to come and partake. However, true hospitality comes from the heart, resulting in a life changing experience for both giver and receiver. The giver caters to the needs of the receiver above their own, taking the time to find out how best they can be of service. The giver offers with a genuine feeling of honor and reverence that parallels the receivers sense of welcome.
This spirit of hospitality pulsates throughout my family’s establishment, Zachary’s BBQ & Soul in Norristown, PA. From the moment you enter, you are greeted by the soulful tunes of Motown and classic R&B, as well as the inviting smells that emerge from the kitchen. Our delightful, friendly staff warmly greet you. They educate patrons on select menu items that are particular favorites or items that appeal to the guest’s palate. The time taken by the staff to inform guests without them feeling overwhelmed by the vast selection of menu items shows their passion and commitment to making each patron feel welcomed.
I believe my “staff are ambassadors of gracious hospitality” and this is evident through their gift of servanthood, divine sincerity, and passion for each customer they assist. Norristown resident, John Henry added, “Every time I walk in the store and Mrs. Taylor (my wife) is present, I am greeted by my first name, even after months of not being there, she remembers me.”
Again, this adds to the testament and spirit of hospitality that I strive to provide daily.
But where did this come from?
At an early age, my taste for down home authentic soul food is influenced most by my grandmother, Miss Doris Taylor, with much credit to some formidable home cooks like my Aunt Joyce Cochran, our neighbor Mrs. Angie McGriff, Caribbean aunties, and a long list of Italian mothers and grandmothers in my hometown of Nutley, NJ. My grandmother often included me on trips to the market where I discovered a variety of foods and smells that were pleasantly overwhelming, but captivating to me as a child. Not only did she develop my palate and appreciation for the soulful delicacies that filled her kitchen and the appreciation for abundant flavors of every culture, she also enlightened me to the concept of hospitality. Everyone was a guest in her home. She dished out food to anyone willing to walk through the Taylor family threshold. All were embraced regardless of the contents of your purse, blood or not, and no matter what religion…because being in her home and the opportunity to serve others, was a labor of love that she taught us to take seriously.
Most of the influences for Zachary’s cuisine and hospitality have their origins from three select cultures: Italian, Caribbean, and African-American.
Chef Keith Taylor grew up in a place he calls, The Center of the Universe, Nutley, NJ. This small town, is where many first and second generation Italian immigrants laid down their roots in the United States. The use of fresh garlic was everywhere and growing tomato plants was the official town vegetable. Homemade tomato “sauce or gravy” (depending on who you ask) was a matter of tradition and pride in many friend’s homes. Through my childhood friendships and my Aunt Tina (Pucciarelli) and her parents, I was exposed to the many a nonna and momma of Italy that took great pride in the preparation of traditional foods. I always say, “food goes way beyond simple nourishment” because of the care and timely investment these women put into their food. Great care is taken to select particular cheeses, pasta, vegetable preparations, and wine for various occasions.
The Taylor family is spread far and wide, so I use some of our Caribbean homage in the kitchen. Similar to the Italian mindset, Caribbean culture designates select dishes for traditional feasts and holidays. Some require several days to make preparations for nationwide celebrations. Haitian, Jamaican, Bahamian, and aunties of all the Caribbean islands will spend several days assembling dishes like roti, jerk chicken, goat, curries, stews, and any number of meals where rice was always present.
Probably the most influential culture found in Zachary’s food belongs to the African-American culture. For centuries, the African-American community harvested what is passionately known as soul food cuisine. Most of its roots are soaked in the richness of its plantation base where we established the origins of what is today often misnamed as the southern food of North America. Many believe that soul food is borne of barbecue and components of the American south, I disagree. The southern fare and barbecue of the great American culinary landscape that we enjoy today comes from soul food, not the other way around. Soul Food is the direct descendant of slave trade and the unique use of spices, seasoning, and preparations created by the African slaves who prepared every meal for plantations, the children of landowners, celebrations, and the army of every early American war. Post-emancipation our earliest domestic and restaurant kitchens were buoyed by the deft hand of blacks and immigrants who laid the foundations for flavor in America. Some of the more common dishes are barbecue in its many forms, black-eyed peas, collard greens, okra, chicken fried steak, and too many specialties to name that were inspired by our rich contributions to food since arriving here.
All of these cultures use food to assist in the commemoration of religious ceremonies, festivals, holidays, and events from the mundane to the ostentatious. We use food to build relationships, uphold tradition, and formulate lasting ties with family and friends. Today in Zachary’s kitchens we celebrate so much in each plate we serve, and this is at the center of what I try to teach the young men and women under my leadership.
The spirit of hospitality ultimately takes root in the individual by manifesting itself in the heart. Cultivated through my zealous passion for the simplicity of soul-food and various cultural influences, I always remember that gracious hospitality, at its core, is the one thing that brings people together at any one of my little kitchens whether at home or in Montgomery County Pennsylvania. (and soon to be shared in the City of Philadelphia!)
eat ~ love ~ share ~ soul
Photo: This impromptu paella is a perfect example of how friends (Henry Rodriguez, Brian McLean and Bert Phillip) from Boston dropped by one early Sunday afternoon and inspired a cultural kitchen exchange. Blending different ingredients I had laying around, and regional preferences to a dish that hails from another part of the globe I made us a big bowl of caribbean soul. Nothing tastes as good as a meal prepared for friends…and that is my favorite thing to do. (cold beers and belly laughs not included in this image)
Author: Keith Taylor & Tiffany Joyner
Editor: Samantha Taylor