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Husband-and-wife chefs Omar Tate and Cybille St. Aude-Tate realized something funny as they moved closer to launching Honeysuckle Projects, their endeavor that forwards “Black aesthetics, philosophy, and ideology” in many ways, but especially through food.
“Cybille and I barely cook anymore,” said Tate, a West Philly native who’s gained national renown for his cooking.
St. Aude-Tate couldn’t help but laugh at that, and Tate laughed with her. As Honeysuckle’s physical locations continue to develop, the two chefs have spent less time in the kitchen, but they’re not mad about it. “It’s actually a great thing,” Tate said.
In the works since 2020, Honeysuckle will manifest in a few projects that are still on the boil — a cafe in Walnut Hill, and a larger grocery space on 52nd and Market that doubles as a cultural center — and one you can taste now: seasonal breakfast boxes that can be ordered online and picked up weekly. As the footprint grows, the team is expanding.
Elaine Holton manages the farm Honeysuckle runs on 46th and Market. Sterling Pope and Aya Iwatani work on the farm and have picked up many of the responsibilities in the kitchen. Budding fermentologist Jamaar Julal lends his talents to their recipes.
The idea that connects it all is to create community while providing for the community.
“The entire project is really geared towards offering an alternative to folks in the neighborhood,” explained St. Aude-Tate, so West Philly residents don’t need to venture too far or spend too much “to get nutrient dense food, to get food made by chefs and people that actually care about where your food comes from.”
The cafe at 48th and Spruce is slated to open fully in June. Along with counter service, it will feature a grocery wall offering products from Black farmers in the tri-state area.
Honeysuckle’s intention is to grow with its network of producers, as the farm grows more and more of the kitchen’s ingredients. Championing and supporting self-sufficiency — as part of a network or within an organization — is a key element of the project.
When going to work = helping your community
The ability to sustain land and strengthen Black communities was a critical emphasis in the work of George Washington Carver, whose experiments with sweet potatoes inspired items in this season’s breakfast box.
In the box is a whipped sweet potato butter that pairs well with the BLACKenglish muffins — the name references a 1979 essay by James Baldwin — made with einkorn sweet potato flour.
An item called the BLACKeyed pea scrapple is not only delicious, it also embodies “the convergence of cultural touch points,” said Tate, referring to the Black people who introduced the black-eyed pea to America, the influence of the Pennsylvania Dutch’s trademark breakfast invention, and the prevalence of West Philadelphians who avoid swine when they dine.
To make it, peas grown by Honeysuckle are combined with cornmeal, oats, and a black eyed pea miso fermented by Julal, lending the final result a savory umami surprising for plant-based food.
Fry it up next to a farm-fresh egg, top it with a slice of cheese, and place it on the muffin for a fantastic breakfast sandwich.
The pea scrapple was one of many items formed in a deeply collaborative process, one that far outstripped the level of input and interplay farmers Iwatani and Pope were accustomed to in previous fine dining gigs.
“This is very intentional and purposeful in a way that is absent from, I think, a lot of restaurants and kitchens in general,” said Pope.
From the jump, it was easy to speak with Tate and St. Aude-Tate, Iwatani said, “and be candid about how I felt about where the industry was in the middle of the pandemic, and the struggles of having to make ends meet and function in an industry that wasn’t really supportive.”
She noted a critical difference with the Honeysuckle management: “All ideas are considered in this company.”
Iwatani and Pope were both compelled to join the team because of conversations with Honeysuckle’s founders that convinced them that they could leave a deeper imprint in the community they’re situated in.
“I’ve done a lot of mutual aid and mutual aid is great, but it doesn’t pay,” Pope said. “So if I have to choose between going to work and helping someone out — this job feels like I don’t really have to make that choice.”
‘Dining with us means you’re dining with our family’
The Tates care about the intimacy of a home cooked meal and the importance of feeling at home, and want to cultivate that spirit in their spaces beyond just the dishes they serve..
“We’ll be creating product lines that aren’t food, doing art engagements that bridge food, art, culture, and literature,” Tate said, describing what’s ahead for the 52nd Street location.
St. Aude-Tate mentioned having artwork on the walls, space to work and meet, and a library as a few of the ways that Honeysuckle aims to assure patrons that they needn’t “worry about being in an unwelcome or unsafe space.”
Safety and security, especially in a communal context, have weighed heavily on the Honeysuckle hive mind, a shift that the Tates credited to the fact that the company was born in the COVID era.
One instance of that orientation is a deeper sense of spirituality that’s imbued their work since the pandemic started.
During Tate’s 2021 residency at the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the duo set up an altar commemorating their families. As a form of ancestor veneration they said permeates Black diasporic culture from voodoo to hoodoo — i.e. from St. Aude-Tate’s Haitian background to Tate’s South Carolinian roots — these altars will continue to figure into their work.
“The practice of giving reverence, holding space for our ancestors and folks that have paved the way for us, became a necessity that we have taken up in practice and are doing more intentionally in our spaces,” St. Aude-Tate said. The sanctity of family, for her, is foundational in life and her work: “Dining with us means you’re dining with our family.”
As they get closer to opening doors on their storefronts, Honeysuckle’s work is reaching for a new level of connection, both inward and outward.
“It’s almost like we create this huge wall of defense, you can’t really penetrate it, you know?” Tate said, stressing the importance of a network and collaboration in getting beyond that wall to connect with those around you. “I think Black folks have been doing that since we got here, because we’ve always had to, to survive.”