Like this, but with masks. And takeout.

Edouardo Jordan had plenty of reasons to hit pause on Soul of Seattle this year. He’s hustling to keep his restaurants JuneBaby and Salare solvent, to figure out a business model that changes by the week. Seattle’s other Black-owned restaurants are running a similar obstacle course.

Jordan began organizing food events around Black history month in 2019 because he thought Seattle’s community of Black chefs deserved more attention. This time around, after a year of economic pain, with the Black Lives Matter movement raising many Americans’ awareness of injustice’s many pernicious forms, “I knew I had to do something,” he says.

Like so many events, this now-annual celebration of Seattle’s Black chefs went virtual for 2021. Four weekends’ worth of programming kicked off this past Friday with some live cooking demos hosted by Matthew Lewis of Where Ya At Matt and a corresponding takeout dinner menu from Gravy on Vashon Island and Capitol Hill’s La Spiga.

Those three-course meals will be a Soul of Seattle fixture each Friday night in February. Rather than create a theme, Jordan told chefs to present the essence of their restaurant. He’s intentionally avoiding too much promotional material; even subtle measures like packaging dinners in a Cafe Campagne bag versus one that says “Soul of Seattle” help attendees feel connected to that particular restaurant. The lineup includes Daisley Gordon of Cafe Campagne, Trey Lamont of Jerk Shack, Kristi Brown of Communion, Donna Moodie of Marjorie, and of course Jordan himself.

At least going virtual lifts pesky constraints like space and geography. In normal times, Soul of Seattle happens at the Northwest African American Museum, an elegant space that has capacity for about 10 chefs; this year’s month-long slate of events incorporates way more voices, and doesn't sell out in an instant. Last year, Jordan managed to secure historian Toni Tipton-Martin to visit Seattle; this Friday night he’ll be part of a remote panel, along with some of the most impressive Black chefs and culinary voices in the nation.

While it’s slightly easier to get Marcus Samuelsson, Mashama Bailey, Eric Adjepong, Kwame Onwuachi, and Shakira Simley in a room together when it’s virtual, that’s still one hell of a summit. “Some of our topics might get uncomfortable for some people,” says Jordan. “But that’s why we’re doing it.”

Jordan really mined his connections for the final night of Soul of Seattle. The event traditionally ends with a dance party, so on February 26, Jordan will cap off the proceedings the same way—this time with Questlove as a special guest.

A new retail facet of the event offers up bottles from Black-owned wineries and other curated merch. In addition to supporting the restaurants that participate, proceeds from the events benefit the local nonprofit Mentoring Urban Students and Teens. Check out the full ticketing situation here.

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