Race, Identity, Power and Food at Soul Summit in Austin

My 2015 Soul Summit Experience…

By Syrena Johnson


First of all it was a complete honor to be invited to not only attend but to cook at the first annual Soul Summit in Austin. I got involved a couple months back attending a Dillard Ray Charles African American material culture event; it was there where I was introduced to Toni Tipton Martin the creator of Soul Summit. From there an invitation was set and I was in search of a sponsor, in whom I didn’t have to look far because my family at the John Besh Foundation offered to cover my whole traveling and food cost which was amazing and totally generous on their end. I am extremely thankful to have them as a support system. This trip was more than just traveling out of town to cook, it was an enlightening three day conference, and a conversation about Race, Identity, Power and food with African American Scholars, Authors, Researchers, and Chefs all under one roof! I took so much from this conference, learned a lot, made some cool contacts, and rocked out in the kitchen with Chefs from all over. As a rising Chef this week has taught me a lot about myself and what I can handle and boosted my confidence as cook. I received good insight on my dish from guests and Chefs which was great to hear - I chose to cook Shrimp Creole because it screamed out New Orleans and I wanted to give the people of Austin a taste of New Orleans to bring home with them and I think it worked out perfectly.


This was the first time since graduating Culinary school in 2012 I got to display my complete cooking skills, that is why I really was on board to do this I knew it would be an amazing event but I also was eager to get my food into people’s stomachs. The reception I received from the Chefs meant a lot more to me because all of them are well established and know how food is supposed to taste so to hear that my Shrimp Creole was amazing was very gratifying and reassured me of what and why I’m doing what I’m doing. All of the knowledge acquired from Michael Twitty and Chef Bryant Terry were priceless, I learned a lot this week about myself, my culture and I became more aware of food justice and interested in making a difference in my community. This is why I push to do things like this that push me to do bigger and better positive things all in the name of food! I am truly honored to have been part of history this week I know the years to come will be even greater special thanks goes out to Toni Tipton-Martin for organizing and planning an amazing event and The John Besh Foundation for sponsoring me. I am extremely grateful!