STORY BY APRIL BAPTISTE-BROWN @warriorsaint213
WORDS BY MICHELLE MANNIX @cookspacebk
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANISHA SISODIA @anishaspice
STYLING BY KEEON MULLINS @keejermain
PIECES BY VANIA & DAVID @vaniaanddavid
Bonding over food and Southern roots, Chef Lazarus Lynch decided to pick the brain of former restauranteur and Cook Space founder, Michelle Mannix, to find out how she’s infusing culinary confidence back into the bellies of home cooks everywhere.
CHEF LAZARUS LYNCH:
So Michelle, what is Cook Space?
Michelle Mannix: Cook Space is a culinary studio and private event space where our whole focus is on building culinary confidence. I think, which is interesting because I’ve had all these influences and it doesn’t always land that well when I say this but, I think the culture of food has hijacked the culinary confidence of a lot of people.
And what I mean by that is there’s 80 million posts on Instagram of food, but are the people cooking for themselves continuing to climb? I think that the quality of what we see on television and how restaurants are scored have made people think that it has to be that way. So what I want to do is to connect people back to the joy of cooking from a place of improvisation. From fishing in your refrigerator and throwing things together from what you have, and what’s in season and what speaks to you. I feel that cooking connects you to your past and to your future. Like you: you bring your history, you bring your dad, you bring your Southern-ness, but you also connect to Queens [New York] and the current world. You only do that when you get your head out of a recipe and you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. I think recipes are a guide; I’m not anti-recipe, but if that’s your only place and you’re still ‘What do they want me to do?’ You don’t learn balance, you don’t learn season, you don’t learn what happens to food when you just play with it.
[Cook Space] is basically the brick and mortar space of what I'm talking about [in my book]. Mastering a new mindset and taking an approach to cooking that's different: ingredient driven first vs recipe driven. Because I feel like that's coming from a place of ‘What does somebody else think I should make with this?’ versus ‘What do I got? What do I have?’ But then maybe it's like ‘What does Laz do with okra? Let me see what he's got going.’ [I realized] when I follow recipes, I'm not as loose. It doesn't taste reflective of how I normally cook if I truly follow it. I season every layer. I’ve never in my life measured salt and pepper to go into a recipe; I think it's bizarre to do that. I get how people have to do that, but if you continue to do that your whole life, you're not cooking, you're just following instructions. So I feel like you're figuring out how to master instructions versus figuring out how to feed yourself in a way that reflects who you are. That’s why I have things like ‘Develop your own voice. Develop your own culinary expression.’ I have things like ‘Think, then don't.’
by Lazarus Lynch
WATCH FULL EPISODE ON YOUTUBE.
After cooking two of her favorite foods, Galla Pinto and Banana Pudding, my brother and I met up with the artist in her Brooklyn neighborhood to talk about her musical journey and upcoming projects.
Kennedy (a.k.a. Prez) of The Kennedy Administration isn't all that new to the New York City music scene. After moving from her hometown of Detroit, Michigan a few years ago, it wasn't long before the artist broke through the saturated industry, introducing a new vocal sound reminiscent of iconic predecessors Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, and Chaka Khan. Her instrumental trio band is comprised of band leader and award-winning recording artist, Ondre J, Nat Townsley (drummer), and Cheltune Grey (bass player). The band has a weekly residence every Wednesday night at The Groove, a performance venue in New York City's Greenwich Village. The Kennedy Administration excells in a number of musical genres ranging from covers to originals with variations of contemporary jazz with a flair of R&B, hip-hop, and pop. Not to mention the occasional elements of funk that spontaneously enters in an improvisational performance.
Here is a snippet of my Soul Food Talks Interview with Kennedy (PREZ):
LL Prez, you're such an incredible person, first of all, and you're also an amazing artist. Tell me about your journey in music. How did it all start for you?
KENNEDY OMG... I believe I was probably singing since I was in the womb. My mom was the praise team leader at this small church [my grandparent's church], my dad played bass. From as long as I could remember, my earliest memories I've been singing and bopping around with barettes in my hair, and just kicking my feet to the music. It's always been there. I just didn't realize how important it was to me until I got to the amazing age of six. I was at a funeral actually for an organ player. People were crying and stuff but the music sounded so good. I remember holding the back of the pew and just rocking to the music and just feeling overwhelmed with this (makes a gasping expression), and I knew I really liked it. I tried to explain it but I scared everybody.
LL What did you say to them?
KENNEDY I was like, "I got all this feeling..." and she [my mom] was like 'what?' She just thought I was filled with the spirit. I was like, "No. It wasn't Jesus this time, it was something else." So, I've continued having that feeling.
LL I've watched you at your show you do every Wednesday night at the Groove, here in New York City. What is it like being on that stage?
KENNEDY For me, it feels like that's the one place I'm supposed to be. I feel like I'm flying. I feel like I throw the notes out and I place them amongst the stars. That's how it feels to me. It just feels natural, like that's where I'm supposed to be.
LL Tell me about your EP?
KENNEDY It's so weird to see myself on that [cover], I'm like, "oh it's me." It's been an incredible journey just putting it together... Being more than just a singer. Writing and being creative and coming up with real concepts and ideas for the music. It's been great. It was a little terrifying at first, because you're trying to come from a perspective, at least for me, where people 'get it.' We [as people and artists] have all these internal conversations, but it's like taking all those internal conversations and actually putting them down on paper and them making sense. Then, singing those conversations out loud. It was great. I had a couple moments when I was like, "I don't know what I'm doing."
LL You're working with some amazing people: Ondre J Pivec, Jordan Peters, Jay White, Chelton Grey, Nathaniel 'Nat' Townsley... Amazing people; people who's music I respect. What was it like working with them?
KENNEDY Honestly, I'm the baby in the group because they all have years of experience. Nat Townsley has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, his resume is incredible. So, just to be around that energy... it was awesome just watching them give themselves and watching them chime in like "on that next verse, let's try this." I was able to just learn, you know. You can't pay for that... My friend/bandmate/producer, Ondre J Pivec, did such an incredible job. So, it's been so incredible to be in the studio and they're like, "does this sound good, Kennedy?" And I'm like inside [squealing] "oh my God, I love it," and I'm like "oh it's cool, whatever you want to do." It was just incredible.
LL Favorite Artists?
KENNEDY I can't say that I have like a favorite artist. I draw some from different people. I guess people who are really influential to me it would be Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews. You know Dave would just start screaming or yoddling and at first when I heard it, I was like, "what is this? This is crazy," but it inspired me. Some of the liberties I take, musically, are from listening to his music. Kim Burrell, Chaka Khan -- she's was just flat-footed and sang. No autotune. Nobody like, "huh" [struggling to get her on pitch]; she was dead on the note and I love her. Michael Jackson. Michael, for me, was huge. His album, "Off The Wall," you could just feel the energy. You could feel how excited he is [was] to do it.
Friends, get ready for my new YouTube series titled, Soul Food Talks. This long anticipated series is finally happening and I could not be more proud!
I'm meeting up with my great friends and fellow creators in New York to chat all things food, life, and upcoming projects. The series features guests including author and celebrity chef, Dan Churchill; singer, songwriter and musician, Aaron Marcellus; singer and songwriter, Tréi Stella; and, power couple extraordinaire and artists, Raii & Whitney. Each conversation is accompanied by a dish that screams "soul food" inspired by my guests favorite ingredients, dishes, and memories about food.
Soul Food Talks was inspired by my love and appreciation for the arts. Period. As a child, my idea of a happy life was to make art. As an adult, it's amazing to me how me and so many others have managed to turn this idea of creating things into successful careers. I say that with all humility, too. So I wanted to share the stories of creators doing amazing work to hopefully inspire others that dreams are possible to achieve while also providing entertaining content for viewers.
I was also inspired by the amazing, Questlove, and his book, somethingtofoodabout. In the book, Questlove interviews ten renowned chefs in America, unfolding the person behind the food. It fascinated me how relatable each of these chefs were yet how different were. I was inspired to bring together my friends and fellow creators over home cooked 'soul food' (however that might be defined) and share inspiring stories. To my surprise, it was quite easy to get my guests talking once they saw the food.
I am so excited to work with an amazing team of family, friends, producers, cinematographers, photographers, designers, and editors to bring this project to life. Stay tuned for more ahead. In the meantime, SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel and check out each of my friend's amazing work.
Peace & Love,