It was a balmy evening in Oakland, and just off Grand Avenue, in a household neighborhood of precipitous streets and vivid gardens, dinner was having underway on a solar-bathed deck with a watch of the East Bay hills.
The air was clean with a trace of eucalyptus, a hummingbird chirred in a nearby shrub, and I took my 1st sips of a cucumber-mezcal cocktail—cold and smoky, at any time so slightly sweet from a touch of agave nectar, and subtly spiced with serrano peppers.
As the other guests arrived for the lone, prix-fixe assistance, the host made her way from desk to table, welcoming them in flip with a heat, “I’m Imana, and I am the chef and proprietor of Hi Felicia.”
It is really a greeting the restaurateur—who prefers a initial-title-only basis—repeats like a mantra. And whilst it could possibly look an unremarkable introduction, it is not, mainly because Imana is Black and simply because, at restaurants of this caliber—like the great eating dining establishments where by she’s worked for the past quite a few yrs, some of them with Michelin stars—there are extremely few Black homeowners and cooks.
Hi Felicia is an all-outside restaurant on a deck overlooking the Oakland Hills.(Nick Czap)
“I’ve experienced a large amount of arguments with people today since I’m confrontational,” she reported above beverages at Snail Bar a couple days afterwards. “There’s a ton of ‘we appreciate diversity.’ But the place do you like it? The place is it? Someone was like, ‘We experienced a Black female operating here at the time,’ or ‘We have a Mexican right away crew.’ But who sees the overnight crew?”
Describing herself as a person who is notably delicate to her environment, Imana reported, “There is an immediate comfort and ease and distinction when you see any person not white in a administration placement. There requirements to be another person brown in every single solitary area, in every single manager conference, in every line prepare dinner assembly. But they’re just in no way there and it really is systemic. If I go to the Tenderloin or Fruitvale, all people appears to be like me. But in which are the folks that glance like me in nicer, upscale dining establishments? That is what I want to know. I go out to eat regularly. I do kitchen area tours. I am constantly looking. I want to be demonstrated improper, but I never am. I want an answer from anyone who posted to #BlackLivesMatter past summer. Are they busing tables or are they making the wine plan? I want to know where they are. In which are they?”
Imana grew up in West L.A., in which she produced a flavor for Mexican cooking. “I ate at Mexican destinations when I was really younger,” she reported. “Places you just wander in in the vicinity of the beach. Mar Vista. In L.A. there is certainly a great deal of Mexican food. It is really my most loved point to try to eat and cook.” Mexico is also her beloved position to travel, and she travels there commonly, investing much of her time at eating places in a chef’s model of R&D.
Imana did not attend culinary school, but she did undertake a culinary schooling of a form at an impressionable age. “When I was like eight,” she claimed, “I went to cooking camp for a 7 days. I arrived house cooking all this stuff. It truly is so humorous. When my mother found out I was obtaining a cafe, she mentioned, ‘Oh, you generally needed to open up a restaurant.’ Yeah. As a kid.”
Ten many years later, Imana dove into front-of-the-dwelling function at a Chick-fil-A in Los Angeles. At 19, she moved to New York, where she labored in the eating rooms of Cookshop in Chelsea, Peaches Hothouse in Brooklyn, and Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Aspect. In 2018, she moved to San Francisco—”with $300 and no location to dwell”—and landed on her feet at Leo’s Oyster Bar, then skipped to Cow Marlowe before going on to work as a captain at Coi and at Val Cantu’s Californios, whose upscale Mexican cuisine she cites as an influence.
On Christmas Day, 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, she struck out on her personal with Casa by Imana, a seven-training course to-go menu with a beverage pairing. This February, she launched her outdoor meal sequence, re-branding as Hi Felicia, the title a twist on a line from the 1995 stoner motion picture Friday that starred Ice Dice and Chris Tucker.
I do not get high a lot, but I was feeling a major buzz from the slow melt away that is Imana’s signature. “I adore spicy meals,” she said. “You will find so considerably hot sauce in my fridge. If it really is not spicy, I will not like it. It hurts so very good and you are fucking crying.” And even nevertheless I’d normally thought I had a low spice tolerance, there was something magnetic in the intensity of the poblanos in a walnut-pecan-cashew queso seasoned with onion and garlic powder and the Thai chile in Imana’s “pico de gallo chunk,” a colourful assemblage of gold heirloom and purple cherry tomatoes garnished with a peanut and a scatter of eco-friendly onions and the fermented incredibly hot sauce on the very little slab of bluefin tuna atop a dollop of guacamole atop a deliciously crunchy-juicy panko-crusted fried tomato.
Step by step, the heat elevated by way of a diminutive burrito with eggs, fried potatoes, and pork sausage draped with a dark crimson salsa macha, a fiery concoction of fried chiles and nuts that originated in Veracruz and Oaxaca then a quite minor padrón pepper with olive oil, salt, chile oil, and a spice mixture with Sichuan peppercorns that imparted a peculiar tingling sensation and a lamb enchilada with corn, cherries, cherry tomatoes, a persuasive mix of Mexican and ricotta cheeses, some crispy-interesting iceberg lettuce, and an intensely sizzling pickled habanero crema.
The Oakland hills shimmered in a pallet of greens — a cover of palm, redwood, citrus and cypress. A modest plane flew overhead, buzzing a lower drone. Imana poured a spontaneously fermented sauvignon blanc — hazy, bizarre and sapid.
As the evening drew to a shut, Imana collected her guests’ interest and, in the hush, acknowledged us all by wanting our way and expressing our names, which she had dedicated to memory, one particular by just one by one particular. And then she did the exact same for the cooks and servers she calls the beating coronary heart of Hello Felicia.
It was a highly effective moment of gratitude and togetherness, and in it a sense of comfort and ease and belonging that a chef experienced very long sought, and probably now found, in a position of her individual generating.
// Hi Felicia Supper Club (Oakland) is currently accepting reservations for pick dates in October. The 7-study course meal is served with 5 beverage pairings and is $225 for every man or woman. Discover much more details at instagram.com/hifeliciasupperclub
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