Chef Mimi was five years old when she saw her mom concoct gravy from flour, water and oil.
The fascination of that — combined with her love of watching Julia Childs and Jacques Pépin on PBS — gave her the desire to make her own mark in the culinary world.
“I was so intrigued by the science of it all like, ‘Wow, how did she do that?’” Chef Mimi said. “…And so I started like cooking and cutting stuff up and being intrigued with cooking.”
She grew up in a diverse neighborhood in the Berkeley-Oakland area…
…where she had Jewish relatives who were vegan (in the 1980s before it was trendy) and neighbors who were Indian. All of these cultures influenced Chef Mimi’s palate.
The town also has a rich history of social justice.
Both her parents were members of the Black Panther party, who started the Free Breakfast for School Children program in Oakland in the late 1960s. She remembers her family buying food in bulk to share with the community, which gave Chef Mimi a heart to give back through food.
She’s created community through the Black Food & Wine Experience, which is being held for the fifth time this summer, and her own networking skills where she has a list of Black-owned food and beverage companies to call upon whenever she is aware of an opportunity.
“There’s the social justice within that space that I’m bringing not just myself, I’m bringing on other black entrepreneurs within this space,” she said.
Both her parents were vegetarian…
…and she recalls feeling like an outcast growing up because her meals of avocado sandwiches and sautéed eggplant didn’t match up with the stereotypes that her classmates held of what Black people ate. The comments stuck with Chef Mimi, born Aminah Robinson-Briscoe, and now she is a professional chef whose heart is to create opportunities and awareness for Black people in the food and beverage industry.
“There’s always this monolithic idea that Black chefs only cook soul food and barbecue and we have a full diaspora of 54 countries as well as our influence across the world when it comes to food,” she said. “And so, you know, with that initiative is just bringing in more healthy, more local, more sustainable, just kind of having like all of these things that add into the better choices and better products for food that will definitely help the community.”
Along with the Black Food & Wine Experience, Chef Mimi has two other branches to her business…
…a catering company and a television show called “Bringing It to The Table,” which highlights the diversity of cuisine that Black chefs offer. Perhaps the Black Food & Wine Experience showcases Chef Mimi’s growth the best as this year’s event was the largest it’s ever been. The whole idea of it started when she couldn’t find a network to pick up “Bringing It to The Table,” so she decided to host a live cook-off for about 100 people. This year, more than (get attendance numbers) attended the four-day event, including a Black & Asian Solidarity Dinner and the first-ever Food & Beverage Industry Summit, which equips Black entrepreneurs with the skills they need to grow and sustain their businesses, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic presented unique challenges for several industries, but especially the food and beverage world.
Chef Mimi was left trying to figure out how to pivot when the world shut down just a month after the fourth Black Food & Wine Experience. In the midst of racking her brain for how to stay afloat, she got a call from Google asking her to do virtual cooking classes. From there, she got calls from other companies to expand and perfect the virtual cooking classes. She also had a great partnership with Impossible Foods where she helped create commercials and connect the company to more Black-owned businesses. Between everything, she was able to reach over 100,000 people across the country and the world.
The job can feel isolating as Chef Mimi is at the forefront of bringing change to a Euro-centric industry with deep roots and social structures.
She explains that most culinary institutes are based around salt, pepper and butter, which leaves out a lot of cuisines. Her goals include to make food healthier and more sustainable for communities in need. She’s a visionary who often already knows what changes need to be made to the industry while major corporations spend lots of time and money trying to find those answers.
She powers through, continuing to challenge herself to maximize her potential and push to the boundaries of her energy to make the fifth Black Food and Wine Experience the largest yet. In doing so, she’s carrying on the legacy of her hometown while building her own to reach others on a global scale.
“It’s a labor of love,”…
…she said, “to get to this point where I’ve actually done this consistently for five years with the love and the joy of the community and now seeing you know, more people be able to attend as we grow, activate more and more spaces and be able to support more entrepreneurs, especially adding on our fifth year with a summit is just powerful. Like I literally don’t know how I’m doing this. I mean, I feel like I’ve been jolted with like some extra energy to see this through and to be a part of the solution. It feels really, really good.”