Before these changes to American food systems, Soul Food utilized techniques brought from the East and transformed it into a cuisine that the people of the African Diaspora and their descendants could call their very own. Using ingredients available in new surroundings and paying homage and respect to the contributions of indigenous peoples and their cultivation of the land and its fruits; Soul Food, by definition, was sacred and nurturing—not only for the body, but for the mind and spirit as noted by author Lolis Eric Elie in his April 2010 article “Lolis Eric Elie Explores the Origin Myth of New Orleans Cuisine” in Oxford American, The Southern Magazine of Good Writing. Soul Food was hearty and nutritious and sustained bodies that were overworked and burning lots of energy.
While the cuisine offered at Keena’s Kitchen is rooted in a Louisiana Creole style (Creole cooking being one of the many facets of Soul Food to come out of the of the American South), we have found a way to incorporate Californian, Caribbean, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian and other cuisines influenced by Africans of the Diaspora showing the similarities in technique and style and that each of these groups managed to kindle their own unique styles of Soul Food where ever they were. While California is not a separate country, African Americans migrating from the American South and Mid-West developed, yet again, a cuisine based on the local ingredients available in the sunny coastal area as noted by author Isabel Wilkerson in her September 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”.
Keena’s Kitchen is located in Oakland California, the home of Chef Ikeena’s family for what is now four generations. Though she was among the first generation of her family to be born in California, her grandparents each came to California by way of Louisiana and Oklahoma–migration patterns popular to many of the African American families here in the Bay Area. As far back as Chef Ikeena can remember, her grandparents each had organic gardens in the yards of their homes here in Oakland—and cooked vegetables to order. In that very same tradition, Keena’s Kitchen takes full advantage of the bounty that is uniquely produced by California’s organic farmers.
This blend of sweet California produce and Creole based techniques produces a colorful array of fresh, seasonal meals in Chef Ikeena’s trademark style, Keena’s California Soul Cuisine™; a marriage of California cuisine and Southern Soul Food yielding modern specialty dishes inspired by a variety of “world” approaches to cooking.
Chef Ikeena seeks also to demonstrate that slow cooking and organically grown and raised foods yield not only benefits in everyday health but in economic stability for marginalized communities through the investment in small organic farmers, specialty food artisans, heirloom seed preservers, organic animal rearers, and local culinary & agricultural program students. Investing in these systems is a way to connect to source and support the well being of an entire community.
We Eat, We Learn, We Live!
Chef Ikeena Hardman started cooking before she was 5 years old. She has fond memories of baking cookies with her Mom in their East Oakland home. She is well known among her family members as having developed her palate at a young age and would often ask for obscure and unusual ingredients on trips to the market with family adults. She has been an example to her family in how to reintroduce traditional organic ingredients to family Soul Food recipes and reduce the health risks associated with African American cuisine.
It was in 1996 that she enrolled in culinary school at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and with the training she received, went on to work at Sunrise Cafe’s Reggae Nights, an after hours cabaret in West Oakland. After two whole weeks in their employ she was given full access and control of the kitchen where she worked for two years serving many African and Caribbean clients, learning techniques from both patrons, and her Jamaican employer. Peas and rice, Curried meats, fried fish and Jamaican Patties were local favorites that always graced the menu paying homage to her customers and a distant connection to her own culture. She’s worked in more than a few kitchens including the Oakland Coliseum’s Press Box catering service, the Oakland Museum’s Snack Café and the management of U.C. Berkeley’s five Campus Restaurants.
Subsequent to her time in food service, she spent five years studying Public Health, Psychology and Anthropology leading to her work for both small and major non-profits of the San Francisco Bay Area where her event planning skills never went unused. She has planned and coordinated over 100 events for these organizations combined including silent auctions, summer outdoor film festivals and a myriad of festive celebrations honoring the heritage of several cultural groups. With a background of over 9 years working in the non-profit industry–and a passion for being of service to underserved communities, Ikeena has helped Bay Area non-profits raise community program funds upward (collectively) of $75 (Mil.). She applies that same energy to creating systems and strategies that yield the positive, desired results her clients seek.