Chef Deb­o­rah VanTrece is re­defin­ing soul food

GA Voice - - Food & Mixology - By DAR­IAN AARON

It took Chef Deb­o­rah VanTrece over 20 years to be­come an overnight suc­cess. Now it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to ask for restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions in At­lanta with­out hear­ing the name “Twisted Soul Kitchen and Bar.”

A for­mer Amer­i­can Air­lines flight at­ten­dant and founder of Ed­i­ble Art Café and Gourmet Ca­ter­ing, VanTrece’s ex­po­sure to world cui­sine dur­ing her trav­els, paired with her ca­ter­ing back­ground and culi­nary ed­u­ca­tion, laid the foun­da­tion for the restau­rant that has ev­ery­one from across the state trav­el­ing to De­catur for a taste.

Ge­or­gia Voice sat down with the “Food Fight­ers” win­ner and Art In­sti­tute of At­lanta vale­dic­to­rian to find out the story be­hind her suc­cess as one of the few African-Amer­i­can fe­male chefs who also hap­pens to be a mar­ried les­bian.

Ge­or­gia Voice: You started out as a caterer, right?

Deb­o­rah VanTrece:

My main fo­cus was ca­ter­ing. I kinda threw to­gether my first restau­rant. I was sur­prised that food crit­ics came and peo­ple showed up. It was off the beaten path and very tiny. I thought if you were a food critic that you were go­ing to five star restau­rants in Buck­head. It was only like 700 square feet of space. I knew one day I wanted to do it on a dif­fer­ent level.

How did you de­cide on the name Twisted Soul?

There was a salad, which I still have on the menu that was called Twisted Soul salad. And I thought, that’s a cool name, I like that name. So if I do an­other restau­rant that’s gonna be the name of it. I didn’t know it would take me 16 years.

Your restau­rant has be­come quite pop­u­lar. Are you feel­ing any pres­sure to live up to peo­ple’s expectations?

There is pres­sure. I’ll be hon­est; some­times it’s a very lonely place that I’m in. There’s very few African-Amer­i­can fe­male chefs, there’s not even a lot of African-Amer- ican male chefs. So some­times I’m stand­ing alone, that’s where I feel the pres­sure. I’m try­ing to rep­re­sent a group of women ... there’s some I know in other cities and I look at them look­ing at me. They’re cheer­ing me on and I’m try­ing to stand up to that.

What makes the Twisted Soul ex­pe­ri­ence so unique?

I think the thing that sets me aside is that I have this knack for making it pretty. When I chose soul food, my thought was that it’s un­der­rated. Our food is good! Why does our food have to al­ways be served cafe­te­ria style? Why does our food have to be put on a plate and you get a lit­tle bowl of a side? Why can’t we fig­ure out how to make it look like that five-star restau­rant? And that was the chal­lenge I put upon my­self and that’s what I was de­ter­mined to do with the food that was fa­mil­iar to me. Twist it up a lit­tle bit and make it pretty.

Are you in the kitchen ev­ery day?

Not ev­ery day, but I can’t stay out too long. I’ve got some great peo­ple who du­pli­cate what I do very well. We do recipes as a guide. But like I tell them, if you can’t cook you can’t work for me (laughs). There’s only so much that I can teach you. Some­times I have young chefs who come in that are not used to that and it’s scary to them. I have to push them. It’s kinda sad. I have to push you to pick up sea­son­ing? Are you crazy? (laughs) That’s why they make it. Pick up some sea­son­ing.

Does be­ing an African-Amer­i­can les­bian in the culi­nary in­dus­try present ad­di­tional chal­lenges?

Be­lieve it or not, in the culi­nary in­dus­try the as­sump­tion is al­most al­ways made that as a fe­male you’re a les­bian. A lot of times it’s the les­bian women who are like, I’m gonna go man to man with you (laughs). Me and Lor­raine just mar­ried about two years ago or so. She han­dles the bar and we work as part­ners in the busi­ness. It really hasn’t come up too much. We’re those safe les­bians (laughs). We aren’t in­tim­i­dat­ing. Peo­ple have been pretty ac­cept­ing of us. I guess they say if you’re gonna like a couple of them we’re the ones to like.

How will you be cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas?

It’s go­ing to be a more in­ti­mate group of peo­ple com­pared to Thanks­giv­ing. I usu­ally do some­thing with lob­ster and prime rib and caviar. We also like to pre­pare food for the el­derly who will not have a Christ­mas meal. We’ll go and hand out meals to nurs­ing homes and se­nior cit­i­zen homes. For Thanks­giv­ing we fed three or four el­derly les­bians who didn’t have fam­i­lies.

“When I chose soul food, my thought was that it’s un­der­rated. Our food is good! Why does our food have to al­ways be served cafe­te­ria style? Why does our food have to be put on a plate and you get a lit­tle bowl of a side? Why can’t we fig­ure out how to make it look like that 5 star restau­rant?”

— Chef Deb­o­rah VanTrece

Chef Deb­o­rah VanTrece is a Ge­or­gia Voice 2015 Best of At­lanta re­cip­i­ent for Best New Restau­rant for Twisted Soul Kitchen & Bar (Photo by Fred Spears)

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