Chef Lachelle has been a dynamic force on the Twin Cities food scene and is known for cooking globally inspired comfort food that thwarts unhealthy stereotypes and fuses in global flavors.
She began her culinary career by launching Chelles’ Kitchen in 2012 and soon became known for her work as the founding executive chef of Breaking Bread Cafe (2015) in North Minneapolis. In 2018, Chef Lachelle began building the Healthy Roots Institute with a mission focused on healing and social justice through food education, culinary arts and entrepreneurship. Through the institute, Chef Lachelle curates cooking workshops and retreats, teaches culinary arts and food business classes, and provides human resources, menu development and operations consulting to local restaurants and foodservice establishments.
Just Getting Going with Lachelle Cunningham
“We can share this experience and really delve into soul food. I think soul food is, honestly to me, quintessential American food because it’s different cultures that came to together.”
Lachelle Cunningham is a passionate advocate for soul food. In her cooking workshops and classes, she emphasizes that the “foundations of soul food are based on ingenuity, survival, and resourcefulness.” Delving into the roots of soul food, she highlights the enslaved people who pioneered this cuisine, often relying on foraging, fishing, trapping, and gardening to supplement their rations and nourish their bodies. Cunningham finds it imperative to honor this history, appreciating the artistry of soul food, as well as the communal experience of creating and sharing meals.
“Being able to celebrate soul food tradition is huge to me. The flavors, the smells and the art of it. The touching of the food and creating together with other people. That to me, is my favorite way to celebrate Black History.”
Lachelle is this month’s Chef in Residence at Mississippi Market. Recipe cards for her two featured dishes are available throughout the market (or can be found here). Chef Lachelle is a prominent figure in the Twin Cities, making waves in the realms of food justice, urban agriculture, cooking, and advocacy. Her multifaceted approach is driven by a passion for food, nurtured from an early age as she followed her parents around in the kitchen. Cunningham’s journey evolved from working in local restaurants, starting a catering business over a decade ago, becoming an executive chef and culinary instructor, opening Healthy Roots Institute, and assuming the role of executive director at Frogtown Farms.
“I just fell in love with food on a deep level. And I was already working in nonprofits and my parents have a very strong connection to community and working in community. It’s how I was raised and a natural part of myself, to care about my community.”
At the heart of Cunningham’s work is a commitment to inspire and uplift others. As the visionary leader of Frogtown Farm in Saint Paul, she delves into regenerative and sustainable farming, contributing to the broader landscape of food justice. In the culinary industry, Cunningham, a black woman, has found solace and connection in the agricultural space. Lachelle is deeply committed to continuous learning. Up next on her agenda is public policy.
“I got deeper into the food justice work because of my work starting at Appetite for Change and Breaking Bread Café. Then being able to go over to St Paul College and work with students and, honestly, bring some diversity to that space. There’s not a lot of Black women chefs at the forefront of the culinary scene.”
Her tireless efforts not only shape food justice but also inspire others, fostering a sense of community and empowerment. Cunningham’s leadership approach involves finding ways to delegate and elevate while remaining dedicated to self-care and community support. One needs only to spend a few minutes with Lachelle to sense that her vision for a more inclusive and sustainable future, filled with healthy and supremely tasty food, is genuinely attainable.
To support Lachelle Cunningham and her impactful work, Mississippi Market member-owners have several avenues. She invites you to engage with her through cooking workshops offered at the market, try out her Black History Month recipes, and share them with others. Ultimately, supporting her businesses and contributing to the community are integral ways for individuals to champion Cunningham’s valuable contributions to this meaningful work.
Soul Food Matters!
by Lachelle Cunningham, February 2021
American soul food treads deep into the spirit of human instinct where survival meets artistry. Distant from our minds are the Black and enslaved who served, nurtured and toiled for the masters, the land and the economy before tending to self. Yet, at the foundation of American cuisine, we find proficient agricultural and sustainable foodways and healing practices that are indigenous to Africa and America. This, infused with historical transitions and global food traditions, has become what we now think of as soul food. When placed on the roster of American cuisine, it’s isolated to a box often overlooked and dismissed as representing unhealthiness and a struggle intentionally forgotten.
As the enslaved were rationed what most considered waste, they were compelled to create their own culinary treasures by supplementing these meager allotments with ancestral traditions of foraging, fishing, hunting, gardening and bartering. This is where the culinary forefathers flourished. However, following emancipation, the economy shifted and the Department of Agriculture was created. With this, a multitude of land-use and food-related acts were designed and implemented to eliminate food sovereignty for Americans. By the 1960s, the “soul” era was born out of the civil rights movement and the term “soul food” was coined while the American food system continued to devolve into the Standard American Diet of today, bringing soul food in tow.
Alongside this decline in our food system, so much has been lost. So many culinary pioneers forgotten from history; so many food stories gone. I am here to reclaim this narrative…to remember and celebrate the forefathers…to honor the African and Indigenous traditions and ingredients, the healing plants and foods, customs and cooking techniques. These mementos uplift my spirit, inspire my passion, guide my intuition and help to hone my skills. I am here to demystify, amplify and celebrate soul food. Why? Because soul food matters!