“To sum up, I entertain, educate and empower through food. When you have choices, you can make better decisions, which just might change your life for the better.”
-Chef Marvin Woods
Through the years chefs have transported foods, culinary techniques, and culture from their original place of origin to far-reaching places. One such chef is Marvin Woods, who has brought “Coastal Soul” to downtown Atlanta with his newly opened restaurant Asante. The cuisine is a fusion of Low Country, South American, Caribbean and Southern flavors that are globally influenced by the African diaspora.
Woods is an Emmy-award nominated television host of “Home Plate” and was lead chef for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Here he shares more about his background traveling the world and the health-minded influence he’s brought to Asante’s menu.
Since you’ve worked on the “Let’s Move” campaign, what are some of the healthy eating changes that you have made to Southern cuisine?
As a chef, I elevate the flavors in my dishes. I always use wholesome ingredients, which means the food will be nutritious, too, making it “good food” because it’s sourced from high-end professionals and is made from scratch. It is made with care and love from start to finish and is better than anything you can buy in the store pre-made.
You’ve also been an ambassador for many health organizations, and this year you developed a partnership with the National Dairy Council. Why was it important to work with this organization?
Lactose intolerance is on a lot of people’s minds and tongues these days and in true American fashion, there is a misunderstanding of the facts – not only about nutritional benefits, but also how those with lactose intolerance can still enjoy dairy (small amounts of regular milk, yogurt because its live and active cultures help digest lactose and natural cheeses mostly contain less than one gram of lactose per ounce). My goal is about bringing the facts to people and educating them, through food, about what lactose intolerance is and how everyone can eat confidently and live fully.
You’ve developed a brand of “Coastal Soul” before soul food was mainstream. How did you know it would become successful?
It’s the practice of mindful cooking. As a chef, I should be able to take any dish and transform it into something better. That’s a chef’s job. My first book, “The New Low Country Cooking”, was released in 2000 – way before low country cooking became trendy or popular. At first, it didn’t resonate with the masses for several reasons, but I saw the writing on the wall a long time ago. Now it’s popular, but it’s never been a fad for me.
You have spent time living in and traveling to different countries to explore their cuisines. What was a memorable experience?
I have traveled to places such as South Africa, DRC (Democratic Republic of Conga) Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, St John, St Thomas, New Orleans, South Carolina, North Carolina, Memphis, Alabama, Argentina, Europe, Bermuda, Miami and more. As a chef/culinary artist, every place I go inspires me. One of my favorite memories is eating on the beach of Bahia in Brazil. I watched a guy catch a fresh snapper right in front of me with just a rock with wooden spear and then a woman roll it in corn meal and fry in an oil caldron on the beach – all served with a lime and a smile.
Are there any dishes that are influenced on the menu?
While in South Africa, I was served a 10-inch prawn from Mozambique. We have a very similar prawn on our menu that we do “Piri Piri style” from Nigeria. “Piri Piri” is Swahili for “pepper pepper” and the dish is extremely hot.
What dishes or ingredients will be new or unfamiliar to Atlantans?
“Caribbean Bacalau and Ducana” is from Antiguan cuisine. Coconut bonaito (sweet potato) dumplings are served with salted fish. Eaten individually each item is good, but when eaten together it’s nothing short of magical.