In the Field

Houston Chef Chris Williams Carries on Tradition this Juneteenth

By: Maggie Ward

A Legacy Lives On

Cooking has always been in Chris Williams’ blood. Drawn to food at a very young age, Chris studied at Le Cordon Bleu before traveling the world working in eateries internationally. He trained in French, Mediterranean, West Indian, and East African cuisine and served as the lone culinary cultural ambassador for the USA for three years, advancing food diplomacy in destinations like Slovenia, Croatia, and Ukraine. Eventually his travels led him home to open a restaurant in his home state of Texas where he tells the story of his great-great grandmother through the culinary tradition of Southern food.

Regarded as Texas’ first African American business woman, Lucille B. Smith was a culinary pioneer in her own right, achieving everything from establishing her own food corporation and penning her own cookbook-turned-collector’s-item to landing her famous chili biscuits on American Airlines flights and serving the likes of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Lyndon Johnson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. In August 2012, Williams and his brother opened Lucille’s in a 1923 Mission-style home in the Museum District. Pairing his great-grandmother’s ingenuity and Southern flair with flavors from his travels, Williams treats diners to refined Southern cuisine enhanced by international flavors and techniques. Nearly a decade in the making, the namesake restaurant has since morphed into Lucille’s Hospitality Group—a culmination of concepts that channel the matriarch’s historic legacy.

Here, Chris shares with us Juneteenth memories and passes on a recipe to celebrate the holiday.

TLP: What are your memories and traditions associated with Juneteenth? Did you grow up celebrating? 

CW: My family is full of working people, so given that Juneteenth has never been recognized as a national holiday, it was always business as usual. The few times that the day fell on a weekend, it was treated as a day of service, via the church or any other volunteer opportunities my mother would find for us.

TLP: What story are you telling through your food? How does this recipe accomplish that? 

CW: My food is always meant to be a showcase of my life experience. That means it tells the story of growing up African American in southwest Houston along with living in Europe and doing culinary tours from Albania to Uzbekistan. This recipe shows this with the juxtaposition of the watermelon to arugula. Strawberry jalapeño vin paired with creamy feta cheese. It shows single ingredients that have their own deep story in different parts of the world—all finding harmony on the plate.

TLP: How are you celebrating this year and at Lucille’s?

CW: We will celebrate the way my parents and their parents and their parents’ parents did, with service.

Watermelon Salad

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