Atlanta-based celebrity chef Razia Sabour has taken her passion to another level and is living her best life. Soul food and its rich history hold a special place in Sabour's heart and soul. From social worker to full-time chef, Sabour's love affair with cooking has created uber opportunities for her company, Fuller Food, LLC.
While some chefs shy away from cooking and claiming soul food as their own, Sabour is serious about preserving her heritage through food. “I believe that soul food is innate to me. It's what I grew up cooking. I believe it's Blacks food. I became a spokesperson because chefs don't take pride in cooking soul food. I want to take ownership of it. It's ours,” says Sabour. “Soul food is a cuisine, but it's more than that. It's part of me.”
Soul Food on the Big Screen
Sabour recently won “The Great Soul Food Cook-Off,” a new cooking competition on Discovery + designed to highlight the past and present of soul food. The show, produced by OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, celebrates Black chefs and Black American culinary traditions in its first action-packed, six-episode series.
“Soul food originated in the earliest African American communities and describes a style of cuisine that represents the creativity and skill of Black cooks from many cultures within the African diaspora,” OWN president Tiny Perry says in a press release. “Our audience cherishes time together as a family around the table and many have passed down favorite family recipes for generations. This series is a celebration of long-standing traditions we hope to introduce and spotlight for new and existing viewers as we shine a light on a few of today's most talented Black chefs and culinary curators.”
Sabour's victory comes with recognition as the “country's best soul food chef” and a $50,000 cash prize. She plans to use her prize money as seed money to fulfill her longtime dream of opening a fresh market. Her plans include selling prepared foods and packaged family meals featuring her signature soul food dishes. In addition, she would like to stock products from other artisan food makers.
“I want to call it Sabour Market or something like that,” she says. The winning chef hasn't quite figured out the location and timeline for a brick-and-mortar, but she will figure it out just like she did when her husband spoke highly of her to Tyler Perry about a catering job that resulted in her catering company skyrocketing in the film and TV industry when she was merely trying to launch her food truck.
“’The Great Soul Food Cook-Off’ was a beautiful experience to just show up there, and it was all Black chefs. Everything about it was beautiful. To be accepted was beautiful. To have all Black chefs in the room cooking, to having all Black judges and staff was beautiful. I felt prideful about it.
“It was extremely challenging because I didn't come in with the mindset that it was a game. I came to showcase soul food in beautiful ways. So getting my mind around a competition, I initially thought was more about our skill around soul food was challenging. I didn't know it was going to be done in 15 minutes. I didn't understand it to be a game. I understood it was about a competition around soul food. It turned out to be beautiful,” says Sabour. “My popular dishes are derived from what I cook for my clients; soul food staples: baked mac and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato souffle' and honey cornbread.”
When they announced her as the winner, she says, “I have never been more shocked. I had already put in my mind that the person next to me had won. The guy I went up against was extremely skilled. He had everything I lacked, but I had the soul food component in my heart. In my heart, I felt I had won. You can't fight fear with faith,” says Sabour, who also a former contestant twice on Food Network's “Cutthroat Kitchen.”
Becoming Atlanta’s Premier Caterer
Growing up in Washington, D.C., with a peach tree and herbs growing in her front yard, a grapevine on the back porch, and trips to the freshwater spring contributed to her inspiration for her culinary company.
“I grew up cooking with my family. I'm from a family of 12. It was kind of like a chore. My father was a chef and he taught me. I grew up learning how to cut up a whole lamb, whole chicken, catch and scale fish out of necessity. That's what we had to do. I learned the importance of having good cooking tools. Cooking just came to me. I started seeing myself in a chef coat,” says Sabour.
When Sabour went off to college, she lived in a suite with five people and she began cooking for her roommates and then-boyfriend, now husband. “In college, when I was living in a suite, cooking kinda became a big deal. It became a love thing or passion while I was independent in college. It taught me a lot about what I liked. A couple of years I wouldn't go home for the holidays. I would cook for the group homes I was working for while in college. I would teach the kids about grocery shopping. I would have them all sit down and eat together,” she shares.
Sabour and her husband, celebrity saxophonist Michael Burton, both attended Indiana University; he was two years ahead of her and would graduate and stay on and obtain his master's degree in Jazz Studies. Sabour majored in social work. They would graduate and go on to marry. Married for 15 years and together for 21 years, they are busy building their empire and are each other's biggest cheerleaders.
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Burton is currently touring with Patti LaBelle. He has toured with Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige and Anita Baker, as well as New Edition and PJ Morton. He's also played keys and saxophone for numerous Tyler Perry Stage and film productions. In fact, he was the one who introduced Tyler Perry to his wife's catering company.
With her crisp chef's coat, Sabour has catered for some of Hollywood's elite, prominent families and groups for charity. When she opened her doors a decade ago, Tyler Perry Studios was her first major client, leading Fuller Food to become the premier catering company for Atlanta's film and TV industry. From WE tv to Lifetime Movie Network, HBO Films, VH1, TBS, Bravo, and a host of other production companies taping in Atlanta, Sabour's catering company is the creme de la creme.
Sabour has served as a caterer and an on-set private chef for Stevie Wonder, the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, WE tv's David Tutera, Gabriel Union and her staff for BET's “Being Mary Jane,” Queen Latifah, Kandi Burress and The Kandi Factory, The Braxton Sisters, BET's “Sunday Best,” the ladies of “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta,” and other productions.
Cooking is a Family Affair
Prior to becoming a reality cooking competition champion, Sabour was a social worker for nine years. After having her first daughter, her schedule did not permit her to spend quality time with her family. “My desire for quality time forced me to work toward the vision I had of becoming a chef and business owner,” says Sabour.
Today, the love of cooking runs three generations deep for Sabour's family. Her father was a chef, and now her kids also enjoy cooking and may very well end up in the profession. Not only do they love to cook, but they also cherish time around the kitchen table enjoying family recipes.
“We all love to cook together. I'm more so a sous chef when we cook together. My youngest daughter, Caden Rae, 11, cooks, and in her mind she's already a chef. I do believe that Caden will spread her wings and travel the world. She'll be a butterfly and travel the world around food. My oldest daughter, Layla, 14, loves to bake. They know the importance of quality. We make everything from scratch,” says Sabour.
As Sabour's brand continues to grow, she plans to introduce items such as soul food spice blends, vegetable spice blends, and microwaveable dishes. She is also working on a memoir-style cookbook to be released in the near future. She has served as a ghostwriter for years for other's cookbooks.