The Houston chef channels authenticity and drive in pursuing success.
For chef Keisha Griggs, setting her sights on a goal and achieving it with her go-getter attitude is the secret to her success. The Houston, Texas-based chef was an interactive public relations and marketing professional once but changed course to pursue her love for the culinary field and has since thrived in her chosen profession.
Aside from a catering business and a restaurant, she is involved in several other hospitality endeavors, the most important being the Black Chef Table and exploring any opportunities where she can shine the light on Black talent in the culinary industry.
One Interest, Many Expressions
Griggs is currently the resident chef for the Houston Botanic Gardens and teaches cooking classes, hosts the annual dinner series called Black Chef Table with Marcus Davis of the breakfast klub fame, owns and operates Bocage Catering, which is a full-service catering company that has been around for about ten years, and has a brick-and-mortar restaurant established in 2018 called Ate Kitchen that is currently located in a historic building and undergoing construction in the east end downtown Houston area. A small but mighty team of 25 staff members assists with her work.
“I'm from Trinidad, so my food is heavily influenced by the culture of my island, but I'm lucky enough to be on one of the islands that has extremely diverse culinary food culture because we are West Indian,” she shares. “There's Indian, Asian, English, British, Caribbean, and African influences. I get to play!” Among her top dishes are curry chicken and braised short rib with garlic cassava and callaloo.
Griggs is well known for her vegetarian and vegan preparations—every meat dish on the menu has a vegetarian version—so, for instance, jerk chicken would have a vegan jerk chicken version. “We build a big following with vegetarians and vegans because it's actual food. It's not deep fried. It's not weird meats. We make all our vegetarian meats. If tofu is on a dinner, I made it out of chickpeas. We've been known for that as well as the fact that we have close relationships with the farms here in the city,” she says.
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Good Vibes and Authenticity
Born into a Trinidadian family in St. Croix, Griggs moved after the age of six to the United States with her family. Educated in Long Beach, California, and graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, she lived in Los Angeles for almost two decades working in interactive public relations and marketing.
When she was laid off during the recession, Griggs decided to pursue culinary school and graduated from the Arts Institute’s Culinary Arts program in 2011. The interest in cooking, as with many families in the Caribbean, came from watching her mother prepare feasts for any event or holiday.
Her favorite dish to make is sesame ginger salmon with steamed rice, callaloo, spinach, crab and coconut red beans or lentils. “I love to create, and I love to make people happy. I understand that food and eating is the only activity as humans that we do that entertains all our senses and I'm fascinated by that,” she says.
If there have been any obstacles in her path, Griggs has overcome them with her winning attitude. “If I focus on it to make it happen, it generally happens. I firmly believe that if I am authentic in my approach to all the things that I'm doing, that whatever will come to me will come to me and what doesn't won’t. There’s nothing that I’ve wanted to do that I’ve not been able to do.”
Even during the pandemic, Griggs found a way to help others by feeding the frontline emergency room workers. She was able to retain all her staff and maintain financial stability during that time by contributing to initiatives such as chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.
But counting any of those achievements as milestones isn’t how she views her journey. “I work towards the things that I want to create. I realized that there wasn't a space and a support system in a community where African American chefs and hospitality meet, but then I got the opportunity to create that space because it doesn't exist. When I see things like that, I just create it,” Griggs says.
“I'm lucky to be among people who are doers and dreamers and believers. So, I do the work. I'm a believer in manifestation. I'm a believer of writing down what you want to happen. I work in good vibes and authenticity, and I am myself in whatever room I'm in, and that has been enough for me to continue, for my brand and businesses to grow.”
Creating Space For Others
That “space” Griggs refers to is the Black Chef Table, an ongoing dinner series that highlights African American chefs around the country as well as local African American food purveyors. It is held twice a month with the goal of highlighting a different chef each weekend.
The venue is Kulture, a James Beard-nominated restaurant also owned by Davis. “A lot of times, working chefs don't get to cook their own food and so we get chefs from private celebrity chefs to food trucks and that's to encourage people to try different cultural food. Black Chef Table is my baby,” she shares. “I'm a proponent of amplifying the voices of Black talent in the culinary field. I'm also very engaged in demystifying our food, growing food and cooking the food that you grow.”
She has her sights set on enhancing programming for the dinner series. She adds, “We have an enormous amount of talent coming into the city and just growing and leveraging the brand of Black Chef Table because it's not just dinners, we’ve got a cookbook, documentary, the goal is to take it global and create a Black Chef Table experience all over the country and the world.”