This July will mark the 11th anniversary of Melba’s in Harlem. The southern-inspired restaurant has become a staple in the community and is known for its eggnog waffles and gluten-free chicken. Owner and now cookbook author Melba Wilson is proud of the blood, sweat and tears behind the successful dining spot located at 114th Street and Frederick Boulevard in the mecca of culture and history.
This month, Wilson’s first cookbook, “Melba’s Comfort Food: 100 Recipes From My Heart to Your Kitchen” will officially make its way into the kitchens of fans looking to re-create some of Wilson’s favorite recipes inspired by her family and passed down for generations. Two years in the making, Wilson’s cookbook is filled with recipes that are “simple, foolproof and true to their down-home spirit.”
“I didn’t want this book to be a chef’s cookbook, I wanted it to be a cook’s cookbook. Something that was friendly and definitely wasn’t intimidating,” says Wilson who was “born, bred and buttered” in Harlem. 100 recipes hardly capture Wilson’s years of cooking and working in the industry and only leaves the reader waiting in anticipation for the next book.
Wilson’s taste of the restaurant industry began in 1987 when she was asked to organize the 25th Anniversary Celebration for the restaurant Sylvia’s. From there she worked as a cashier and hostess before assisting with catering. Feeling right at home, she continued working at various restaurants until opening Melba’s in 2005.
With plans to expand Melba’s into the space next to it, Wilson’s years of hard work continues to pay off. “I am a brown girl from Harlem who had a dream and who stepped out on that dream and stepped out on faith and who worked hard. To me, when someone said no, it meant go around, go over, go through it but make it happen, “says Wilson.
Flipping through “Melba’s American Comfort,” it is hard not to bookmark many of the recipes. The word comfort fits best for these flavorful, sink-your-teeth-into dishes that will transport you to Harlem bite by bite. “When I think about comfort food, I think about food that evokes warm and wonderful memories. To me, that is what comfort food does. I wanted to remind you of the foods that make us smile,” says Wilson.
Divided into seven sections, Wilson gives a special mention to some of her top favorite standouts that include the Mo’Bay Shrimp Rolls (page 73), Melba’s Eggnog Waffles (page 4), Kickin’ Prime Rib Chili (page 113) and the infamous Melba’s Gluten Free Fried Chicken (page 137).
Within a few recipes, you quickly notice that everything is made from scratch and all of Wilson’s recipes incorporate a variety of spices that add flavor and texture. “Melba’s American Comfort” doesn’t just stop at the breakfast, lunch and dinner, bring a mealtime full circle with the desserts and her easy to make drinks and cocktails such as a Blueberry Lemonade (page 208) and Cucumber Splash (page 209).
With a restaurant expansion, television deals and now a cookbook, Wilson is on a mission to grow her empire to next include a spice line.
Soon to become one of our favorite cookbooks of 2016, the wait was well worth it. Wilson delivers a collection of recipes that defines comfort food at its best.
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