I was eating at the bar at The Local Taco in Asheville and one of the chefs caught my eye. His striking dark almost molasses colored skin and glasses reminded me of my father. A simultaneous wave of sadness and comfort washed over me as I longed to tell my dad about my journey and everything else he's missed over the past 14 years. But I also felt him with me, showing up in the kind face of strangers like Whitney, the chef who had just served me the best kimchi taco I'd ever had. I realized too that I rarely see a black chef so I decided to talk to him.
I found Whitney in the courtyard on his break and asked him if I could take his photo for my project. "Sit down sister," he said. In a straightforward, I know from experience tone, he told me that underneath all the new age, progressive veneer, Asheville is not a color loving place. We're right next to Tennessee, this is Klan country. He's been cooking all his life, attended culinary school and recently cooked at top restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. Then, when he came to Asheville, he'd sent his resume out, got called in for numerous interviews that all ended as soon as the restaurant owner saw what he looked like. Until The Local Taco. I felt anger rise and tears well up as he said, I just want to cook, that's all I've ever known. This just shouldn't happen to anyone, ever.