The latest episode of You & Julia: At Home features Cheryl Straughter, Chef and Co-Owner of Soleil Restaurant in Roxbury's Nubian Square, which serves Southern food with a twist. She made Julia Child's famous Coq Au Vin from her home kitchen. We talked to Straughter about Julia's legacy and how the pandemic has affected the restaurant industry.
On Julia Child as a pioneer and meeting her at Logan Airport:
"Julia Child was a pioneer, as far as the culinary world is concerned, because back then the majority of chefs were men. I think she was a trailblazer in having written cookbooks, in having a culinary show. She really set the groundwork and the pathway for women to just move forward, jump into the field, take a lead and be where we are today."
"I used to work for the airlines back in the seventies and Julia came into the terminal. I didn't notice who she was initially, but as she got a little bit closer, I said, 'Wow, who is this woman?' You know, she's tall. And I was like, 'Oh, it's Julia Child!' And I told her that I enjoyed cooking. I was rather young at the time. And she asked, 'What do you like to cook?' And I said, 'I like to cook savory things. I like chicken. I like meat. I'm not really a baker.' And then she smiled, because she did both so well. We just talked for a few minutes and then she traveled on to her gate. I did have a chance to actually meet this amazing, amazing chef."
"I think that chicken is one of the universal proteins. It's extremely affordable, there are so many things that you can do with chicken. I think it was very popular with Julia Child because of the opportunity to infuse it with wine. As I think about Julia Child's cooking, it's comfort food; it's hearty food. At that time French cooking was not really prominent. And I think one of the things that Julia Child did was show that French cooking can be affordable."
On her restaurant, Soleil, in Roxbury’s Nubian Square:
"Soleil is actually a French term. It's my granddaughter's middle name and it's also the word that's used for the term the sun. And it also makes me think about the neighborhood that I'm in. There are some people that don't look at the area as bright and warm, so it makes me think of where my business is. It's in a nice, warm community and we cook some items that would be connected to a French style of cooking, but by far if I had to describe my cuisine, it's really Southern cuisine with a twist."
On getting creative during the pandemic:
"The pandemic's impact has been tremendous. Soleil is in the headquarters of the Boston School Department. And as people began to work from home, we saw less revenue in our sales because the office buildings started to become more and more vacant. So we made a few pivots — we have done more bulk catering. For example, we've catered at MGH, Faulkner, a number of different places that have been feeding their frontline workers. We also participated in Boston's opportunity to have outdoor seating, so we had a grill outside and that was a lot of fun. We also started doing family meals."
"So people talk about 'pivot' and they talk about resilience. They talk about strength. And I think you find that in entrepreneurs in many different industries, and none more so than in the restaurant industry. We’re entering the slow season for our industry. However, I remain optimistic that at some point — and I believe that point is a lot further away than people are talking about — that there will be a time when we will be dining all together again, although I don't think that our industry is going to rebound for quite some time."