Few homecomings this year have been as celebrated as that of Omar Tate’s. The Germantown-born chef, 34, spent eight years in New York, where he was celebrated for his Honeysuckle project, a series of immersive pop-ups that explored the nuance and expanse of American Blackness through poetry, food, and music. One dish to commemorate the 1985 MOVE bombing, “Smoked Turkey Necks in 1980s Philadelphia,” includes a poem and companion dish dusted with ash on a plate of smoking hay.
When Tate returned to Philadelphia to be closer to family at the outset of the pandemic, he revived Honeysuckle as a revolution in a takeout box with pop-ups at South Philly Barbacoa. And with the sky still smoldering from the fires of George Floyd protests, a four-course homage to his Black Panther grandfather imbued with personal history — from oysters with chow-chow to sweet bean pies and grilled steak over Sea Island red peas — couldn’t have been a more timely taste of culinary activism.
Tate’s various themed menus, from pit-smoked lamb with West African spices to his riffs on pepperpot and fried chicken for his Black Labor Day feast, have been among the most intriguing events of Philly’s pandemic food scene. But it’s the next Honeysuckle phase that’s potentially most impactful: fund-raising to build a community center, market, and culinary space for Tate’s mother’s underserved Mantua neighborhood, a project centered around social justice and a celebration of Black food culture.
“People have called it a Black Trader Joe’s, but it’ll be more than that,” said Tate, who’s devoted his efforts lately to launching a GoFundMe campaign for $250,000 (and a bean pie for each donor!), meeting with local legislators, and finding the perfect location. “I’m not a chef now,” he says, “I’m a food politician. Because it’s really not about me anymore.”