Q&A: Art + Soul Chef Alexander Smalls

We’re a few days away from the best party of the year, Art + Soul, celebrating the PAMM Fund for African American Art on Saturday, February 5, 2022. Our seated dinner attendees are in for a treat—James Beard Award-Winning Chef Alexander Smalls is preparing the night’s menu.

We chatted with Smalls and dived into his culinary journey, his latest projects, and his thoughts on Art + Soul.

Where does your inspiration stem from as a chef? When did your love of food first develop?  
My family…childhood…the creative environment of my parents and extended family…my chef uncle and my aunt, who was a classical pianist, nurtured in me as a child. My curiosity and drive—an unusual passion that seemed to take over me but also comforted me—gave me the courage to exploit my talents and possibilities to lengths even I didn’t know I was capable of.

Award-winning chef, author, and raconteur Alexander Smalls. Photo courtesy Daniel Kreiger.

You’ve been in the press lately with some exciting developments. Can you tell us about one of your latest projects?
My latest project is the creation of the first modern contemporary African Dining Hall in the world opened for Expo2020 in Dubai. It is a 22K ft. dining hall celebrating not only regional foods of Africa but African’s footprint on five continents—essentially how through slavery Africa changed the global conversation. Along with my partners TGP International headed by Simon Wright, we are slated to roll out eight new halls; the next halls slated for early 2023 in New York followed by London.

Alkebulan. Photo courtesy Alkebulan Dining Hall.

How does your heritage and appreciation of music manifest in your cooking? 
In every way because I am first an artist with both music and cooking as my two tools—lens of expression and creativity. I have been fortunate to have had to complete careers in both—as an opera singer, who has both a Grammy and Tony to my credit, and a James Beard Award winner for my culinary arts. 

Smalls inside his home. Photo courtesy Kelly Marshall.

What significance do you find participating in the Art + Soul event? How does the PAMM Fund for Black Art resonate with you?  
I am honored to participate and support the work of Pérez Art Museum Miami, which is so important to creatives. I want only to make a contribution through the art I practice. I hope my art is instrumental in manifesting a night of celebration that helps encourage great support this evening by encouraging all in attendance to generously give to this worthy cause.

What can guests expect for the Art + Soul menu?
I have created a thematic menu of exciting dishes from my latest cookbook “Meals, Music, and Muses.” I wanted to present the best of the African American Kitchen—heritage heirloom dishes updated and re-framed. My hope is to add rhythm, texture and rich goodness of the foodways of the African Diaspora to a very special occasion. Hopefully guests will find both familiarity and wonder in every bite.

Don’t have your tickets yet? There’s still time to purchase them here.

Art + Soul 2020 Photo by Lazaro Llanes.

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