In honor of Black History Month, when it comes to the world of food, we take the time to recognize those who made a mark in history ranging from inventors to chefs to restauranteurs to grocers. When I think of Black history in this industry, names that come to mind are George Washington Carver, James Hemmings, Arthur Bryant, B. Smith, Edna Lewis, Abby Fisher, and of course Larry and Jereline Bethune, just to name a few. While acknowledging and appreciating those in history who paved the way, I want to fast forward to today, where there is so much talent in the culinary arts and Blacks who are thriving in the industry. In that mix is LeKeishia Wilson, a dear friend of mine.
I want to highlight a self-taught chef who is a mom to a beautiful three-year-old boy, a career woman, and really one who represents black excellence.
I had the pleasure of sitting down virtually with LeKeishia to talk about life during the pandemic and becoming an author to her new cookbook, Mexi-Creole Style Cuisine while working a full-time corporate job and entertaining a little one at home. I am so proud and excited to share her talent and journey.
In our interview, LeKeishia had time to do a quick cooking demo. It was Friday night, and I like to think I was a good virtual assistant/moderator helping her navigate through the recipe, similar to our virtual classes at The Chopping Block.
Inspiration to Write a Cookbook
"What was interesting is that I never thought I was disciplined to write a cookbook. I made so many recipes, but would not have thought I would write a full book of recipes. I have always been a person who put in a dab of this and a dab of that. Measuring was not my thing, except when it comes to baking.
Before the pandemic, I would travel so much, I didn’t have time to cook. During the initial shutdown, which forced me to have some downtime, I had to focus on my serenity, which is cooking. My cousin and then a friend chimed in later saying I should stop playing and write a cookbook. I said no one buys cookbooks anymore because everything is online. My friend disagreed and made a point by saying that people who are engaged with chefs on TV, have and will purchase their cookbooks. Then another friend of mine agreed that I should write the cookbook and make seasonings too.
It is amazing when people can create that spark and ignite it in you. I wrote this cookbook in one month, and I edited it myself. You have to strike while the iron is hot.
They planted the seed to not only write a cookbook, but also to make the seasonings. So I had to think of making a seasoning that could be a staple that might not be in one’s cabinet because I don’t use much salt.
I chose Mexican and Creole dishes for my cookbook because those are my favorite cuisines. My grandmother introduced me to New Orleans food, but I didn’t know the name for it at the time and I learned more about the cuisine when I went to New Orleans. Also, I have a great friend whose parents owned a Mexican-style cuisine restaurant, and I have been hooked ever since.
Believe it or not, now I am measuring, So now when I prepare for the Quickie Meal, I take a picture of my own recipe in the book so I can have it when I head to the grocery store so I don’t deviate from it."
Quickie Meal on 95.1FM Chicago
"During this process people have been reaching out to me about opportunities, including the owner of 95.1FM and a dear friend of mine who approached me about an idea for this show on Fridays. She would call it the Quickie Mix where people can just rock out throughout the day and thought I could pair the Mix with a meal. So we called it the Quickie Meal.
The owner mentioned that she admired how I can prepare and cook a meal in such a short time. Her first observation was when I was creating demo videos to submit to MasterChef back in 2016. She couldn’t believe I could make so much food in just a few hours, which is why she knew this would be a great idea to do a 30-minute segment every week.
I have a childhood friend who resides in Arlington, Texas who offered and continues to drive to my house to help me record my segment every week. My boss is also supportive, as he is an advocate for balance and family.
I have such a great support system and because I have one, there wasn’t a lot of obstacles in this process, and I learned there was nothing but more opportunities. There have been so many friends helping me on this journey."
Balancing Life Pre/Post-Pandemic as a Mom, Career Woman and Chef and Self-Care
"It is about what is important. What I realized is that I really enjoy cooking. I think anything that is important, you will nurture it and allocate time for it. Family is first and that is why I have to make sure I don’t shortchange my son. The pandemic has allowed me to focus on the things that matter, which includes loving me more and spending more time with my son. I like to incorporate cooking in our time so he understands what I am doing.
My corporate job is the best job I have ever had when it comes to work-life balance, but during the pandemic, it was getting so busy for me. Sales were up because people were at home using more personal care products, and I was stressing out. My SVP said, “Look, we are not curing cancer. It is just soap in a bottle.” So I had to start meditating and also playing meditation music while I am sleeping. My mind was racing at night so I needed to do something to make sure I can get a good night’s rest and relax."
My Son’s Favorite Dish
"His favorite dish is pizza, which is funny because it is my favorite dish. It definitely warms my heart. If someone asked me to pick one dish to have every day, it would be pizza for the both of us."
Favorite Spice and Tools
"I love exploring food from different cultures and embracing spices, but I love garlic. You can put it on almost anything. There is something about garlic that brings the flavor to another level. I prefer to use fresh garlic and garlic powder, not the minced garlic in the jar.
I am old school when it comes to appliances and tools. As for my favorite tool, I have two. One is the whisk. My friend didn’t understand why I took a picture with a whisk for the cover of my cookbook, and she tried to convince me it is only for baking, but she was wrong. I use it to mix batter, sauces, anything that requires mixing. Also, I love the cheese grater."
"I have been a Pescatarian for 17 years. When I learned more about chicken and other meat, I made the decision to become a Pescatarian.
If anyone starts their journey with seafood, salmon should be their introduction. Salmon is the gateway fish."
"Outside of crediting my mom’s great soul food cooking and grandmother’s Cajun cooking, I am a lover of Food Network. I follow so many chefs on that channel. On my journey right now and being from Chicago, I would say Darius Cooks is my inspiration. He has created something out of nothing. Knowing his story, I admire how he quit his corporate job to pursue his dream. The way he engages his audience is something special and you know his fans really love him.
One of my favorite shows is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and the reason is that the show isn’t fancy. I am not a fancy person. I like the easy simple things you would never think of using, which is what feels like heaven to me."
Black Restaurant Week in Chicago
"For Black Restaurant Week, I would recommend Jerk Villa. I don’t leave Chicago without visiting Jerk Villa, and it is always worth the wait. Only good food will allow you to accept certain things.
Unfortunately in Texas, at least where I am currently residing, I have been disappointed with the food here. They have no flavor to their palette, which is disappointing to me.
I also like the caramel cake from Brown Sugar Bakery on the southside of Chicago. Hands down!"
In Honor of Black History Month
"With me having a Black son who is so young, Black History Month has become more important to me coupled with the events that have occurred in the last year. It is important that my son grows up understanding the meaning of ‘Black is Beautiful’. It is one thing to say it, but it is another thing when one embodies it. My hope is for us to speak words of affirmation in the home, believe it and create our own universe of success because our children are watching. It is like kinetic energy so it can start with us in the home. We are less than 15% of the country’s population, but our influence is 100%. Knowing and believing within ourselves on how great we are is just as important. There are people from other backgrounds who love us as they do recognize us. We should continue to love ourselves, support our communities and encourage other cultures to support. We can’t take our foot off the gas. The energy has to continue to keep going to fight for social justice as if it happened today."
You can get a sneak peak of LeKeishia’s cookbook with this recipe:
Photo Credit: LeKeishia Wilson
Mexican Street Corn
Source: Mexi-Creole Style Cuisine: Cinco De Mayo meets Mardi Gras, written by Lekeishia Wilson
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Serves: 4 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
4 ears sweet corn on the cob husks pulled back and silks removed or corn off the cob
4 Tablespoons of cold butter
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro
1/2 cup of crumbled cotija cheese
Smoked Paprika to taste
Dashes of Mexican hot sauce (optional)
1 lime cut into wedges
- Preheat grill or oven to 400 degrees.
- Rub ears of corn with cold butter (it's easier to coat the raw ears of corn evenly). Grill, bake, or boil corn until tender, turning a couple of times to char evenly.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk chili powder into the sour cream and mayonnaise, then set aside.
- Remove corn from grill, oven, or skillet then spread each cob evenly with crema (for canned corn, mix in the chili crema) Top corn with cotija, smoked paprika, and hot sauce (optional).
- Place onto individual plates or small bowls. Serve with lime wedges. Enjoy!
You can buy the cookbook and seasonings at www.lekesh.com.
You can follow LeKeishia on the following social platforms:
You can also watch the chef cooking in style on 95.1 FM Chicago’s Facebook Live Page on Fridays at 12:30 pm CST, where she has her weekly segment, “Quickie Meal” featured on the show, The Quickie Mix.
If you are interested in learning more about Mexican flavors, don't miss these upcoming classes at The Chopping Block:
- Spring Break: A Trip to Mexico In-Person at Lincoln Square on Thursday, March 18 at 6:30pm
- Virtual Vegetarian: Veggie Enchiladas on Thursday, March 26 at 6pm CST
- Virtual Tamale Workshop on Sunday, March 28 at 11am CST
- Virtual Steak Fajitas on Thursday, April 29 at 7pm CST