Taste the Diaspora Detroit’s ‘Vinyl Tasting’ dinners are a vibe

Chefs Jermond Booze and Amber Beckem build menus from albums like J Dilla’s ‘Donuts’

Feb 22, 2023 at 2:15 pm
click to enlarge Chefs Jermond Booze and Amber Beckem in the kitchen. - Courtesy of Jermond Booze
Courtesy of Jermond Booze
Chefs Jermond Booze and Amber Beckem in the kitchen.

The mood was right at Detroit’s Freya as diners packed the dimly lit high-end restaurant for a dinner based on J Dilla’s Donuts. Strangers became familiar as they bonded over food, wine, and hip-hop on a cool February evening.

Detroit chefs Jermond Booze and Amber Beckem prepared an innovative menu with each dish named after a different Dilla track for this “Vinyl Tasting” event.

For “Gobstopper,” the chefs presented a crispy fried lemon pepper Brussels sprout, while they reimagined a coney dog with a mole negro chili and persimmon mostarda for “Two Can Win.” Of course, “The Last Donut of the Night” was a literal doughnut.

“The inspiration comes from all these different spaces,” Booze tells Metro Times. “Maybe it’s the lyrics, maybe it’s the song, maybe it’s how they put together the album or the music, or just the artist themselves. We also try, whenever we can, to pay homage to either our culture across the diaspora or what we can find locally.”

Booze is a member of Taste the Diaspora Detroit, a group of chefs and food activists that honors Black food traditions. He began hosting the Vinyl Tasting dinners monthly in July of 2022 setting it to albums like The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, Usher’s Confessions, and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, among others.

Booze, who is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, says it made sense to do a Dilla dinner in February in honor of the late producer’s birthday.

“I’ve been to Dilla Day every year since I’ve been in Michigan for the most part,” he tells us of the annual celebration of Dilla’s life. “I’m a huge hip-hop head so this is an opportunity for me to pay homage to a person who’s heavily inspired me, and the time was right for it since it’s a week prior to Dilla World Weekend.”

When Booze says Dilla “heavily inspired” him, he means it. Part of the reason the chef moved to Detroit in 2004 was to hopefully meet Dilla.

“I didn’t know Dilla was living in L.A. or nothing like that, and I moved to Detroit literally thinking I was finna run into Dilla going to a show or something,” he says. “I had graduated culinary school and was thinking about furthering my education and Eastern Michigan accepted me, so it was a combination of that and really thinking I could meet Dilla. I got here and was like, well, this ain’t quite what I was expecting, but it felt like a big Little Rock because the people embraced me and I’ve been here ever since. I always felt like it was love here.”

He adds, “The things you do when you’re young. You just be moving off inspiration and motivation sometimes.”

click to enlarge Chef Jermond Booze moved to Detroit hoping he would meet J Dilla in 2004. - Courtesy of Jermond Booze
Courtesy of Jermond Booze
Chef Jermond Booze moved to Detroit hoping he would meet J Dilla in 2004.

At Freya, what was supposed to be a three-hour event crept up to nearly four hours. This is the first time the group has hosted the dinner in a restaurant of this size, and it shows.

Previous Vinyl Tasting dinners were held at The Kitchen by Cooking With Que, a much smaller space, with two separate seatings to accommodate the number of diners. With a larger capacity at Freya, the chefs have a few kinks to work out.

Long waits between courses were especially excruciating for vegan diners who watched their friends finish their plates before finally being served.

We had our sights on a vegan version of a “Dilla Says Go” dish with braised king oyster mushrooms, sweet potato grits, and a cucumber carrot slaw. Our excitement quickly faded after waiting so long and being served cold grits. A fellow vegan at our table could barely cut through her mushroom or even pierce it with a fork because it was so tough.

Wine sommelier Randall Coats was the saving grace of the evening as he presented wine pairings and explained the flavors of each glass in between plates. It’s rare to see a Black man so knowledgeable about wine, and he made it accessible and fun.

We appreciate Chefs Amber and Jermond for dreaming big and spreading their love for food and music with the city. So did attendees, many of whom seemed so immersed in the music and social atmosphere that they didn’t mind the delays too much.

Since March is Women’s History Month, the chefs are planning a dinner around Erykah Badu’s Baduizm, a bonafide soundtrack to Black womanhood in the ’90s.

Booze says he also wants to theme future dinners on upcoming concerts and events like when Lil Wayne’s “Welcome to Tha Carter Tour” stops in Detroit in April.

“I had been wanting to do something really street-level hip-hop, as opposed to something that’s artsy all the time,” Booze says about the Lil Wayne-inspired event. “We’re going all over because that’s where our musical taste is. That’s where our culture is. … For me, Wayne is as impactful as A Tribe Called Quest.”

Beyond the music, Booze is passionate about sharing food from across the African diaspora because he sees it as a form of resistance and survival for African Americans.

“It’s one of the few things from our culture that has transcended from slavery,” he says. “Most of us can’t tell you what part of Africa we’re from or much about the continent itself, but when you eat a bowl of gumbo, whether you know it or not, you’re eating a variation of okra stew — a very traditional African dish. You’re eating your heritage and your heritage is surviving through that dish allowing us to unite with our brothers and sisters on the continent. That’s what’s happening as we put that spoon inside our mouths.”

You can keep up with Taste the Diaspora and get information on future Vinyl Tasting dinners at tastethediaspora.com.

Coming soon: Metro Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Detroit stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter