Michelle White, the chef-owner of Next Step Soul Food Cafe on Washington Street in Codman Square, joined Community Servings’ “Learning Kitchen Live” series on Facebook live last Thursday afternoon to teach an online audience how to make one of her signature dishes: fried shrimp and turnip greens.
The online cooking class series is a recent initiative begun by Community Servings, a Jamaica Plain-based nonprofit that serves nutritionally tailored meals and provides nutrition education to thousands of people per year across Massachusetts who are unable to shop or cook for themselves or their families due to critical illnesses.
White, who grew up in Jamaica Plain, explained as she cooked how she learned about the secrets of soul food from visiting her family in South Carolina in the summers as a kid, where her grandmother would enlist her help in the kitchen.
“I remember seeing my grandma in the garden pulling up collard greens, turnips, and when we arrived, we’d go right out there to help her. I loved it; that’s definitely where my cooking sense first came from,” she said.
Years later, in 2017, after retiring from decades of work in childcare and wanting to try something new, an opportunity to open a restaurant in Codman Square fell into White’s lap. She said she saw the chance to open a soul food joint with her mother in Boston, where only a handful of such eateries exist, as a venture that would both satisfy her love of cooking and please her neighbors.
“All these people were coming up to me saying, ‘We need you, we need soul food in this community.’ And the fact that it was truly home cooking. We brought all the pots and pans in the restaurant from home, which we had used to cook for the whole family, to the restaurant. For me it was kind of natural,” said White.
Despite Next Step being temporarily closed for onsite dining by the pandemic, White has continued to make food for her family, friends, and neighbors, catering to events and making to-order dishes for takeout and others for her church and for charity.
“I love feeding people,” said White. “Feeding people is my love language.”
Chef White’s Learning Kitchen Live video is available to view on the Community Servings Facebook page.