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At five years old, Chef Vanessa Gray-Douglas stood on a stool by the stove because she was too short to reach the stovetop. She learned to cook at her mom’s side and bake with her dad.

“My mom is in my soul when it comes to food. When I write recipes, I feel like I’m in touch with her and that comes out in any recipe I write,” Gray-Douglas says.

For years, Gray-Douglas ran a restaurant in her mother’s name called Natalie’s Food for the Soul, where she served some of her childhood favorites like mac and cheese, collard greens, oxtail soup and fried fish — and she continues to serve these dishes through meal prep and catering. As the executive chef at Harborview, she is celebrating Black History Month by serving historic dishes from African American cookbooks.

“We have people from all over at Harborview, and I’m really trying to represent that. I’ve got some Haitian recipes, Ethiopian, some from North Carolina, New Orleans, Texas. I tried to pick some things people will be really familiar with and others where you’ll say, ‘Oo, what is that?’,” Gray-Douglas says.

Over at UW Medical Center – Montlake, Chef Greg Gerrard, manager of patient food and nutrition program operations, is drawing on his experience working in New Orleans to serve Cajun and Creole dishes to patients.

Gerrard got his start in Cajun and Creole cooking when his motorcycle broke down in New Orleans during a cross country trip in 1976.

“I was walking around knocking on doors and walked through the back door of a place called Commander’s Palace, which happens to be a very famous restaurant,” Gerrard says. “I talked to the guy in charge who said, ‘Sure, you can work for me.’ He ended up being Paul Prudhomme, the god of Cajun cuisine. That’s where I got my initial influence and how I learned Cajun cuisine.”

While the pandemic has required Gerrard to change some of his plans, he hopes to serve patients Cincinnati-style chili this month, as well as incorporate African- and Southern-influenced recipes into the rotation, such as cornbread, red velvet cake and a Moroccan-style lamb dish.

In honor of Black History Month, you can taste traditional flavors at Harborview and UW Medical Center’s cafeterias — or try your hand at making some of Gray-Douglas and Gerrard’s favorite recipes at home.

Leah Chases Gumbo ZHerbes

Gumbo Z’Herbes

The Rise Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with NOLA East Mayo

Catfish Etouffee

Catfish Entoufee

West African Groundnut Stew

West African Groundnut Stew

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Bread Pudding

Cincinnati Style Chili

Cincinnati Style Chili

Opener Photo Credit: © Nadine Greeff / Stocksy United