by Dominique Etzel
At 2pm on a Sunday, people were still lined up outside Capitol Hill wine bar, Bannister, to try to make it for the final hour of Chef Tarik Abdullah’s pop-up brunch. The new permanent space for Abdullah’s brunch, Morning Star, is full of art, happy guests, and under the laughter and chatter you can hear the smooth beats of a neo-soul and hip hop mix playing throughout.
Chef Abdullah can be seen in the open kitchen in a blue hat, similar to the one he was seen wearing on ABC television show The Taste. He’s working hard to appease the hungry room of about 30 people. Community has always been very important to Abdullah, part of the reason he started doing pop-up restaurants around five years ago.
“Growing up in the South End in the early 80’s was a different time then,” says Abdullah, “The Central District was an all black neighborhood down to Columbia City, Hillman City and further south, with a lot of black-owned businesses. So watching the change has been interesting yet sad to see the businesses go away.”
Abdullah grew up in a Muslim family with his parents coming from North Carolina and Louisiana, he notes how he was always surrounded by cooks and of course, good spices. Abdullah is all about trying new things but sticking to a Caribbean or Mediterranean influence. Some menu items from previous weeks include spiced braised lamb or vegetable hash, saucy prawns over polenta, or granola over coconut yogurt and topped with mint and berries.
Creating pop-ups is only one of many ways Abdullah has put use to his immense talent and passion. For starters, in 2008 Abdullah was in Los Angeles working to impress Kanye West as his private chef. He also spent decades as the chef at Seattle restaurant Cicchetti.
More recently, Abdullah put on a cooking demonstration for a Seattle organization that educates about young people’s food empowerment and sustainability. All of that followed by cooking classes and brunch on the weekend. It is safe to say he keeps himself incredibly busy.
Abdullah gets through it all with a common message in mind; food, kids, and community. This has made him the influence he is today in his community as well as the South End. One of his three sous chefs at brunch was no older than 13. Abdullah gives his students the opportunity to see what it’s like to work the front line.
“Kids should be offered opportunities outside sports, so using another form of the arts (cooking) has allowed kids to do things that some never thought they could do,” said Abdullah. He supports programs like Arts Corps, Hillman City Collaboratory, Green Plate Special, FEEST, a youth-run dinner program that engages students at Evergreen and Chief Sealth High School on issues of civic and social justice, food security, cultural expression, and community development, and more.
“[These programs] are all important because they focus on the arts, which play a vital role in the community. Without them I wonder what these kids would be doing,” Abdullah explains.
In 2014, Abdullah made his television debut competing for the title of “America’s Best Undiscovered Cook” on ABC’s The Taste. He experienced what it was like to work for four chefs instead of one, but they so happened to be culinary masters like Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre.
“I used my experience to get me through each round and never felt like I had to ‘make it or break it.’ It’s just a TV show so no need to make it seem like this is going to make me who I am, when really what it did was just show America what I do here in my hometown,” Abdullah explains.