Photographs by Kim Thomas
Cynthia Daniels and her organization—Cynthia Daniels & Co.—are the force behind Memphis Black Restaurant Week (March 8-14), launched in 2016. They’ve also coordinated a diverse mix of events, including the Black Bridal Expo, Soulful Food Truck Festival (March 15), Elixir, and Memphis Top 40 Under 40 Urban Elite Professionals. As she’s worked to fill a gap that she saw for young professionals in the city she now calls home, Cynthia has helped uplift local black-owned businesses. Cynthia recently launched Boxlot Taste & See—a free spring series that introduces local chefs to the Memphis community. Attendees enjoy treats while shopping with local vendors and Boxlot stores.
Cynthia has become a pro at recommending restaurants and hot spots to visit around the city. A millennial woman who’s always on the go, she easily curates lists of places for fun gatherings and business meetings, but on the days she works primarily from home, what meals make the cut? We recently visited Cynthia in her East Memphis abode to learn more about her favorite home-cooked dishes, the seasoning she can’t live without, and what a “Gangsta Walk” is (it’s not what you think).
Edible Memphis: What is your first memory related to cooking?
Cynthia Daniels: Being in the kitchen with my mom. She used to make a dish called Spaghetti Baked (traditionally cooked spaghetti in a casserole dish, with added cheese and pepperoni layered like lasagna). It’s one of my favorite dishes she used to make. It’s so good.
What was your first food-related job?
I was a waitress one summer in college. I learned very quickly it was not the job for me [laughs]. I had fun and enjoyed it when customers were happy, but when they came in with attitudes about issues that I couldn’t control or fix, I said to myself, “Stick to college!” You learn a lot through the customer service experience, but it was not for me. It was tough.
What is your default thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?
Chicken fingers. Super easy. They don’t take long to cook, especially with an air fryer. The first time I used it, I had to make sure they weren’t pink and cooked thoroughly. I was surprised and hooked on using the air fryer from then on out.
Name an ingredient that you couldn’t live without.
I love my garlic powder. Garlic powder just makes everything taste better!
What’s your favorite indulgence?
You know, there was a time when I would bake pans of brownies in the winter, and it would get me through the weekend—brownies and ice cream.
Name your favorite thing to do in the kitchen, or your favorite part of the cooking process.
The presentation. I like pretty food, so being able to see the finished product and adding the garnishments is my favorite.
Name your favorite kitchen tool or gadget and why it’s your favorite.
The air fryer. It’s like a crockpot but better! Everyone needs to get one. Most of the meal-prepped food that I have in my fridge was made using it.
Do you watch cooking shows on TV? If so, which ones?
[Guy’s] Grocery Games. I watched when Chef Tam competed. She was on it about three or four times, and that got me hooked.
Favorite place to shop locally for food?
In a pinch I’m a Kroger girl, but I like going to the downtown farmers market, especially when the weather is nice. I cannot do cold weather [laughs]. Plus, the harvest is better when it’s warmer. [Editor’s note: We are taking Cynthia to the winter market so she can see what she’s missing!]
What condiments are in your fridge right now?
Because I eat a lot of seafood, I love remoulade. I’m addicted to it. It’s almost like my ketchup—I put it on everything.
Fruits and vegetables in your fridge?
Green peppers, tomatoes, salad mix, etc. Salad mixes are the best invention because it makes putting salads together so much easier. And I just ran out of strawberries.
Most embarrassing thing in the fridge?
The remoulade drawer in the bottom of the fridge [laughs]. Whenever I go to Soul Fish, I always ask for extra because I know I need it at my house!
What’s in the freezer right now?
I work from home a lot, so I meal prep for my crazy busy weeks.
Will you share a recipe with us?
Nothing gourmet, but cucumber salad is my go-to thing. It’s super easy, and instead of snacking, I’ll eat that throughout the day. It’s chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, white vinegar, a little bit of sugar, garlic, and sometimes oregano.
You recently made a post on Facebook that we’re dying to know about. What is a “Gangsta Walk”
I’m from Atlanta, and there are a few dishes and meals that I’d never heard of before moving to Memphis. Like, I never knew people made spaghetti as a side dish.* (We eat it as an entrée and separate the noodles from the sauce in the A.) I wasn’t familiar with butter cookies, butter rolls, wings “fried hard,” and Circle B sausages. These were all new to me, and so I’ve made a list [that I’ve called “Gangsta Walk”] of what I need to try.
1404 Airways Boulevard
Chef Tam’s Underground Café
668 Union Avenue
Curry N Jerk
126 Monroe Avenue
Flava House Express
6343 Summer Avenue
Flava House Lounge
95 South Main Street
3092 Poplar Avenue
Robusto by Havana Mix
250 Peabody Place
94 South Main Street
The Four Way
998 Mississippi Boulevard
The Office @ Uptown
594 North Second Street
The Waffle Iron
4969 Park Avenue
Phillip Ashley Chocolates
1200 Madison Avenue
*Writer’s note: The question of whether spaghetti is an entrée or a side dish is an ongoing debate. When I was growing up, spaghetti was definitely a side dish, best served with fried catfish or buffalo fish, coleslaw, and sliced white bread. You can eat it as an entrée, but in the houses I’ve visited, spaghetti—more times than not—has been a side dish!
Kim Thomas is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in Memphis. Launched in September 2010, her blog, KP Fusion, provides of-the-moment fashion, style and beauty tips and trends with a little Memphis flavor thrown in. @kpfusion