Thursday, July 8th, 2010
“When I was old enough to put a chair to the stove, I was cooking. At four, I cooked my first full meal – bacon, eggs, and toast. See, I grew up in a family where my grandmother put everyone to work who stepped foot into her kitchen. I liked helping out and getting my hands in the potatoes and chopping up onions, so I spent a lot of time there. Some kids hate to help in the kitchen, but I loved it.
“I know that my grandmother recognized my interest at an early age and and started teaching me to be a good cook. She used to make the traditional southern favorites: macaroni and cheese, grits, cornbread, fish, chicken, ribs, and pork everything. As my grandmother got older, she wasn’t cooking as much, so it became my turn to cook Sunday dinners and Thanksgiving and Christmas for the family. I remember how happy I was when people told me that my food was almost as good, or maybe even better than grandma’s. That still makes me smile.
“Growing up, my mother wanted me to be a lawyer or something like that. It took me a second to realize that I wanted to do what I wanted to do with my life. I figured that if I was going to do a job for the rest of my life, I might as well try doing something that I loved first. If I had to go back and do the attorney thing, I would have at least tried pursuing my love. My grandmother always said that you want to do something in life that you love to do and that you would do for free. Man, I would cook for free every day. I did it for the smiles on people’s faces and for a pat on the back. I figured that I would honor my grandmother by going to culinary school and pursuing my love of cooking.
“After culinary school, I worked at the Washington Convention Center. That was your large, group style venue. We cooked for groups of 50 to 3,000 in a nine man kitchen. It was an assembly line where there wasn’t much creativity with the food. I did that for almost three years and then went to work as a sous chef at Planet Hollywood, which used to be downtown. I went there to work on my speed. There, we were always moving and making around 250 plates an hour. After that, I wanted to go to a more upscale place and took a job at Ocean Air. After two weeks there, I got an opportunity to open Oohh’s and Aahh’s. I struggled with the decision to stay or leave, but decided to take the opportunity.
“All the while I was at the restaurants, my friends and family would come to me whenever they wanted soul food. It got to a point where people were paying me to cook for them at my house. The next thing I knew, I was having 20-30 people at my house every Sunday to eat who were paying $20 each. Part of the reason that they came was because I don’t use pork in my dishes. Through my studies, I decided to stop eating pork in 1990. The problem is that so much of soul food, even the vegetables, are made with pork. That forced me to take a different approach towards the food and use other spices. People came to really like my take on soul food and it made me think that there was a market for a soul food kitchen that had vegetarian and non-pork options.
“This place used to be a family owned buffalo wings carry out place. They couldn’t keep it going, so I took it over. One day I was sitting on the couch thinking about a name. I thought about what embodies enjoyment and satisfaction. In my mind, people have an innate, guttural response to things they like and say, ‘Oohh, that’s good.’ Then, when you are completely satisfied and can’t even move, you say ‘Aahh.’ I figured if I could have people saying that about my food, I would be in good shape. It also makes the name of the place easy to remember.
“Owning your own restaurant is a lot of work, but I love it. It makes me feel good when people are satisfied and happy with my food. That makes me feel like I have accomplished something that is worth something in this life. I feel blessed and thank God for being in the postion that I am in.”
Oohh’s and Aahh’s is at 1005 U St N.W.