By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
On Valentine’s Day, Foster, executive chef of The Preservery Birmingham, held a six-course private dinner for friends. Everything served was red-themed.
“For that menu, we had chicken liver pâté, pickled watermelon, bacon-wrapped dates, and homemade pear preserves,” she said. “That was to get their palates going. The next course was lobster bisque. We did a kitchen sink gumbo, which has everything in it. Everything was decorated in red. People love roses, but they don’t know [they are edible]; the texture is similar to the skin of an apple, and some people have never had it. Every course had an aphrodisiac in it.”
Foster plans to grow her business into a bricks-and-mortar restaurant that will open in 2018. Currently, she is an underwriter for Regions Bank, but soon intends to open The Preservery Birmingham on 1st Avenue North, downtown near the Wine Loft. The menu will offer unique spins on traditional soul food dishes.
“Because I’m from California and grew up in a melting pot of flavors and culture, I want my history to also be part of the food my patrons taste,” said Foster. “They can have a traditional fried chicken dinner, or they can have Jerk Fried Chicken with Coconut Brown Jasmine Rice and Plantains Foster. They can have lumpia, a Filipino version of an egg roll; [ours] will have pulled pork, smoked chicken, or beef brisket and Southern-style slaw inside, and will be served with a boiled peanut dipping sauce.
“There will be lots of different plays on things you would have in a soul food restaurant. We’ll have the traditional dishes, but there also will be a lot of things to explore, like au gratin collard greens—similar to green bean casserole, but with greens and a rich cheese sauce.”
Foster doesn’t plan to lose sight of soul food, though.
“I’m really focused on making sure the restaurant, even though it will have an international flare, preserves soul food history,” she said. “Even in things like the artwork in the restaurant, I want to show pictures of the mothers preparing their foods. I want it to be a preservation of food history.”
Foster said she enjoys the art of private dinners.
“I call them a ‘Wow factor,’” she said. “Everyone has birthday dinners or an occasion when they go to a restaurant. Not everyone can say they had a personal chef come to their house, set a table, decorate, and make six courses with wine pairings.”
For private dinners, Foster begins weeks in advance.
“I have everyone tell me what kind of foods they love, but I don’t make their favorite dishes,” she said. “I serve something that they may have never had. One group loved chicken, for instance, so I served quail instead. They loved it.”
Private dinners give her a chance to be creative, more so than catering.
“When you’re catering, there’s one set menu. With a private dinner, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” she said. “It started making me think … How can I spin chicken and waffles? I can do turkey legs on dressing waffles.”
Foster, 35, said she always dreamed of opening a restaurant but kept putting the desire on hold. When she heard about REV Birmingham’s Co.Starters program, she knew that would be a great place to start.
“I knew I wanted to take this jump into starting a restaurant. I can cook, but I don’t really have the business side down,” said Foster. “Going through this process helps you to come up with a strategy, share your ideas with people, and decide whether this is a good idea or bad idea before you invest your time, money, blood, sweat, and tears. It was perfect for me.”
Foster and her husband, Rahmad, have two children: a son Legend, 6, and a daughter, Legacy, 2. She has always loved food. In fact, the kitchen was where she bonded most with her father, who died of cancer last Thanksgiving.
“My dad was like mom and dad for me,” said Foster, who is from Temecula, Calif and came to the Magic City to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), met her husband and never left. “My whole life he told me I can be anything I can be and do whatever I want to do.”
Foster’s bond with her dad went beyond the kitchen, she said. They spent time doing yard work, playing football and basketball. But nothing compared to their food experiences.
“We used to have this game,” she said. “We would go to different restaurants, and [my dad] could taste something and tell you every ingredient, down to the seasonings and herbs. We would see what was in what we were eating. It really helped me with my cooking.”
Foster always dreamed of opening a restaurant with her father.
“When I got older, I would say, ‘When you retire, we’re going to open a restaurant,’” she said. “He used to love to grill, so I said, ‘We’re going to open a barbecue place for you and call it Craig’s Rib Cage.’ My dad’s last name was Craig. It was kind of like our Boom Boom Room.”
When Foster’s father got sick, he encouraged his daughter to open a restaurant.
“He said, ‘Whatever you want to do, just do it. Just don’t stress out my son-in-law.’ He knew it would be taxing,” she said. “He always encouraged me. I pray that he will be able to look down from heaven and be proud of me.”
To contact Foster, visit her website (thepreserverybham.com) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Thepreserverybham/).