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PUM Black History Salutes: Dominic Odom, Pittsburgh Caterer who Appreciates putting the SOUL back in Food
DOM: I grew up on the Gulf Coast where fresh fruits and vegetables and seafood was abundant: Things that were commonplace that we took for granted included giant peaches in the summer; fresh melon varieties; satsumas that are usually shipped from California were grown by the local farmers. We had plum trees and pecan trees in our back yard. I had two grandmothers who were fantastic cooks. In retirement, my grandmother moved to Detroit Michigan where she helped her sister (also a great cook) run her restaurant. My great grandmother grew fresh vegetables. My grandfather, an outdoorsman who hunted and fished, regularly supplied us with fresh fish and crabs. He also was an “urban” farmer. He kept a chicken coop in his back yard before it was popular. I lived in New England for 15 years prior to moving to Pittsburgh in 1997.
PUM: Tell us more about your small catering business here in Pittsburgh, what sort of parties do you oversee?
DOM: When I first began catering, it was limited to desserts. I catered for friends. My first official catering job was for a friend who was an active fiber artist. I catered an event that she was hosting for 30 people. It was primarily a cocktail party where I supplied the appetizers and miniature desserts. This is still my favorite type of venue. I have catered luncheons for friends who are faculty members; confirmation parties; holiday parties; and sit-down dinners limited to 20 people. I custom tailor the menus according to the clients’ taste.
PUM: What’s on the menu for some of your favorite dishes?
DOM: I love seafood. Some of my favorite dishes include a shrimp dish made with smoked paprika that I serve over stone ground cornmeal grits; crab cakes, shrimp creole; jambalaya, gumbo and recipes indigenous to the region where I grew up; I love fish, however I like it simply prepared, preferably grilled with lemon. Growing up, the farmers market would supply a fruit called a satsuma. It looks like a giant version of a mandarin orange. It had a dark green peel that opened easily with a super sweet pumpkin colored fruit inside. I really miss those.
PUM: Living and cooking here in Pittsburgh, what sort of local ingredients and foods do you like to use often?
DOM: There are more ingredients that were previously considered foreign, that are regularly available. Even the farmer’s market is carrying more variety. This past summer I bought gorgeous rhizomes of ginger. I peeled it and diced it and froze it in individual packages. I regularly use it for tea, vegetable stir frys, soups and roasting meats. Lemon grass is available in some markets. Dandelion greens which were once shunned are readily available. I also was pleased to find a steady supply of Japanese eggplants that were provided by a Gibsonia vendor at the farmer’s market.
PUM: Celebrating Black History Month, as a cook, how has food played a role in our history as African Americans in this country? What are some of our traditional foods you think Americans should try?
DOM: Enslaved African Americans did not have access to quality foods. They had to make do with the discards that were supplied by their owners. They learned to utilize the remnants of slaughtered hogs and cattle. Much of what is viewed as soul food has it’s aegis in slavery. Many of the foods attributed to African Americans are in fact regional. For instance fried chicken is a part of southern cooking for blacks and whites. Greens are too. Many of these foods were prepared by black hands for white consumption. They are not race specific. What varies is the preparation in accordance with family recipe or region. For example, red beans and rice are associated with New Orleans. However, these are a staple in many Caribbean countries too. I think more people should try okra. It’s also used in Indian cooking. I think people would be surprised as to how good it tastes.
PUM: What are some of your specialities and some of your secrets to making a good meal?
DOM: Always start with the freshest ingredients. There is a caveat that suggests that you don’t make a dish that you have never tried. I wouldn’t do this for a catering job. But, I have done it at home when entertaining. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Things sometimes don’t work out, i.e. they burn, you forget to add an ingredient. One of my specialties is seafood gumbo. In Mobile, we do not included andouille sausage in our gumbo…that is specific to New Orleans and seen as sacrilegious! Kids have been known to hoard my macaroni and cheese…haha. A treat meal includes crab stuffed sole with sautéed spinach and green beans and mushrooms with shallots and balsamic vinegar. I love my lemon tart.
PUM: What do you enjoy most about cooking?
DOM: Cooking is science. Knowing what works well together or figuring out substitutions is experimental. Learning from your mistakes makes a good cook.
PUM: How can people contact you if they are interested in using your catering services?
DOM: I can be reached at ODOMDOMINICA@gmail.com