Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Amanda Richardson Brand Photography.
Food Network “Chopped” Contestant Showcases Southern Coastal Cuisine In Pop-Up Series
There’s something warm and comforting about a dinner table surrounded by smiling faces, laughter, and cheer. Like a scene from a classic film, the feel of it is almost unreal. Full hearts passing full plates of delicious, homecooked food around a large table seem to be the thing dreams are made.
Chef Lisa Brooks intends to make that dream a reality each month.
A former contestant on Food Network’s hit series Chopped, Brooks left the show and returned to North Carolina to spread goodness to travelers and locals. Her company Heart & Soul curates the monthly culinary pop-up Mattie’s Front Porch.
Inspired by the delicacies her grandmother cooked for her as a child, this pop-up dinner brings strangers together from all walks of life. In between bites of mouth-watering, southern coastal cuisine, guests share stories from their own childhood while Brooks tells stories about growing up in the south and cooking with the women who raised her.
A comfortable place to lay one’s burdens down, Mattie’s Front Porch is changing the way food and stories are shared. A treat each month for anyone who stops by, bellies and hearts are left full of food and fellowship after every occasion.
Mattie’s Front Porch
For Chef Brooks, food was always the center point of making people feel loved. Her mother and grandmother, Mattie, would express their love to her by cooking food. And she could taste it in each bite.
Every Sunday they would cook a big Sunday dinner. Her entire family would come over to eat and visit. Cousins, uncles, and aunties would come out of the woodwork ready to chow down on some Low County cooking.
Food and family became synonymous for Brooks. But as she got older, life happened. Although cooking would always be a part of her life, she entered corporate America for decades. But hospitality ran through her veins and, at 40 years old, she left her job to cook full time. Feeling divinely led, Brooks believed she’d found her true purpose in life.
“He put inside of me the gift he gave me and he let it be known that was what the universe needed of me,” Brooks said.
Mattie’s Front Porch now lives and breathes from within Brooks’ own home. The epitome of southern, low-country cuisine, Brooks showcases the beauty of the African-American food palette. By redefining classic dishes in a new light, she transforms her house into the childhood home of every guest in the room. Stories are shared and bread is broken as different walks of life somehow merge into the same dining room.
“Mattie’s Front Porch is a kind of fellowship,” she said “It’s a time to come together as strangers and sit down at a table with people you don’t know and break bread and celebrate that closeness of sharing a meal together.”
The food is shared family-style and passed along the tables for guests to get their own servings. Brooks designed the event to be intimate and personal so only 24 guests are allowed at each dinner. While everyone eats, Brooks tells stories about the inspiration behind her signature dishes and the women who passed the recipes down to her.
“I’m telling the stories that relate to the food on the plate because I believe the story is like a sixth ingredient,” she said
Brooks believes the stories influence the flavor, the food, and the overall dining experience. Through food and stories, guests are teleported to a simpler time; nostalgia is spread out on a plate and everyone is asking for seconds.
“We all have stories that tie us to food,” she said.
Dinner With Strangers
Mattie’s Front Porch is all about food and connection. Brooks was very intentional about creating a space where absolute strangers could come together for a good meal, inspiring stories, and genuine engagement. Through the dinner series, she’s seen guests experience transformative moments with one another and build new bonds.
“There’s something special about breaking bread together,” she said. “There’s a fellowship that takes place there. There’s a connection that happens when you share a meal with someone.”
Served by Brooks’ team of all black, female chefs, the guests at Mattie’s Front Porch come from diverse backgrounds. Brooks has seen guests have many difficult conversations around the dinner table. Somehow, taboo topics find a soft landing at Mattie’s Front Porch and folks walk away realizing they have many more similarities than differences.
“It allows people to see people where they are and realize we’re more similar than we think,” she said.
Travelers come alone and leave with lifelong friends after visiting Mattie’s Front Porch. Numbers are exchanged in between courses and guards are let down in a safe space. An event specially curated for interaction, Mattie’s Front Porch is the home away from home where fine dining is prepared by grandma.
“You feel like you’re at a fine dining restaurant but you also feel like you’re at home,” she said.
It’s All About Heart & Soul
Food is the main attraction at Mattie’s Front Porch and nothing would be possible without Heart & Soul. Brooks’ team of professionally trained chefs keeps the wheels turning every month as guests travel from out of town to try their food. Each recipe is rooted in family and history as Brooks takes fine dining and pairs it with southern goodness.
“It’s a high-end version of the same type of food, flavor, and mood that my great grandmother, mother, and grandmother made,” she said.
Guests can’t get enough of the ever-changing menu at Mattie’s Front Porch. Each dinner is themed and has a different menu from past events. So guests are always in for a treat every time. Skilled in more than just serving food, Heart & Soul curates dynamic events than transform lives through food.
“We are not caterers,’ she said. “We are personal chefs and we provide an experience.”
Heart & Soul whips up a plethora of different dishes that a guaranteed to leave satisfy the tastebuds of anyone who visits Mattie’s Front Porch. Its food is inspired by generations of Black history and it is rooted in love.
Each dish pays homage to classic dishes while incorporating new elements. Brooks’ duck and sausage gumbo is a popular favorite while guests can’t get enough of her red velvet waffle and fried lobster tail. While enjoying these southern creations, guests get to hear about the lineage that brought them to life.
Currently, Chef Brooks has no end date in sight for Mattie’s Front Porch. She is considering adding a second monthly event that is “Sunday” Dinner themed following rave reviews from guests. With a love for food, people, and stories, Mattie’s legacy lives on through Chef Brooks. And her front porch is always open.