‘Queen of Soul Food’ Melba Wilson to cook for Table to Table with other acclaimed chefs
Written By Esther Davidowitz
Ever have the creamy mac & cheese Melba Wilson, aka, the “Queen of Soul Food,” dishes out at her renowned, 18-year-old restaurant in Harlem?
What about her famous Southern fried chicken? Or, for that matter, her popular low-country collard greens?
Your opportunity awaits Sept. 27, when Wilson will be the guest of honor at one of North Jersey’s most delicious and worthy events, the annual Table to Table’s Chefs Gala.
The honoree and owner of Melba’s in Harlem will be joined by a number of acclaimed chefs, including David Burke (1776 in Morristown, The Fox & Falcon in South Orange and Drifthouse in Sea Bright), Bobbie Lloyd (Magnolia Bakery in New York City and other locations around the world), Cliff Crooks (BLT Restaurant Group) and Peter Kelly (X2O on the Hudson in Yonkers and Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar in Congers). Wilson plans to serve canapes of her beloved comfort food at the event, in which all the chefs contribute dishes.
“I’m waiting to see what the other chefs are doing,” she said, before deciding on which canapes she will offer. She will, however, most likely have her but small bites of mac & cheese, collard greens and fried chicken.
For those not familiar with Table to Table, it is a nonprofit food rescue organization that collects prepared and perishable food and delivers it to organizations serving North Jersey’s hungry.
For those not familiar with Wilson, she is the niece of Sylvia Woods, the founder of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem. After working at her aunt’s place, Wilson went on to open Melba’s in 2005, a bustling institution in Harlem; write a cookbook (“Melba’s American Comfort”); beat Bobby Flay on “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”; and launch Gospel Brunch on Windows on the World on Sundays. Today she is on the board of City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization, and God’s Love We Deliver, a non-profit that delivers food to the sick in New York City.
She is also poised to open another Melba’s Restaurant in Newark in the fourth quarter of 2024.
“Newark reminds me a lot of Harlem,” Wilson said. The 15,000-square-foot restaurant, which will be housed in the lobby of 550 Broad Street, replaces a bank that was in the building. Actually, the restaurant is going to be located in the bank’s vault. “We have a lot of work today, moving steel and whatnot,” she said.
“I am so excited,” she said when asked about the Chefs Gala. “I try to do whatever I can to eradicate food insecurity. Food should never be a luxury; it is a necessity.”
As a society, “we waste too much food in our country. That’s a personal pet peeve of mine. So it’s so good to know that organizations like Table to Table rescue food, healthy food. We have to be our neighbors’ keepers. We have to take care of those who don’t have the means.”
Since its inception in 1999, Table to Table has rescued and delivered the equivalent of 295 million meals and saved nearly 96,000 tons of potentially wasted food from landfills, according to its website. In 2021, the organization, which serves Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties, provided more than 38 million meals produced from rescued food.
“Every dollar that Table to Table raises produces 10 meals,” Wilson said. “The work that Table to Table does is even more crucial today when food insecurity is at an all-time high. It’s pivotal. We need people to come out, come to the gala or go online and make a donation. No amount is too small. We need to make sure that people in Newark (and anywhere else in North Jersey) don’t go hungry.”
For more information about the gala or Table to Table, visit tabletotable.org. The gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Edgewood Country Club in River Vale. A ticket costs $650.
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