By Lyn Sheppard
Willie Lockhart, owner and operator of Chef Uncle Willie II’s Restaurant in Darby, PA, never goes wrong with his two most precious ingredients ̶ love and soul. Lockhart runs a small soul food restaurant that has six tables with four chairs each.
Origin of Soul Food
“You know most people don’t know where the word soul food came from, they think it’s just… the way you cook, no?” When asked to explain, Lockhart said in a voice that echoes his southern childhood, “The term comes from back when our great grandparents got the scraps from off the plantation. They had to cook from the soul to make their food taste good.
“My grandparents cooked from the soul. That’s where it came from. Have you ever heard a term back in the day where they say, ‘she put her foot in it?’ Don’t be afraid to get in there and wash your hands and go in there bare-handed, this is where you release the love from, from you, into your food. Now our generation they don’t know what good cookin’ is. They don’t, they think a chicken nugget is good food, seriously.”
Lockhart was willing to give us his recipes for his mac and cheese, collard greens and potato salad. “My sauce consists of basic shredded chopped cheddar, seasoned elbow macaroni and then baked. I don’t use eggs or other milk products. I stick to authentic recipes which our grandparents grew up on. They didn’t have but two different types of seasonings; salt and pepper. When you use the right ratioit comes out good, and you don’t need any extra.”
For his greens, Lockhart said, “I use a chicken stock, smoked turkey, a little pepper, onions and let ‘em roll.” He makes “your basic potato salad ̶ celery, onions, yellow mustard, mayo, celery seed, relish. I don’t get into the green or red pepper because everybody don’t like that.
“I’m a free-hand seasoner, just like back in the day with your grand mom. There are some things that culinary school can’t teach you. Being a cook or chef is like being an artist, you either got it or you don’t. I know guys that go to culinary school who are textbook cook, but can’t really cook. They think they have the passion for it but they don’t. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be good at it. You know, I always loved cookin’.”
Lockhart serves 50 to 100 customers a day. “I’m hanging in there; this year has been a little rough for a lot of people. A lot of my customers come out of West Philly, Southwest Philly, Germantown, Mount Airy, Delaware, Jersey. I got a good following of people.
“People just need to get back to supporting our own people you know. Like grand mom used to say, ‘If we all that perfect, we need to be up there with God.’ If you’re going to be a businessman out here as an African American, be true to your game, stop trying to gyp people.
Advice to Young People
“What I love to teach any young people is never be a ‘Jack of all trades’ without mastering one. Find something you love to do. You know you’re going to hit a rut every now and then. Keep your head up, work hard, and go from there. Put God first in anything you do. Surround yourself with positive people;that makes a big difference. You need to let people go who are bringing you down.”
Lockhart spent most of his life in the food industry. He was a Banquet Chef in Clinton, New Jersey, Allentown, Reading and Philadelphia. He also spent ten years as an Executive Chef at several hotels including the Holiday Inn, four years as a Food and Beverage Director, and then opened his own business.
Nathaniel Turner, a regular customer, having lunch, said, “The food is excellent! This is a better grade of food for me (than the other fast food places). I have a turkey wing most of the time and eat shrimp on Fridays and Saturdays. I usually have cabbage, greens and baked macaroni or dirty rice and gravy.”
After the interview, I purchased two rib platters with three sides, mac and cheese, collard greens and yams. My family loved it. My 12-year-old grandson, Jaylyn, had me go back four days later to buy him another platter.
If you’re looking for a delicious soul food stomping ground where the food is made with love and soul, then Chef Uncle Willie II is the place for you. Bon Appetite.
Lyn Sheppard is an undergraduate student majoring in Journalism at Temple University. Her passions are food andpolitics. She is currently interning at FunTimes Magazine.
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