The stereotype that blacks love fried chicken has developed deep into U.S. history, says Yardy Eugene chef and owner Isaiah Martinez. It began after emancipation when black people continued to face systematic oppression but, over time, created professional success. One of the trades that gave them financial support was selling fried chicken, Martinez says, but it sparked a white backlash.
As the black community grew stronger, “the propaganda would come out and there would be these weird images and depictions of blacks and fried chicken, kind of degrading the product so that there wasn’t a bigger one.” support, and therefore you would feel humiliated in the process, âhe says. âThis is what we are still going to this day. We can always choose and undo things that we don’t want to be associated with. “
Serving West Indian cuisine – Caribbean fare – from his new food truck, Yardy Eugene, Martinez strives to celebrate black culture through food and give marginalized people a path to culinary careers. The kitchens are predominantly white and masculine, he says, and customers put European foods, like Italian and French dishes, on a pedestal, while placing a lower value on foods from Black and Brown cultures. He wants to change this dynamic.
Martinez currently sells his food online and in his newly built mustard yellow food truck at ColdFire Brewing. One of its main dishes is a chicken dish: pan-fried chicken accompanied by a salad, a cookie and a pepper sauce. The other is double, a vegan dish (with a gluten-free option) made up of two pieces of fried flatbread called bara, topped with chickpea curry, chutney and fresh herbs.
He hopes these dishes, cooked with Northwestern ingredients, will help elevate Caribbean cuisine, he says, and that Yardy Eugene will help tackle the lack of diversity that Martinez has experienced in kitchens throughout. his career.
Martinez knew he wanted to be a chef since he was 17. He says he avoided algebra in high school by taking professional cooking classes, moved to California, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the International School of Culinary Art. He then worked in several well-established restaurants where âthe chefs were like celebrities,â he says.
But Martinez says he quickly noticed a lack of women and people of color in kitchens, as well as the different values ââcustomers place on food. As a sous chef at Restaurant A16, an upscale Italian restaurant in Oakland, he was making a comfortable living. âPasta is easy,â he says. âIt took three hours to make sausages for 300 people. “
But while working in a Chinese restaurant, it took three days to prepare a traditional dish for $ 8. This restaurant closed because people thought the food was too expensive, he says.
Regardless of the cost of the ingredients or the time it takes to cook something, customers often put Western European foods on a pedestal and are willing to pay more for them, Martinez says. Foods from Black and Brown cultures, however, are seen as street foods or snacks that should be cheap, even though it takes more money and skill to make them.
Martinez moved to Eugene a few years ago and started working at MarchÃ©. After making a pop-up to celebrate Black History Month in 2019, he decided to sell Caribbean food more regularly. He eventually hopes to own his own brick and mortar restaurant, but in the midst of the pandemic, starting with a food truck seemed like a more practical decision, Martinez says, so he started Yardy Eugene. Martinez uses “Yardy” to describe anyone from the West Indies, picking up the sometimes derogatory term and using it in a positive way.
While he expects some backsliding from people who don’t understand his intentions, he says he’s delighted to be sharing his food with Eugene.
âI’m trying to tell a story,â says Martinez. “I think when you’re making food and trying to tell a story, it’s kinda hard to screw it up because you’ve got something to work for.”
Yardy Eugene is at the Coldfire Brewery, located at 263 Mill Street, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. From Monday to Thursday. Visit YardyEugene.com for more information.