“There are not many Black-owned restaurant groups, made up of Black partners and Black chefs,” Burrell says. “So I want to be an integral part of developing our space in that field. I want everyone to be aware that, you know, Black and brown people contribute to fine dining.”
It all feels like a gift to a city that Burrell says she grew up in, from a culinary vantage point. (She’s originally from Philadelphia.) Paying your profits forward. Reinvesting in your community. Doing what you can to ensure that the boons don’t go to waste. Her work feels like a possible path for the future. And while locals can be slow to impress (we’ve seen everything down here), she has done exactly that.
In Houston, where flavors lean international while remaining distinctly and unerringly place-centric, Burrell’s cooking style is distinctively hers, a reflection of her perspective and her experiences, she says — all the travel she did for track and field, for instance, learning through food as she went. “There are some really comforting moments I had in food, in very uncomfortable moments where you don’t know anything about the culture,” she said. There was also the influence of Wen Yong Yang, her “second father,” she says, who is Chinese. (“I call him my second father,” Burrell says. “He’s my track coach.”) He and his wife had a restaurant when they moved to the United States. “I got to learn a lot from them,” she says, and she traded cooking lessons with Ms. Yang, adding that these lessons, too, are part of her experiences, and authentically her own.
And what does authenticity mean in a city like Houston, where influences and foundations are consistently overlaid, collapsed and integrated? There’s no one answer. And even the question is a bit of a ruse. Because the point is that being authentically oneself, whatever that looks like, couldn’t be a higher bar to reach for. So there’s influence from Chinese cookery, Southern cookery, Japanese cookery and Southeast Asian cookery in Burrell’s oeuvre, and all of it is true, because it exists within her context. This question of context feels especially prescient in Burrell’s work: As she finds connections and crux points across cuisines, within a city that epitomizes multiplicity, a result is an ethos and a résumé that’s strikingly her own.