Dante Gonzales has been making what he calls “Transatlantic African cuisine,” for over ten years. Originally from LA, he travelled all over the states before landing in New York where he started throwing underground dinner parties at his Williamsburg loft. “There would be installations set up and I’d get artists and food lovers over,” he tells us. “We’d have people doing graffiti on the walls and there’d be a dance party going on with me in the middle of it all – the centrepiece, frying chicken. I called them the KFC RAP parties.”
Finding inspiration from a broad palate – African, Caribbean, Asian, Latin – Gonzales is visiting the UK, where he recently shared his famous fried chicken over a weekend of lunches and dinners at the Protein concept space in east London (“I call them Jump Offs, not pop ups” he insists). His main mission is to reclaim the reputation of soul food which is often seen as heavy, “artery clogging” fare. He does this by cooking traditional recipes with high quality ingredients, and using a complex mixture of spices that are representative of the multicultural history of America. “I’ve had to combat this stigma of fried chicken,” he explains. “But soul food is a unique thing that America has brought to the world, and I’m totally happy to be a part of that.”
“I’ve had to combat this stigma of fried chicken but soul food is a unique thing that America has brought to the world, and I’m totally happy to be a part of that"
For the dinner at Protein we start off with a gently-spiced black eye pea hummus served on endives, a sweet and savoury corn bread with cinnamon and Andouille – a popular pork sausage in New Orleans – and our favourite starter, the cheese grits (a classic Southern dish made of hominy corn grain), done delightfully here with gorgonzola and parmesan and topped with honey butter shrimp. For the main, Gonzales’ famous Sock-It-To-Me chicken is a gently battered breast served atop a coconut spice waffle with apricot crack glaze, and the flavours are strong and true to the American soul food tradition of mixing spicy with sweet. As sides we enjoy a crispy leek devilled egg, and a bit of kimchi thrown in for good measure. While the real surprise of the evening is the vegetarian alternative, Warning-Tastes-Like-Chicken tofu, which is fermented in white pepper and other spices, and which has a satisfying texture somewhere between halloumi and paneer.
Gonzales, whose first cookbook is coming out this autumn, opened his Ride or Fry food truck last year in LA – which is the closest he’s come to staying put. He tells us he’s happy to keep showing up for events in parking lots, at gigs, art events, wherever the excitement might be, in order to serve up his special brand of soul food. “I’m not ready to settle down right now with a restaurant,” he says. “I like travelling around, having my freedom. I’m happy being a fried chicken bachelor.”
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Neil and Ananda visited Dante Fried Chicken on Sunday 22 July at 7:30pm.