Oakland’s Chef Mimi Is Connecting The Dots Between Cuisine, Community and Culture
The entrepreneur and founder of The Black Food & Wine Experience shares her vision for uplifting other women in the food industry.
For Aminah “Chef Mimi” Robinson-Briscoe, cooking is more than just a career. The Oakland-based culinary creative is passionate about making delicious and dynamic food that goes beyond a desire to excel in the professional cooking space. The priority for Robinson-Briscoe is staying connected to her community and ancestry.
“I think about my great-great-grandmother, who was born and raised in Minden, Louisiana,” says Robinson-Briscoe. “She used to make praline candy, and she would take the candies out and give it to all the kids and in the community there. So what I do, and how I move, is really about her and my ancestors. I feel like so much of this work is rooted in liberation, and rooted in building a movement.”
What Robinson-Briscoe could see, even as a young child, was that food could be used to foster celebration and connection. “My mom had a lot of sister-friends,” she says. “It was like a village of women—aunties that I could rely on. And they all were different. I had the rich auntie, the hood auntie, the poor auntie, the fun auntie, the young auntie, but they were all rooting for me. I was surrounded [by] a lot of women, who had a lot of strength.”
This upbringing in part propelled the 2021 Forbes Next 1000 honoree to become the food industry leader and community advocate she now is in her hometown of Oakland. Whether it’s by way of her private catering company (she’s served high-profile clients like Facebook, Slack and Lyft as well as Essence Festival and the Coalition of Black Excellence), her YouTube series Bringing It To The Table, or her podcast “Hella Juicy” co-hosted with her bestie, Kafi, the objective remains the same: to honor, uplift and inspire. Robinson-Briscoe is also a member of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, where she’s working to be a conduit for Black women-owned businesses seeking access to resources and funding.
Among her biggest projects is the annual Black Food & Wine Experience, through which Robinson-Briscoe aims to “push the lens of what food actually really is.” Now in its sixth year, the event is expected this year to host some 2,000 food lovers from all over the country and has expanded from a four-day to a seven-day event (it takes place this year June 12-18). This year’s activations include the Black Wall Street Dinner and a Black & Asian Solidarity Dinner as well as the women-dominated Food and Beverage Summit, which is arguably Robinson-Briscoe’s favorite part of the week-long celebratory event.
“I believe that Black women have a place in this space, and that we need to push forward,” says Robinson-Briscoe. “We need to have spaces where we can gather, and talk, and network, and build an ecosystem that is following the vision.”
Robinson-Briscoe adds, “to be a visionary is to go back in history,” which is why she chooses to honor the people who have shaped her story—and Black history. Her parents were both members of the Black Panther Movement that was birthed in Oakland, and Robinson-Briscoe grew up learning firsthand about the important work of Black women like Angela Davis and Joan Tarika Lewis. This childhood experience has allowed the chef to marry her formal culinary training (she attended the California Culinary Arts Academy) with an acute understanding of the historical and cultural significance of Black food.
“When you talk about the table, when you talk about food, when you talk about drinking and eating and celebration, you’re talking about the gathering of a community that has gone through trauma but is able to sit around a table and enjoy that moment of food,” she says. “I think about the shoulders that I stand on and the history of what food has been in this country for Black people, especially Black women…it all ties into who I am and what my purpose is—to share, to gather, to explore, to push back, and to be a leader in the [culinary] industry here in California.”
Robinson-Briscoe says it was her father who instilled a strong work ethic in her and fueled her drive to succeed, something that she strives to teach her own children today (Robinson-Briscoe has a 30-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, as well as a son who passed away in 2017).
“I want [my children] to understand that, [like] my dad used to tell me, hard work is the only thing that really pays off,” says Robinson-Briscoe. “Every day I can choose to be a step closer to who I want to be.”