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First Friday Rent Party - Chef Valerie Erwin

Chef Valerie Lead in Photo

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great Migration: The historic period when millions of Black Americans left the South and moved to the Northeast, Midwest and West. This activity changed the country culturally, politically and socially.


PJP is partnering with the Arch Street Meeting House, celebrating this milestone with our First Friday Rent Party Series. The Rent Party was an invention of Great Migrationeers who sometimes faced low wages and high rents. Many found themselves having to pull together a plan to pay the rent. The plan was a house party with liquor, food, music and dancing, all with an admission price. The events happened weekly all over America, whereever these transplanted Southerners traveled. Our rent parties will showcase great music by artists like Sam Reed, Tony Jones, V. Shayne Frederick, Lili Anel and Chris Stevens, as well as feature a buffet of foods related to the state celebrated curated by Chef Valerie Erwin of Geechee Girl Restaurant.


Chef Valerie 2

Valerie Erwin was the creator and executive chef of Philadelphia’s Geechee Girl Rice Café, a tribute to the food of the low country of South Carolina and Georgia, from which Valerie’s grandparents hailed. During its 12 year run, the critically acclaimed Geechee Girl received continuous praise for its delicious and sophisticated adaptations of traditional low country cuisine. Valerie has worked in top-notch restaurants, has experience in retail food sales, catering, and commercial food service. Presently, Valerie is a business consultant, historian, educator and mentors students in the culinary arts and welcomes opportunities to impact food justice issues in Philadelphia.


Valerie Erwin will be our featured chef for the First Friday Rent Party Series at the Arch Street Meeting House.

First Friday Rent Party Series
April 1 through August 5, 2016 - 8PM | Chef Valerie Erwin
Arch Street Meeting House

320 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106


Tickets for these special events are only $25 per party.

Entrance to all 5 parties, (if purchased by March 25), is just $100!

Free parking available - first come, first served.

Click Here To Purchase Tickets



Chef Valerie 1

PJP spoke with Chef Valerie about her background and her approach to cooking.


PJP: How would you describe your approach to cooking?


Valerie Erwin: I have a real love for the food that keeps families together. Family meals are what migrants strive to recreate. They are what defines the classic cooking of a people. That being said, I would throw a traditional recipe over in a minute, if I found a way of doing it that tasted better!


PJP: What and whom are your inspirations as a chef?


Valerie Erwin: My parents are my inspiration. My father taught me cooking techniques and the love of both home grown and international cuisines. My mother made all our favorite foods like fried chicken and the rice that we had to have on the table every night. I love cookbook author Edna Lewis for her sophisticated approach to Southern food. And all of the professional chefs who showed me the way around a professional kitchen.


PJP: What happens when a chef is creating in the kitchen like a Jazz musician?


Valerie Erwin: You need a strong background in basic techniques before you can successfully create a menu item.  Everything I know about Jazz says that the same is true there.  You can’t just start improvising; you have to learn how to play first.


PJP: Much like a Jazz musician, you have the challenge of paying homage to various cooking traditions, while simultaneously moving the cuisine forward. How do you manage that?


Chef Valerie 3

Valerie Erwin: I tend toward cooking the food of the African Diaspora. Those traditions, whether it’s the American South, the Caribbean or West Africa, have a lot of common elements and that go together very well.  When I’m combining food of disparate traditions, I look for the commonalties.  Every place has bread, sweets, and starches. I look for the balance of flavors and for flavors that pop.


PJP: What is so important about food, cooking and the Great Migration?


Valerie Erwin: One can trace a people’s journey by what remains and what changes in their food. The food of Northern African Americans, in many ways, is the food of an immigrant community. As much of the food from their Southern homeland was preserved as was practical


PJP: Your family has deep roots in South Carolina. Tell us how your folks got to Philly?


Valerie Erwin: My grandparents left Charleston, SC for Philadelphia in the 1920’s, along with my great grandmother and my aunt. My father came to Philadelphia from Savannah, Georgia when he was a teenager. It was really through my father, and later his sisters, that I learned about Low Country food.


Chef Valerie 4

PJP: In terms of this series of rent parties, what kinds of food magic are we going to see, smell, and taste?


Valerie Erwin: Everything will be familiar, but many menu items will be presented in a new way.  Everything is exciting, but still approachable. For instance, lots of people have had ham and red eye gravy. What will be served is Turkey Ham Croquettes with Rum Red Eye Gravy. The same, but different.


All parties will be held at:

Arch Street Meeting House

320 Arch Street, Phila., PA 19106


Tickets for these special events are only $25 per party.

Entrance to all 5 parties, (if purchased by March 25), is just $100!

Free parking available - first come, first served.

Click Here To Purchase Tickets


See you at the Rent Parties!


First Friday Rent Party Series produced by Philadelphia Jazz Project in collaboration with Arch Street Meetinghouse.


PJP Logo           Arch Street


Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Wyncote Foundation.


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Tags : GreatMigration ArchStreetMeetinghouse FirstFridays FirstFridayRentPartySeries RentParty ChefValerieErwin GeecheeGirlRestaurant SouthernCuisine Caribbean WestAfrica Charleston SC Savannah Georgia AfricanDiaspora SamReed LiliAñel TonyJones V.ShayneFrederick ChrisStevens EdnaLewis DizzyGillespie JimmyPercyandTootieHeath CatAnderson RayCharles TheloniousMonk FletcherHenderson MaxRoach JohnColtrane LowCountry SoulFood SouthCarolina Georgia


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