This 'Brown Girl' is cooking up a restaurant in Seattle's Central District
Remember that black-eyed pea hummus they served at Kingfish Café on Capitol Hill?
No? Okay. Close your eyes. It was creamy and garlicky like hummus, with a kick of hot sauce and other spices.
Chef Kristi Brown crafted that recipe, and now she’s opening a brick and mortar restaurant of her own, riffs of dishes she has cultivated over the years, most recently with her catering company, That Brown Girl Cooks!
The restaurant will be in the Central District, signaling a culinary homecoming of sorts for Brown.
The menu will reflect the palates of the neighborhood including — maybe, no promises — her interpretation of Asian food.
Brown used to live in the Central District, within walking distance of Little Saigon. She had seen Asian markets before, but had never been inside one. One day she decided to check them out.
“I was a single parent, I was young, I was broke and I was on food stamps," she said. “I walked in, and they had all this seafood and all this chicken and vegetables and everything. And I was like, 'Wow!'"
The store was more than a place to stretch her dollars. It tapped into her curiosity.
“It was so funny because the little Vietnamese women were looking at me like, 'What are you? Why are you here? And what could you possibly know about our food?' I was like, 'Look, I like greens!'” she said, laughing.
Over the years, Brown grew fond of the women. “I don’t have a serious relationship with the women as far as knowing their names or anything like that. But they know me," she said. "We all go through the same grocery store and that’s community.”
Brown was thinking of Asian food, and these women, because she’d just returned from a vacation to Vietnam.
The inspiration for the trip was simple: “I love soup, and who does soup better than all the countries in Southeast Asia?”
These days, you can find Brown inside a commercial kitchen in South Seattle, making her famous black-eyed pea hummus.
“I wanted to come up with something interesting and culturally relevant and I ended up making the hummus as a condiment for a sandwich and it just kind of stuck with me,” Brown said.
After she left Kingfish, she continued making it for catering events … and people started asking for it.
Brown has cooked professionally for 30 years. After working at different restaurants around Seattle, Brown started a catering business in the 1990s, the idea being to create a romantic night for couples.
She thought she’d name her business “Jos Intimate Events.” But the loan lender wasn’t sold.
“He goes, 'What do people call you?'” Brown recalled. “And I was like, 'My girlfriend, she calls me, ‘That’s those brown girls I know and love.’ And he’s like, 'That’s it, That Brown Girl,'" Brown said. "It stuck.”
It stuck, but it also makes some people nervous. “White women hate it,” she said.
“They’re so nervous,” Brown said. “Well, are you sure?” she said they’ll say. “Like, ‘Yes I’m brown for sure. And, my last name is Brown. And they’d be like, ‘Ohhh!’”
Brown hasn’t revealed the name of her new restaurant, a joint venture with her son. Their new place will be in the heart of Central District, in the newly developed Liberty Bank Building.
Opening day is scheduled for next February.