LUDO BITES AMERICA: Soul food searching in Southern California

Watch LUDO BITES AMERICA every Tuesday at 9P

Introducing our featured food blogger Diana Hossfeld, who writes the food blog Diana Takes a Bite.

I’m going to come right out and say it.

I know nothing about Omaha, Nebraska or anything related to the state that is below the Dakotas. The only reason I even know that – its location underneath South Dakota (incidentally, the state where my mother grew up) – is because I was required to take a timed geography test of the United States in fifth grade.

Nebraska was never much discussed beyond that. Apparently Southern California youths don’t have any use for other pertinent details about the Cornhusker state or its largest city and former capital, Omaha. I grew up associating Omaha with one thing – steaks – and envisioned that all the locals strutted around chewing straw in those cowboy boots with the little spurs on them.

Today, I still carry the association that Omaha = steaks = cowboys = people who think vegetarians make good speed bumps (I may have stolen that last one from the motto affixed to a recently spotted Fatburger truck). What I didn’t realize, and what others who grew up in California, going to the beach and taking timed geography tests probably don’t realize either, is that Omaha’s got more than steaks and cowboys and vegetarian-haters. Omaha’s got soul. And, incidentally, soul food.

Now soul food I get. It transcends space and time and even the sheltered upbringing of one Orange County born-and-bred blonde. Because soul food isn’t necessarily defined in exact terms. Yes, it can be traced back to the South and, yes, it includes such foods as collard greens and fried chicken and skillet cornbread, but soul food is also about the feeling it evokes: community – something that can be developed anywhere with any cuisine.

Soul food brings people together, warming the hearts of those who’re passing plates and sharing bites in a way that (almost) anyone can appreciate. My most soulful food memories belong not to the meals I’ve had that involve ham hock and black-eyed peas and honey-drenched biscuits, but rather the meals spent sitting around the dining room table with my family at my parents’ home in Newport Beach, California. I close my eyes and picture us on Christmas Eve, eating beef fondue that we cook in my mom’s signature beef broth, diving into twice-baked potatoes oozing with neon-colored cheddar cheese, and guiltily stealing seconds of the blueberry jello with lemon cream cheese frosting (our “fruit” side dish).  There’s always way too much wine, way too much chocolate bundt cake and by the end of the night our voices are hoarse and stomachs are sore from talking too loud and laughing so much.

That dining room table is our gathering spot – the place where all our separate souls connect. And that spirit can be found anywhere. In Memphis, Tennessee, in Southern California, and, yes, in a high school cafeteria in Omaha, Nebraska. The food –whatever it may be—is merely the catalyst.

Hungry for more? Tune in for a cross-country road trip with celebrity Chef Ludo Lefebvre as he reinvents American cuisine. LUDO BITES AMERICA airs Tuesdays at 9p on Sundance Channel.

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