Being Black at Chez Panisse: Comfort Collective Returns to Its Roots

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In a restaurant kitchen, a Black chef in a sleeveless shirt and black apron prepares to pass a dish out to be served.
Chef Christian Washington and cocktail expert Sadé Stamps are bringing The Comfort Collective's particular brand of Black, queer and trans joy back to where they started: Berkeley's Chez Panisse. (Comfort Collective)

There’s something extra flavorful—and spiritually nourishing—about food that is made from a place of deep love and care. Or, as Sadé Stamps, a co-founder of the pop-up Comfort Collective, used to hear from her mother growing up: “Do not cook my food when you’re angry.”

Since launching in 2021, the pop-up has stayed true to that philosophy through its focus on Black, trans and queer joy. By creating spaces of safety and inclusion, Stamps and co-founder Christian Washington have gracefully asserted themselves as a rising entity in the Bay Area. Their collective offers glamorous, eclectic dining experiences with themes like “AbunDANCE” (a dance-centric dinner party) and “R&Brunch” (a soulful amalgamation of R&B DJs, booze and grits with greens).

The events sell out quickly, and Stamps and Washington have already garnered partnerships with esteemed food and entertainment venues around the Bay Area, such as the Oakland cocktail bar Friends and Family. And even though the collective’s  pop-ups lean toward a youthful audience and forward-thinking menus, there’s no questioning its kitchen pedigree—Washington got her start working the grill station at Berkeley’s iconic Chez Panisse, widely acknowledged as the birthplace of California cuisine.

So, with Pride Week on the horizon, Comfort Collective is returning to where it all started: On Monday, June 27, Stamps and Washington will host a Summer Solstice Supper pop-up at Chez Panisse, which is also where they held their debut event one year ago.

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Even with their elevated sense of cuisine and style, the two kindred spirits have stayed true to their humble, “dance floor” origins.

“I met [Christian] at the club,” laughs Stamps. “That’s how we started. By the grace of community and by the grace of connection.”

A former beverage director at Sobre Mesa, Stamps now operates as Comfort Collective’s “Libation Liaison,” delivering original cocktails born from her love of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Alice Coltrane. Paired with Washington’s soulful takes on Southern- and Caribbean-inspired foods, the friends are dishing out deliciously good vibes on a wider scale.

“The community has supported us, so now we’re passing it back to community,” says Washington. “[We are] feeding and creating a safe space for Black, queer and trans people to have a good time, but also for people in this industry who identify this way and are looking for a safe space to earn a living wage while experiencing joy.”

A plate of sautéed greans and beans.
A plate of greens, cooked with Rihanna on the mind. (Comfort Collective)

The June 27 function will offer a four-course prix-fixe menu, highlighted by Washington’s Rihanna-loving takes on fried green tomatoes, curried goat cheese soufflé, jerk shrimp and scallops, and peach cobbler. In Washington’s words, “I don’t know if my pots of greens can come out how I want if I’m not listening to music. I can taste when Rihanna is playing.”

Stamps’ a la carte cocktail menu will feature Mommenpop—a Napa-based citrus aperitif that was “birthed at Chez Panisse,” according to Stamps—and specialities like a low-ABV pot-liquor martini.

“[Pot liquor is] that really beautiful, tasty, salty brine at the bottom of a pot of greens,” explains Stamps. “I’m mixing that with vermouth, a neutral spirit. Using [these ingredients] in this circuitous way is really special to me.”

Colorful cocktails lined up on a bar counter.
Cocktails courtesy of "Libations Liaison" Sadé Stamps. (Comfort Collective)

That level of detail defines Comfort Collective’s approach to not only their food, but to the many ways they engage with each space they collaborate with. They “adapt” their own identities and interests to each venue, drawing from a wide spectrum of histories, ingredients and vibrations to create moments of experiential communion.

Their appearance at Chez Panisse is particularly poetic, since it's where Washington started her career—and also because it brings visibility to marginalized communities at one of California’s most esteemed culinary institutions.

“Chez being the institution that it is, it’s like a breathing organism,” Washington says. “What we’re doing is focusing on a different diaspora and bringing what we know. We’re adapting their methods and recipes to produce something different. We’re just gonna be Black at Chez Panisse.”

Rather than offering a ricotta cheese soufflé—a classic dish that’s based on the Italian and French flavor profiles you would typically find at Chez Panisse—Washington is introducing a curry goat cheese. That’s what’s popular in the Caribbean and how their mother would’ve made it, they say.

“It’s not going to be a complete 180,” Stamps adds. “We want to align with what [Chez Panisse has] going on already. That happens with a lot of our pop-ups. We don’t pop up somewhere we don’t already love. We work in tandem with what exists in those spaces.”

With summer approaching, the collective aims to carry on the lineage of mentorships, family lessons and homestyle loving that it's already been serving up with innovative partners like The Transgender District and FOB Kitchen. Wherever Comfort Collective goes, they know how to dance in step and spread love.

As Washington puts it, “We are at work, yes, but we’re having a good time. ”

Sadé Stamps and Christian Washington hold wine bottles and glasses for a toast outside of the restaurant FOB Kitchen.
Stamps (left) and Washington share a joyful moment outside one of their past pop-up events. (Comfort Collective)

Summer Solstice Supper at Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) will take place on Monday, June 27, 6–8 pm.  Tickets are $150 per person and require advanced reservations. E-mail reservations@chezpanisse.com to book.