Dining with a Princess
March 3, 2017
Forget Le Pavillon. The hardest reservation in the sixties in New York City might have been Little Kitchen, Princess Pamela’s soul food restaurant. The Princess moved around a lot; at one point her restaurant was in a walkup apartment in the East Village, but by the time I nervously rang her bell she’d moved to a narrow storefront on very east Tenth Street. Princess Pamela didn’t let just anybody in: she had to size you up first, and if you passed muster, she might open the door. That did not, however, mean you got to stay.
When I visited the Princess in the summer of 1971, I was already a fan. I’d found a used copy of her cookbook, Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Recipes, and practically memorized it. I was hoping for something exotic – chitlins maybe – but you pretty much ate what the Princess gave you. In our case, that meant nothing. One of my friends made a joke about “a soul food restaurant with no sweet potato pie.” He thought he was being charming; the Princess was not amused. “Out!” she shouted.
I’ve been thinking about Princess Pamela because her cookbook has just been re-released. The Lee Brothers, who brought the book back, set out to find out as much as they could about Pamela Stroebel. It’s a melancholy tale. Orphaned at the age of ten, she wended her way up the East Coast, working in kitchens until she opened her own place. Then, somewhere around 1998, she simply disappeared. The Lees think she may have been interred at Hart Island, where the city buries unclaimed bodies.
Reading about the Princess in this great Food 52 piece by Mayukh Sen, it’s impossible not to mourn the untold numbers of black chefs whose stories’ we’ll never fully know. It makes me doubly grateful that Princess Pamela’s book has been given a second chance. Here’s her recipe for fried chicken, which she served with Sauce Beautiful (named for her mother, Beauty).
(I see I cut a few things off. That’s “3 tablespoons peach preserves” and “1/2 cup water,” “2 tablespoons brown sugar” and “1 tablespoon butter.”)
Categorised in: Vintage Books and Magazines
How sad! I can’t wait to try this fried chicken with beautiful sauce in memory of her.
Thanks for honoring Princess. Will definitely be looking at and trying her recipes .
Does anyone know if she ever went to Paris? My late uncle has wine diaries he kept & he lived in paris for a few years in the 70’s & mentions a dinner party with “princess pamela” in attendance.
It was in the seventies when friends and I sat down at a table at Princess Pamela’s small soul Food Restaurant “The Little Kitchen” in Manhattan’s East Village. We were a mixture of New Yorkers and Europeans, Princess Pamela caught some of our dialogs. That made her ask us: “Do I have Pollacks (sic!) in my restaurant? Some of us were actually Poles, so we confirmed her question. Princess Pamela continued to examine us: “Now just say that even Jews are among you? We reaffirmed her question because there was more than one Jew among us. But none of them felt discriminated against, none felt degraded by anti-Semitism. As a German, I thought how happy New Yorkers are after all.
I was a West Virginia gal surviving in NYC in 1969. When the Bell Laboratories folks moved my job to New Jersey I was beating in time while the movers packed my belongings for the move. I walked down the street and into a shop to purchase something to read while I was waiting. I was drawn to “Princess Pamala’s Soul Food Cookbook” and decided that would keep me busy for a while – checking to see how close her recipes were to what I grew up with. I walked back to my building and seeing I was a bit in the way of the movers I walked across the street to the United Nations and sat on a bench for the longest time, enjoying her quotes and reading her recipes. Now it is late 2018 and I just pulled out the book to make a sweet potato pone! I had to add another piece of tape to the cover as the book is well worn now. I checked the book out on the internet – so you know what I found. I am so proud to own a book from her first printing. I raise my glass of sweet tea to her memory
So interesting to read all the comments about this ‘unsung culinary wizard’ Princess Pamela. What a joy to know this youngster overcame obstacles to give we the people of the good old USA a taste of the original African cuisine.