“Soul food blesses your whole body,” says Katrina “Aunt
Flora” Mincy. “It uplifts your spirit. Whoever prepares it puts
everything in their heart and soul into it.” Aunt Flora, as Katrina
prefers to be called, has put her soul into soul food, and after a visit to her daughter’s Court Street restaurant, Flo’s Plate Full of Soul, I’m grateful for Flora’s philosophy.
Her journey into the world of soul food and Southern-style American cooking began on her father’s side. Flora’s was a cook in the Air Force, and he taught his oldest daughter all he knew about good, hearty cooking. While she loved the lessons, she never expected a career in cooking.
“I wanted to be in fashion,” she says, laughing. “But I was always in someone’s kitchen.”
There was another important connection in Flora’s family to food. Her great-aunt, the original Aunt Flora, was one of the models whose likeness was used on Aunt Jemima syrup bottles. When that Flora passed on, her sister passed her hand-written recipes along to Flora’s mother.
“She was too busy to cook. She said, ‘I’ll never use these,’ and she gave them to me,” Flora says.
Flora was recovering from an illness at the time, so she used her recovery period to experiment with the old recipes and improve them. She got to a point where she’d improvised so many times that the recipes were instinctive, and when she had an opportunity to enter one of her pie recipes in an Enquirer cooking contest, she couldn’t send a written copy.
She just baked a pie and delivered it personally to then-food writer Chuck Martin, who became one of her biggest boosters. She won the contest and went on to open Aunt Flora’s Cobblers at Findlay Market.
The Findlay Market shop had lots of visitors, but when Martha Stewart stopped by in 2006, Flora’s peach cobbler wowed the diva of domesticity. She invited Flora to appear on her television show in January 2007. Flora remembers “a great experience — even just to chat with her while she was in her dressing room getting her hair done. She said, ‘When you come back next time, we’ll make chess pies.’ ”
The next time didn’t come, though, because Flora’s life suffered a setback. Her beloved husband, Ron, needed open heart surgery. Flora cared for him during his recovery. But the couple had no health insurance, and the financial fallout changed all their plans. She closed Aunt Flora’s at Findlay Market and sold the business to her daughter, Leigha, and son-in-law, Walter. Walter had been her head chef and had learned all the family recipes.
“I created the menu, but Walter has made those dishes his own,” Flora says. At Leigha and Walter’s restaurant, the food is lighter, with canola and olive oil replacing some of the traditional lard, and smoked turkey, not pork, seasoning the greens. Flora’s aunt’s recipes have been freshened for a new generation.
Of course, Aunt Flora does the baking for Flo’s, and her son D.J. is also involved in the day-to-day operations while Leigha is the business manager. They hope to expand their operation to include table seating (the small restaurant is carry-out only now) and would eventually like to sell frozen gourmet soul food family dinners, as well as take and bake items.
Flora’s cobblers are also available by special order, but her focus right now is on a new venture. She’s doing cooking demonstrations for groups and private lessons for home cooks who want a hands-on tutor in the art of Southern cuisine. She also hopes to publish a cookbook and re-open the cobbler shop.
“I want to bring Aunt Flora’s back to business,” she says. “It’s a good brand, and I built it myself.”
“Cook as though you are going to eat it yourself,” she says. “That’s what our ancestors did. They cared deeply.”
It’s clear Aunt Flora does, too.
FLO’S PLATE FULL OF SOUL
Go: 133 E. Court St., Downtown
AUNT FLORA’S COBBLERS AND COOKING CLASSES