“Celebrating African American Women’s Role In Culture and History”is the 2012 theme of Black History Month, an annual celebration of African American roots, culture, and contributions to American life.

Picán restaurant recreates a “Taste of the South” in Oakland, California’s booming Uptown District, fusing Southern tradition and foodways with the sophistication of California cuisine.

Having Picán feature a special prix fixe menu based on the foods popularized by Leah Chase, the lauded and decorated 89-years-young grande dame of Creole cuisine and executive chef of restaurant Dooky Chase, New Orleans, was instantly on the mind of Michael LeBlanc, owner/founder of acclaimed Picán.

“I’m a New Orleans native and Leah Chase was a huge influence when I started conceptualizing what Picán would represent, how it would feel,” LeBlanc says. “Dooky Chase is a living embodiment of African American, Creole, and Southern tradition, yet in spite of being an institution, it’s personal, warm, friendly –– it’s all things Leah and her family.

She cooks for the famous the same way she cooks for everyone else. To me, this is the essence of Southern cuisine and the core of Southern hospitality; it’s an approach to food that is very much on an emotional level–prepared with a passion for the plate–and served to all regardless of who they are and from where they hail, with the same artfulness and dedication to detail, in an environment of warmth and dignity. It was a feeling of inclusiveness, that Leah magic, I wanted to create here at Picán,” LeBlanc says.

Looking around Picán’s dining room, one can see hints of design influence of Dooky Chase.African American art adorns walls, and rich tones with pops of red fill the voluminous space. It’s New Orleans chic, understated, and elegant, but with a definite nod to Oakland’s hip urban environment.

“We’ve created a Black History Month special menu inspired by the flavors of Dooky Chase,” LeBlanc says. “Beginning with Stewed Okra with Tasso Ham & Gulf Shrimp; a salad of Warm Mushrooms & Arugula; entree of Red Wine Braised Beef Brisket and Pineapple & Apple Bread Pudding.”

Purposefully not on the menu?

“A dish in the style of her famous gumbo z’herbes…it’s a Leah original and one so closely associated with her I feel it’s almost sacrosanct to even do one similar … it’s better a culinary pilgrimage one takes to New Orleans and enjoys at the source,” he said.

The $55 per person prix fixe menu is available throughout the month of February; $15 for each prix fixe meal purchased is being donated to the East Oakland Youth Development Center, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing children and youth into healthy, self-supporting and aware citizens and adults. For information and reservations, please call 510.834.1000 or www.picanrestaurant.com.

Additionally, on Feb. 28, Picán is hosting the Brown Estates Wine Dinner. As one of the few black owned wineries in the world, Brown Estates has grown to produce some of the best wines in the Napa region. Picán will serve dishes such asGrilled Harissa Marinated California Squid and Watercress and Duck Sausage Salad to complement the wines.

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