Motown is credited with shaping and revolutionizing popular American music, particularly soul and R&B. It was founded in 1959 by former record store owner Berry Gordy, Jr. who saw potential in the talented musicians and singers in his community. Founded with a loan from his family, Gordy named it after Detroit’s “Motor City” nickname and was determined to create a record label that would appeal to everyone and break down racial barriers in the music industry. 

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Chef Adjoa Courtney (known as “Chef Joya”) is infusing its lasting legacy into her The Taste of Motown Dining Experience, a multi-city vegan dinner series inspired by the very thing that made Motown so great. 

“Earlier this year, I was in the kitchen listening to music and one of my favorite songs by The Temptations came on,” Courtney tells VegNews. “I instantly thought about a dish that could represent their name and it went from there. I felt it would be fun to pair music with great vegan food.” 

Motown vegan dinners hit the road

The Motown sound is characterized by its catchy melodies, exciting arrangements, and soulful vocals. It was created by a group of talented musicians, songwriters, and producers such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes. 

These artists are the inspiration for Courtney’s seven-course dinner series, where she translates their iconic sound into delectable vegan meals. The chef starts the meal with an amuse bouche inspired by Marvin Gaye and moves on to dishes that explore music through food.

“Smokey Robinson is known for his smooth voice and soulful music,” the chef says. “The Baltimore Krab Cakes with Smoked Corn Salad represent the soulfulness of Smokey Robinson’s music with the sweet and smoky flavors of the crab cakes and corn salad.”

The soulful R&B music of Gladys Knights & The Pips is the inspiration behind The Crispy Chik’n & Waffle with Chili Bourbon Glaze and Brown Sage Butter, which Courtney says “is a soulful and comforting dish that’s perfect for a hearty meal”

Motown had its first national hit in 1960 with “Shop Around” by The Miracles. Over the next decade, Motown would produce dozens of chart-topping hits, including “My Girl” by The Temptations, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, and “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes. Motown’s success continued into the 1970s with hits by artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and The Commodores.

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Courtney traces this history of Motown throughout the meal, dedicating dishes to the greats.

“The Supremes were one of the most successful girl groups of all time,” Courtney says. “The Horseradish encrusted Brisket (which she sources from the House of Chik’n) Potato Dauphinoise, and Mushrooms & Swiss Chard Bon Bon represent the elegance and sophistication of The Supremes with the bold flavors of horseradish, tender brisket, and savory mushrooms and chard.”

And to commemorate the original kitchen song that inspired Courtney to create the Motown series? The chef is serving a rich chocolate brownie topped with ganache, toasted coconut sorbet, and a raspberry coulis which she simply calls “The Temptation.”

Chef Joya’s vegan soul food

The Southern chef—who says she loves a good theme—hosts Brunchin’ with Chef Joya, a monthly pop-up in Charlotte, NC. Courtney was first inspired to become a vegan chef to fill a soul food void. 

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“I saw that there was a serious need for a chef who specializes in the food that I specialize in—Authentic Soul food and Afro-Caribbean cuisine,” Courtney says. “The places that I went to that served these items were not true to tradition, taste, or texture.”

“I wanted to bring traditional and cultural foods over to the vegan side,” she says. “And I wanted to continue the tradition of people coming together for a delicious meal, whether they were vegan or not.”

And her culinary point of view is embedded in her new series around Motown, which helped to integrate the music industry and paved the way for other Black artists to succeed in mainstream music. 

The chef and cookbook author hopes that her food carries this legacy forward in a new way. “My desire is for individuals to understand that good food truly lives up to its name, and that its essence can always be savored through its preparation with love,” Courtney says. 

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“While many of us view eating as a means of survival, I aspire for everyone to relish in the delectable flavors that tantalize our taste buds,” she says. “For me, the epitome of satisfaction is sharing a meal with strangers and witnessing them enjoy themselves.” 

The Taste of Motown Dining Experience—an intimate 12-seater event ($350 per person)—heads to Dallas this month before popping into the DMV region in June and then Atlanta, GA in July.  The Motown dinner series will come home to Motown (Detroit) in August and then conclude in Courtney’s hometown of Charlotte in September. Menus are subject to change.

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