Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Soul Filled Kitchen chef touts new feather cake, heartwarming meals in Muskegon Heights

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – Chef LaKisha Harris, the heart and soul behind Soul Filled Kitchen in Muskegon Heights, is known for her heartwarming and filling meals.

Harris serves up signature soul food entrees made fresh to order such as the Muskegon favorite turkey knuckles ($19.99). She said she works to provide an array of new dishes for diners in the area to satisfy their need for a soul food fix.

Besides the renowned turkey knuckles dish, customers continue to rave about her deep-fried shrimp and grits ($17.99) that are made with deep-fried peeled, jumbo shrimp, bay grilled shrimp, peppers, onions, savory bacon and cheddar cheese.

Soul Filled Kitchen, 3232 Glade St., has many other favorites on the menu, including the sweet and savory chicken and vanilla cinnamon waffles ($13.99) topped with deep-fried chicken tenderloins, fresh strawberries, pecans and dusted with powdered sugar.

Harris has a large Facebook following for her soul food dishes and is is deemed the “queen of turkey knuckles” in Muskegon Heights.

The combination of her culinary skills, strong community ties and popularity were factors in Harris being chosen to recreate Julia Hackley’s feather cake recipe published in 1890. Hackley was the wife of Muskegon lumber baron and banker, Charles Hackley, who she joined in philanthropy work in the community.

Harris announced in an April 28 Facebook post that she was selected by the Lakeshore Museum Center and Taste of Muskegon 2022 to recreate the recipe.

The recipe has been at the Lakeshore Museum for the past 132 years. That’s until Lakeshore Curator Erin Schmitz and Taste of Muskegon’s Lisa Kraus collaborated to have someone remake the cake.

“After all these years, I was given the recipe to recreate her cake,” Harris said. “It was challenging because they used wood-burning stoves, and we didn’t know what kind of pan she used. The original recipe calls for things that we don’t use in today’s society.”

Although Harris knew about the opportunity two months beforehand, she didn’t know the recipe details until it was given to her a day before she planned to prepare the cake during a live recording for YouTube.

Harris said she had to use her imagination since the cake was different than a modern cake made today. She initially wasn’t sure how to approach it.

“There was something on there for sweet milk,” Harris said. “We didn’t know what sweet milk was. We didn’t know if she meant condensed milk or evaporated milk, so we just used heavy cream. She had no temperature to cook the food, so I just had to do some ‘Soul Filled’ enchantments.”

Harris said the cake tasted more like a sweet biscuit once it came out. To make it more cake-like, she garnished it with fresh fruit with simple syrup and made other enhancements to the ingredients to make it sweet rather than savory.

However, Harris said she still tried to stick to an “1890s mindset” by using spatulas and a wire whisk instead of an electric beater. In the times to come, she said she will offer samples of both Hackley’s version and her enhanced version.

“We began to play around with a few ideas,” Harris said. “The recipe called for a tablespoon of butter and one egg, and I don’t know any cake that just uses a tablespoon of butter and one egg. That never happens on a cake. All cakes have three eggs, it doesn’t matter what type of cake it is.”

Harris said that even with adding the enhancements to fit her style, she still feels strongly about the opportunity to honor the recipe as a minority-owned business.

“I felt so strongly about it and thought I should share it because this is a huge step, not only for Soul Filled but just as a minority-owned business,” Harris said. “I think the museum has done a wonderful job of presenting an opportunity to do something that was not available to my community during the 1890s.”

In the future, Harris is planning to recreate a Hackley Thanksgiving from the 1800s to pay homage to the recipes Hackley created then. At that time, she wants to invite at-risk children to have a meal in the hope to infuse some positivity.

“I am humbled to have had this opportunity,” Harris said. “It’s major to me that I was entrusted with this. And it makes me also see that we’re moving towards seeing each other as comrades versus by color, creed or gender.”

The recreation for the cake will be available all summer at the Hackley and Hume Homes, Taste of Muskegon 2022 in June, YouTube and the museum’s website.

Harris will feature the cake this summer during catering and pop-up events, starting with the relaunch of her restaurant downtown Muskegon this month.

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