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Food with Love

by Ruth Ann Ruiz
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By Ruth Ann Ruiz

The Post Newspaper Features Editor 

Ouida Cook, the owner of Galveston’s Soul 2 Soul Bar and Grill brings 50-plus years of enjoying soul food to her customers, who come from many walks of life and experience her version of soul food, which includes touches of her childhood home in St Louis and her summer home with her grandparents in Mississippi. 

Being a restaurant owner wasn’t her first career choice. Ouida studied public policy, political science, and accounting. She was at one-time a fiscal manager for the federal reserve bank in St Louis. 

“My boss, when I worked for the federal reserve, was Al Greenspan,” Ouida shares with a hint of pride that she is possibly the keeper of knowledge that the average person does not have.

She is the keeper of many tidbits of knowledge and wisdom, and if you can catch her when she isn’t busy in the kitchen, she’ll sit for a while and chat with you about most anything with great depth and knowledge.

One of her favorite subjects is the many musicians whose photos she has on display in her restaurant. It’s her hallway of fame for the great Black musicians who have graced America with their talents. 

She will talk with you about her large extended family, whom she fondly recalls, and their summers in Mississippi. She was learning to prepare and cook meals at an age most little girls were outside jumping ropes or swinging on a favorite swing.  

“I was four years old when I learned how to cut up a whole chicken,” shared Ouida with that same hint of pride in doing something that not too many others may have accomplished — at least not at such a tender age. 

She comes from a family of 14 boys, so Ouida learned how to tie ties. 

“I tied my grandfather’s tie and my brother’s ties on Sunday mornings before church,” Ouida said. 

For ten years she was the only girl child in her extended family, and in her birth family. She got the advantage of all the attention her aunties and uncles had to give. They doted on a sweet little girl who learned at a young age to roll with the situations in front of her. 

“So rotten, spoiled rotten to the core,” Ouida says with another slight hint of pride and happiness. 

While working in the financial industry in St Louis, Ouida had a family of her own. Life was good, and then, in 2006, Ouida discovered the Gulf Coast of Texas and knew she wanted to live down where she could get a bigger house for less money than in her hometown. 

Life became less good when marital discord started to arise, and she found herself without a home and with a child to care for. Taking to living in an extended-stay hotel, Ouida called upon her childhood skills and started cooking up meals to sell.

“I was cooking and just hoping to make enough to pay for the extended-stay room each day,” Ouida shared. 

Life improved when she met a woman with an in-home publishing company who invited Ouida and her little daughter to move in. In this new situation, Ouida traded her administrative skills for a place to sleep. 

This arrangement allowed her to apply for a job with the Galveston County Tax Office, where she worked for several years. 

Looking back on that period in her life, Ouida remembers she didn’t have to be homeless. 

“My father had a place on a golf course, and I knew I could move in with him,” said Ouida. Her face goes into a deep contemplative place and she continues speaking, “But I also knew I had to figure it out on my own,” Ouida said. 

Though she was living in a situation that wasn’t ideal, she remembers feeling peace. 

“I didn’t feel I was in harm’s way,” shared Ouida. “Now I look back, and I can see it was God’s grace and mercy giving me that sense of peace.”

Her days were busy as she snuck down the fire escape with her daughter and hid behind a dumpster to be sure no one noticed they were staying at a place where overnight guests were not permitted. 

Once the coast was clear and she felt she could walk through the parking lot, she got her little girl to childcare and then she went to work at the county building in Galveston. 

She was essentially homeless, but she recalls she didn’t look like a homeless person so most people in the complex assumed she was a caregiver coming to take care of someone. 

Even though she looked like she had a rightful place in the building, she knew that if she and her daughter were caught, they’d be back in an extended-stay hotel. 

Staying at the Gulf Breeze as a hideaway lasted several months. Once she had enough funds from her job, she and her daughter moved into their own place. 

Ouida reports that today her daughter is a Tornette at Ball High School and is an active teenager. 

It wasn’t long after she got her own place to live that Ouida started the search for a building to host her future restaurant. That span of time when she was selling her cooking to pay for her room gave her a taste of what she wanted to do in the next stage of her life.

Now we come to the juicy part of her story — her cooking and her restaurant. One bite of her freshly fried catfish and shrimp, and you will think you just stepped out of the fishing boat and hired a cook to prepare your meal.

 She uses only fresh seafood found at the fish markets in Galveston.

Ouida and her staff hand peel and de-spine each shrimp, and the fried food is fried on order and not held under a heat lamp. 

She may not be under the supervision of the chairman of the federal reserve bank, but she does have some pretty tough critics to please, and she is pleasing a whole lot of people with her cooking and hospitality. 

Soul 2 Soul Catering has found its way into Galveston City Hall and is filling up city leaders with Ouida’s culinary delights and the touch of love she adds to her food. As Ouida explained, what makes soul food soul food is that it is cooked with love. 

“Soul 2 Soul is one of the catering companies that provides food for our Council meetings,” said Galveston’s Mayor Dr. Craig Brown. “Meatloaf is one of my favorites, and I can honestly say their meatloaf is the best I’ve ever eaten. The day is always brighter when I know that Soul 2 Soul is providing the food that day.” 

Galveston’s 2022 Citizen of the Year Finalist Lawanda Hardeman-Ward and Galveston City Councilwoman Sharon Lewis both rave about Ouida’s fried ribs, which are described as addictive. Once you get your first order, you will be back for more, Lawanda reports. 

Both ladies also rave about Ouida’s southern banana pudding as a delight that everyone should try at least once. 

Lewis finds the smothered pork chops with rice and gravy to be her favorites. 

“Tender, juicy and palpable to the soul!” Lewis said. 

Her son is another of Ouida’s fried rib fans. He also enjoys her fried wings.

City Councilman Mike Bouvier and his son have been enjoying Soul 2 Soul for nearly a decade and are also fans of the fried ribs. 

“My son and I first ate Soul 2 Soul when they were located on Market Street. We fell in love with the small-business hospitality and great food,” Bouvier shared. “Some of our favorite items on the menu are deep-fried ribs and oxtail.”

You can eat in, drive through or order ahead and pick up at the counter. But if you choose to eat in, be sure to ask for Ouida, which is pronounced by starting with a w sound rather than trying to pronounce an o and a u together. 

If you mispronounce her name, she might correct you with one of her grins and let you know that it’s a French name.

If you compliment her on her lovely cheek bones, which make her very photogenic, she might let you know that she got her cheek bones from the Choctaw in her family line. 

If you want to sit and chat about politics, religion, old family recipes, Black musicians or just about anything else, Ouida, when she can, will sit and chat. She likes people and people seem to like her a whole bunch. 

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