Long before pop-ups became a thing, the Columbia Dining Services’ Guest Chef Program brought the Harlem landmark restaurant Sylvia’s to the John Jay Hall dining room. On February 4, 1997, students not only got to sample the restaurant’s classic dishes, but they were also treated to a performance by the jazz band Funky Bud, featuring Columbia own’s Law Professor Kellis Parker on the trombone.
On February 4, 1997, Sylvia’s Head Chef Michael Whitehall worked with the John Jay dining hall staff to prepare the restaurant’s signature dishes: fried chicken, salmon croquettes, barbecue ribs, potato salad, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, black eyed peas, and, yes, even the peach cobbler. Students lined up early and waited in long lines for Sylvia’s legendary soul food. According to Marketing Manager for Dining Services Barbara Blackwell-Haynes, on an average night at John Jay, they would serve about 950 students. For this special event, they were expecting between 1,200 to 1,400 students. (By 6:00 pm, more than 400 students had already been through.)
Kellis E. Parker, a noted contract law scholar and civil rights activist, was also at John Jay that evening. Only this time, the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law was there with his band, Funky Bud. Parker was a gifted trombonist, who often played with his brothers, Maceo (saxophone) and Melvin (drums), both professional musicians. Parker, the first full-time Black law professor at Columbia (1972), embraced jazz as a framework for understanding the law. The Kellis Parker papers are held at the RBML.
The Guest Chef Program was such a success that Sylvia’s came back the following year and served meals at Faculty House (and this time even Sylvia Woods herself came to campus). And they were back again at John Jay in 1999.