Above Bianca and Justin Robinson’s family and friends celebrate the announcement of a baby girl during the 2023 MLK Parade.
Mobile native and Southern star chef, Justin Robinson, kicked off his 2023 Mardi Gras season with a literal bang.
This time last year, Robinson had a big announcement to make, and what better place to celebrate than Mobile Mardi Gras? He and his wife, Bianca, decided to stage a gender reveal during the Lundi Gras parades here in Mobile, surrounded by family, friends and thousands of parade-goers. As the sky filled with pink smoke, the Robinsons got a glimpse at the next chapter of life. MB caught up with him as he prepares to bring his young daughter, now five months old, to the 2024 festivities.
What do you love about Mobile?
It’s a proud thing to say that’s my hometown. Generations of my family have grown up there. Now that I don’t live there anymore, when I go back, it’s still that same sense of community, that overwhelming sense that you’re home.
Why did you choose Mobile Mardi Gras for the gender reveal?
My wife is from Georgia, and we knew either my family was going to have to come up to Georgia or her family would have to come down to Mobile … and there’s no better time than Mardi Gras in Mobile! In my business, my job is to come up with cool experiences, and so I wanted to put my stamp on it. My Aunt Jada was going to be riding on a float, and I have seen people do the smoke poppers … I figured there was no better way to share the news that we’re about to have a baby than in the actual parade itself, so we ordered these smoke poppers and I told my aunt, “Whenever you get to the area where we’re standing, just pop the smoke and that’s when we’ll know what the gender of the baby is.” We had the blue and pink Mardi Gras beads, which was fun. People wore whatever color they thought the baby was going to be.
The day before, Traeger Grills (one of my sponsors) donated $1,000 worth of food for me to cook for the people at the parade. I cooked alligator, a ton of brisket, ribs, pulled pork and BBQ burnt ends along with my signature sides. We just gave it away to anyone on the street. We had Traeger Mardi Gras Beads, Treager cups, koozies, all kinds of swag, all to give away because they knew how much this moment meant to me. It’s all a memory we will have forever. I didn’t realize that it would go viral the way it did on social media! And now that River’s here, funny enough, I showed her the pictures.
How are you balancing chef and family life?
It’s a tough juggle. I’m known as the rockstar chef, so I have to keep rocking and rolling. Gotta keep my business going so that I can provide for my family. Luckily, my wife is able to hold down the fort when I’m out late nights, doing late-night dinners and don’t get home until 11 p.m. But nothing beats coming home to your wife and kid and waking up the next day and getting back after it.
What did you love about your time as a personal chef?
I really enjoyed that personal touch where you get to have some good conversation about people’s life journeys, all over some good food, whether that’s a three-course or five-course dinner. Hearing about their travel experiences and cuisines that they’ve experienced … those are the kind of things I look forward to.
Ever cooked for anyone special?
One of my top celebrities that I’ve cooked for is Steve Harvey. Being his personal chef, cooking their Christmas dinner, it was a pretty big accomplishment and fun ride.
What is one of your early food memories?
A memory that stays with me is from middle school. My granddad, his name was Duke, he was known as the bread man around Mobile because he was a delivery man for Sara Lee Bakery, so he was well known all across the Mobile and Prichard areas. And I remember riding around in the bread truck, which I probably wasn’t supposed to be doing, but you know he still had runs to make, so I’d hop in the bread truck and smell all the fresh-baked bread. We’d go around to 13 or more grocery stores, and whichever store was his last store, he would grab a slab of ribs and would take that slab of ribs, bring it back home, season it up and throw it on the grill. That was my intro to barbecue before I even knew it. I was a picky eater, so I never even ate the sauce. It just had to be plain, but the plain ribs were just so good. He called his grill Betsy, so when I got my first grill with Traeger, I named her Betsy. I think that’s me living on his legacy. Just because he’s not with us anymore, but I always feel like he’s with me when I’m barbecuing.
What does Mardi Gras taste like to you?
Madi Gras tastes like a warmed-up banana MoonPie with some honey buns and a chicken on a stick. I mean, those are the things that you just can’t beat. I feel like those are the staple, and then the oatmeal cream pies. The moment that you catch one someone’s firing off a float and instead of putting it in your bag, you eat it there on the side. Those are the go-tos for Mardi Gras for me.
What are you most proud of?
I would say the fact that I just keep finding new ways to elevate my business and elevate my craft. I started out in my dorm room, cooking over a hot skillet just trying to survive and eat so I wouldn’t starve after those long nights of studying. Fast forward seven years now … I’ve come so far and definitely made a name for myself in Atlanta and of course back in Mobile.
What advice can you share for others trying to make it big?
My biggest advice is, don’t get discouraged if you feel like you don’t have the formal training or if you believe your skills aren’t as sharp as others. I didn’t go to culinary school. I’m fully self-taught and I’ve cooked for people I never thought I’d even meet in life. One thing that I like to leave people with is you don’t have to be the most skilled person in the room but you gotta be the hardest worker.
What’s next for Justin Robinson?
What’s next is the Experience Estate. That’s gonna be a name the whole world will know…I aspire to have the first African-American-run, all-inclusive resort. It’s going to be a mix of modern and woods.