Beautifully written and a pretty spot on analysis of the legacy of Miss Sylvia. The importance of a critical and multidimensional examination of African Diaspora in the discussion of American foodways has never been as apparent to me as in these days following her passing. Some of the comments that attempt to boil down the Woods legacy show me clearly that the work Michael is doing and the work of black chefs across the country has never been more critical to the preservation of our heritage.
When planning began for the Summit we were all in agreement that one of the issues that had to be addressed was identity because in order to begin to solve the issues of inclusion, representation, supplemental culinary history education, and the dozen other topics facing us in the culinary world, we first had to deal with our collective culinary identity.
The starting point was Chef Kevin Mitchell and a 16 year old senior thesis he had written while at the CIA. It was a brilliant telling of our evolution in American cooking, with an eye toward the changes he felt we had to make as a community in order to cement our future in this work. When we all read the paper we were blown away by its intensity and the fact that 16 years later it still resonated.
With Kevin and his paper as the base of the conversation we then looked to Chef Joe Randall to provide the flourish. I don’t think that any discussion on the topic of heritage would be complete with out Chef Joe and his historical insight and legendary candor. Chef Joe is our link to the past, the reason any of us have careers, and is the manifestation of what we should each hope to accomplish in our work so with him front and center we had the makings of a pretty great conversation.
And so, as the final panel of the morning session on the second day of the Summit I had the honor of moderating and hour long discussion filled with critical historical context, interesting insight into the emergence of what we consider cuisine in this country, and pretty profound stories that set the tone for a new level of understanding on the topic of racial identity in the culinary world.
The conversation we started is one that will continue for some time with various points of view and differing opinions, but to be in that room hearing Chef Joe talk about the history he lived and the legacy he paved for all of us, to listen to Kevin reminisce about the process of writing a thesis so close to his heart and so outside the consciousness of his collegiate culinary environment made me know that the power of what we are doing as a collective unit is very necessary to this movement. That room, in that moment, having that conversation felt like the center of the earth for an hour and I’m still in awe that i was a part of it.
One of the major missions of my work has always been telling our stories in a way that provides inspiration and a sense of reverence for our place in the story of American cuisine. The power of our story is what will bring more young black men and women to this work and will secure our future place in culinary history. The major question is where we go from here. How do we make what we shared last weekend carry over into our culinary lives? There isn’t one simple answer, but I think that if we each take what we felt in that room, that sense of community, and begin to infuse that energy in our interactions with students, our colleagues and our staffs that we will be headed in the right direction. I am so proud to have been part of history and I think that the best is yet to come. We are a unit now so its up to all of us to be the powerful change we want to see in our industry and I believe what we accomplished in our discussion is the beginning.
|—||Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, discusses the lessons he learned from his father’s experience as someone who grew up poor and was helped by a “conspiracy of love” around him, and how he believes that the solutions are out there with regard to solving major problems in criminal justice and education at the Zietgeist Center|
”i live in a city with the most stubbornly hopeful, the most audaciously determined individuals who have not given up on the truth of the American dream and confront, in every moment, the unfulfilled, unfinished dream” - Mayor Cory Booker
Today celebrate African food in Harlem at the African Experience Food Festival hosted at the Museum of African Art!!
Often in America black people shy away from dealing head on with the black experience in lieu of the more comfortable minority experience where we can speak in generalities that seem more socially accessible for the masses. We don’t want to be seen as militant or confrontational when trying to get our perspectives across and in the end we are left with a kind of milk toast, watered down version of the engaged conversation we though we were going to have. With this in mind when i began this project I made very definite decision that there would be no room for confusion about the focus of this work from our name to the imagery to the bulk of the content. This is not to suggest that there aren’t definite parallels among race and gender to the issues of the black chef, simply that the purpose of this space is to examine the black experience in all its complexity and richness.
One of the reasons I chose the warhol mammy as the group icon was that it spoke so directly to the relationship blacks have had with america from slavery to now. We are the work horse of american life from farm to table from birth to death the black experience has been one of service to this country and the culinary industry has been able to flourish and american cooking got its flavor on the backs of black people yet i speak to 18 year olds that want to become chefs because of emeril or thomas keller.
We are less than 2 generations removed from a time where our work was considered a domestic vocation; cut to 1977 when the work got legitimized by the us government and the cache of the industry is now worth more, and now there are articles written about why more blacks aren’t competitive in the culinary arts. To be clear, I think the best and more interesting culinary work should be part of every chef’s vocabulary, its the ignorance to all the amazing, passionate, inspiring, and brilliant black muses we have throughout the history of american cooking that concerns me and was one of the greatest motivators for this project.
I don’t have all the answers, i am not the authority on all things black culinary history, but i am interested in the exploration of our legacy in food that gives me the opportunity to be a working chef irrespective of race.