In honor of Black History Month and the impact Black American culinary tradition has had on American cuisine, we recognize a small handful out of many iconic historical figures and culinary innovators.
Lucille B. Smith
Lucille B. Smith, is known as Texas’ first businesswoman and the first woman in the US to file ‘feme sole’ - woman alone. This legal filing gave her full independence over her business in early 1900s Texas. Lucille established the first commercial culinary educational program in the country through Prairie View A&M University and created the nation’s first instant hot roll mix.
Chris Williams (@chef_chriswilliams | @lucillehouston)
Lucille B. Smith’s great grandson, Chef Chris Williams, of Lucille’s Fine Southern Foods recently featured a wonderful dish of chicken chitterlings and caviar. He references Pliny the Elder’s (AD 23 - 79) words: Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre - ‘Africa always brings something new’.
Freda McKnight, was the first food editor for Ebony magazine and her cookbook, A Date With A Dish: A Cookbook of American Negro Recipes is considered one of the first major cookbooks authored by an African-American written for an African-American audience. DeKnight’s 1948 work challenged how Black cooking was defined and was a catalyst to Black chefs' growing influence in all types of cuisine.
Dr. Jessica B. Harris (@drjessicabharris)
Professor Jessica B. Harris is a culinary historian, author and journalist with a focus on foodways of the African diaspora. Her 2011 book, “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America ” served as inspiration for the 2021 Netflix documentary by the same name. Dr. Harris is the author of 12 cookbooks and is the 2020 recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.
In a recent conversation, Wellness Letter guest Raheem Wilson, shared:
“I didn’t experience caviar until I was an adult…it’s something I wasn’t exposed to growing up…you hear caviar growing up and there’s an association that it wasn’t for us…in our community that's something that people outside of us eat…unfortunately that was the message…it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was like oh this is nice…I had to break down this barrier…it’s just a food but it holds so much meaning as far as that social aspect goes...I’m like wow I can’t believe I’m eating caviar right now”
Many have experienced caviar through a similar lens. And it's true our perceptions are often dictated by social norms but as times change we discover new traditions.
Additional resources below:
High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B Harris
ExhibitsOpening Feb 23 : “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table,” presented by the Museum of Food and Drink and the Africa Center at Aliko Dangote Hall, 1280 Fifth Avenue, 212-444-9795