Identity is a theme i am always drawn to in the discussion of blackness in culinary arts. 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 have to deal with our collective culinary identity.
At the 2012 Minority Chef Summit in Jacksonville, Fl we had a very deep conversation about this very topic . The starting point was Chef Kevin Mitchell and his 16 year old senior thesis 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.