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 motivations 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.