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My life changed in 2008 when I started this journey of culinary self discovery. At the beginning I found myself at a transformational crossroads in my life and career, and felt the need for an outlet for a kind of culinary catharsis that would fortify my spirit as a chef, but would also connect me with other chefs in a substantive way. Cut to today where the reach of this project includes a network of over 1,600 chefs, writers, historians, and all around food folk that include culinary legends like Chef Joe Randall, some new school brilliance like our brother-Chef Bryant Terry, and countless other beautiful spirits invested in our history in food.

The goal originally was pretty simple. I had this very personal manifesto that I put out to some folks about what I was feeling as a chef and how I thought we could begin a dialog. Over time I have come to realize that what this project has to be was the voice of our collective culinary legacy. It has to be our daily connection to why we each chose this culinary life and why those folks outside of the work have taken an interest in this topic. To that end the scope and focus of this project has to be expanded from its original premise. This group has to be about more than putting our history down for preservation, it has to be about us being a living legacy in our daily work. Over the next year the goal is really to get down to business and to lay the foundation for growth and there are three areas that the project will focus.

The first is networking. There are hundreds of you that I’ve met, chatted with, become friends with that are doing work that everyone needs to know about. There are hundreds still that through networking, research, and good old fellowship I will come to know about, so I'm committing to making our internal network of good food folks a more accessible and searchable database so that its easier to find other brown food people and this site becomes more of a networking resource.

The second point of focus this year will be on mentorship. In the beginning one of the main things I was motivated by was the fact that, on average, five percent of culinary students are African American competing for jobs in environments were they will most likely not see them selves represented in any sort of position of authority. The idea is that we have to be the bridge over this gap in diversity that our industry has become notorious for. Our kids have to know that they are part of a bigger legacy than the one they are taught in school and have to be fortified with our support and guidance. What I’m working on is a sort of big brother/big sister program for chefs!! Its been a very informal program up to this point of connecting young people with chefs in the network, but I feel its important for this aspect of this project to take on a more formal role!!

The third area that this year is going to focus on is fellowship. One thing this work has taught me is that black chefs are some of the coolest, most talented, and inspirational chefs and hospitality professionals working today and that we have to take our fellowship beyond social media because there is nothing so restorative as physical fellowship. One of the things I’m working on for this year is a traveling underground dining series that will showcase the talents of our chefs, restaurant owners, wine makers, and purveyors in a way that honors our heritage and in a creative and dynamic way. Also I'm interested in a kind of culinary town hall event that will be similar to the Tavis Smiley 'State of Black America' where we have panels of professionals putting issues like representation, history, work ethic, and business ownership and operation out in the open to be sure that we are all as sharp and informed about whats really going on in the industry as possible.

One of the things that has been so surprising to me over the years has been the number of people that seem to need this work as much as I do. This whole project was started on a lark and was meant to help me focus on my own career, but very quickly I understood the void this project could fill and its been the overwhelming support for the vision of this work that has helped me to refocus and has kept me so inspired and motivated, so I just want to say thank you all for being part of my dream. What I need now is your input. These projects are all in the planning stages and need fresh eyes so those of you who want to roll up your sleeves and lend your time and support please let me know. This is going to be a great year and so I want to wish you all Happy Holidays, with much optimism and excitement for the New Year!!

Best wishes!!

Therese

Therese Nelson

Founder, Black Culinary History