By Caryl Clem
Winter weather lingers during February while we look for ways to find comfort waiting for spring. I dig out the recipe books to look up favorites. When it’s cold outside, I crave eating made from scratch macaroni and cheese bubbling under the bread crumb crust. If you think about Sunday dinner meatloaf or finger licking crusty fried chicken, warm cornbread smothered in butter followed by a tasty cobbler for dessert, all these originated from African American culinary ingenuity. Kentucky Fried Chicken won success with soul food staples as well as several other fast food chicken rivals. Getting the most for your money and taste buds has earned “soul food’ a place on our plates and in our hearts.
Several of our founding fathers all had Black African American chefs that were educated in Europe. In France, Parmesan cheese, butter and pasta was the new rage during the 1800’s. Thomas Jefferson sent his chef to France to learn how to prepare French delicacies. By February in 1862, Thomas Jefferson was hosting parties featuring this macaroni pie specialty. President, George Washington had a famous Black African American Chef Hercules whose clothing can be seen in an museum exhibit in Washington D.C. African Americans as chefs showcasing American food has been established for centuries. These chefs have shaped America’s palate:
Chef Hercules was an African American slave owned by the Washington family, serving as the family’s head chef for many years.
Chef Edna Lewis was a renowned African-American chef, teacher, and author of several cookbooks who helped refine the American view of Southern cooking.
Chef Joe Randall was a good friend of the late Edna Lewis, has been a veteran award-winning chef for over 50+ years.
Chef Leah Chase was an American chef based in New Orleans, Louisiana. An author and television personality, she was known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She passed away at 96 in 2019.
Chef Patrick Clark was an American chef. He won the 1994 James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic Region” during his tenure at the Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington, D.C. and also competed.
The reputation of Southern wealthy families depended on offering superior feasts. The culinary feats were achieved by slave chefs from a variety of African regions. New to colonists dinner ‘s influenced by West Africa offered tomatoes, lima beans, onions, and chili peppers with peanuts, ginger and lemon grass. Natural sugar from dates, coconuts, sorghum and sweet potato lessen the need for granulated sugar. Garlic, cumin, and chili peppers for meat followed by allspice, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Chili made with cinnamon was probably the result of African spice blends. Africa has five regions that use the same spices and seasoning blends. Across America distinct African American influence is broken down into these categories: “Northern States, “ Agricultural South”, “ Creole Coast”, lastly, “ Western Range”. Trivia fact, over 1/3 of cowboys in the west after the civil war were African Americans. Spices and flavors from a distant continent won new fans and changed the rather bland fare forever.
Chicago offers several “soul food” restaurants, a phrase that started in the 1960’s and was common place by the 1970’s. Foursquare provides some great comments and pictures about several. Here are just a few with pictures above that describe their menus: