These black chefs changed food history

The contributions of people of color in the United States to food culture and history is often overlooked, even though many were seminal to developing our nation’s foodways. Several recent books have tackled this issue, providing us with better insight on undervalued and underreported work, and last week The New York Times profiled six black chefs – and one black inventor – whose contributions to food history were pivotal.

Edna Lewis and Abby Fisher

If you live in the U.S. and have ever eaten a French fry or crème brûlée, you have James Hemings to thank for those delicious treats, plus macaroni and cheese and ice cream to boot. Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France, and he cooked the historic meal between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson that led to the creation of the federal banking system (OK everyone, start humming “The Room Where It Happens”). If the name sounds somewhat familiar, James Hemings was the older brother of Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson who bore several children by him. 

Two other people profiled in the article, Larry and Jereline Bethune, operated a restaurant in Alabama that became a center for the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. The Bethunes owned Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit, where staff helped organize parts of the Montgomery bus boycott, which soon propelled the civil rights movement into the national conversation.

Others discussed in the article include Edna Lewis, Zephyr Wright, Abby Fisher, and George Washington Carver. 

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