The Instructor’s Choice “IC” text this week in my EQ section was Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. The students have already worked their way through the memoir of Anthony Bourdain, RIP, a famous TV chef personality who among other events dined in an ordinary restaurant in Hanoi with Barak Obama. (Fun fact: The immersion trip group that I traveled with Dr. Thomas and me ate in the same diner some years afterward. When they saw we were Americans the workers made a point of letting us know that, though of course there were pictures on the wall).
Food is an ideal way to learn about culture and society, so I do try to include the subject (and some vittles) in as many classes as possible. The Samuelsson book sparks additional interest in our day, given his unique background. He is a Black man born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish couple and raised there, then after a stint in culinary school in France emigrated to the United States, where he has pursued a successful career as a chef and restaurateur. He also had a connection with President Obama, having cooked state dinners for the Obamas while they were in office.
Samuelsson has published some recipe books, but his most recent offering, The Rise, is powerful enough that I have now recommended it twice in this space. To be honest, while personnel in the restaurant business reflect considerable diversity ethnically, racially, and nationally, much of the credit for culinary greatness has been reserved for White males in the public sphere. In terms of gender, the mid-20th century struggles of Julia Child (of whom you probably know) and her Argentine counterpart Doña Petrona (of whom I imagine you do not know) reflect the macho character of the industry. When I was active as a professional chef in the 1980s it was still difficult for women to rise in professional kitchens, but those who did were amazingly powerful in my memory. The same is true for men of color in the industry. While Bourdain and others speak glowingly of Latin Americans and other immigrants who had their backs in the kitchen, and Black kitchen staff especially in the South were famously hard-working and loyal, almost all of the public praise has been lavished on white men. (And as a side note, quite a few of them are jerks!)
This is why you should go out and buy this remarkable book by Samuelsson. The 300 pages of this solid volume feature stories about the “rise” of Black chefs in the United States, as well as a few remarks by or about Black food scholars and writers such as Prof. Fred Opie and Michael Twitty. And of course, the chefs have offered some awesome recipes, that will expand your conception of Black food beyond the soul food stereotypes you may have encountered. As a food historian, I am particularly astounded by the integration of African foodstuffs, as well as ingredients from other international locations, which are put together in unique ways. Go and buy this book, seriously: Marcus Samuelsson, The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.
I will not copy a recipe out of the book, but here I offer my own version of a dish that I have put together based on reading different offerings from the chefs. Yeah, I rarely follow recipes anyway… but they can be a great source of inspiration. I hope that this food and this book will be inspiring to you.
With collards and coconut Plantains
1 onion diced
3 T chopped garlic
2 t gumbo file powder
½ t cayenne
1 t salt
8 inches andouille sausage
2 peeled and diced tomatoes (or canned equivalent)
2 cups collard greens, roughly chopped
12 large shrimp, peeled
2 plantains, peeled and sliced half-inch on a bias
Wisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.
Sauté onion and garlic until somewhat soft, add spices and sausage, sauté a minute or two, add collards, briefly sauté then add 1 cup water to steam, 5 or 10 minutes depending on how soft you want them.
Add shrimp on top, cover, and steam until cooked, a couple of minutes.
Dust plantains in flour, then fry in light oil (like canola) until al dente (cooked but a bit of a crunch).
Sprinkle coconut over.
Serve the sauté over your favorite rice,