Celebrating Black and African American cuisine means eating around the world
Throughout the African American and African diaspora, food takes on as many different forms and traditions as the people who make it up.
Enslaved Africans brought their cooking and farming traditions to the Americas, and those were then transformed by the conditions they faced. The heritage of many recipes considered today to be soul food were founded in the crops and techniques first developed by enslaved communities.
Today, Black chefs and restaurant owners are bringing traditional elements into their recipes and adding their own creativity, as well as sharing recipes from all corners of the globe.
But through all the different flavors is the same heart: community.
Kwasi Kwaa, chef and partner of Comfort Kitchen in Dorchester, is one person bringing these foods to the forefront in Boston. He whipped up jackfruit sliders with jerk seasoning on the set of Basic Black.
Kwaa, who is from Ghana, said tastes are changing as people become more adventurous with food. He started his career making lots of French and Italian food, despite wanting to explore African cuisine, which he described as a sad period of his career. But now, there’s a paradigm shift.
“I think in past years, and with the help of television … and food shows and things like that, people have broadened their horizons in terms of what they can try, and folks have become more adventurous eaters, if you would,” Kwaa said.
As people branch out to try new foods, they also love the classics, such as what is served up at Coast Café in Cambridge, where Anthony “Tony” Brooks is the chef and owner.
His fried chicken and mac and cheese is pure home cooking. Brooks made his signature mac and cheese on Basic Black, which he said is his most popular side dish.
That home cooking is what customers are looking for. Brooks said, “We’re cooking from our heart and people are looking for that artist … I look at it as art to me, not just cooking.”
Paula Austin, assistant professor of history and African American and Black diaspora studies at Boston University, described Black food as diverse, and a “cultural explosion” that varies from region to region. Mac and cheese in one state might not be the same recipe in another state, or another part of the world even.
“Black foodways is not monolithic, but there are so many different things that come together to make the particular dishes or to make those particular preparations that are, you know, West African, Indigenous,” Austin said.
The guests closed out the segment sharing some of the favorite foods that are always making it onto their plate. Austin loves fried plantains, Brooks eats steak and potatoes and Kwaa loves chicken stock more than he loves a whole roast chicken.
Watch: How are local Black chefs making their mark on the history of Black cuisine?
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