Multiple cookbooks written by Black authors are displayed in ICE's New York campus library

Recommended Cookbooks by Black Authors | Black History Month Special

Food traditions often play an extremely important part in forming a person's identity.

In practice, a "food tradition" can be simple — cooking a recipe with a particular ingredient; a family trademark. It can also be as complex as a multi-course meal with carefully-curated foods served in a specific order to evoke meaning.

These food traditions, both small and large, hold a deep cultural significance to many Black Americans.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the culinary industry. Contemporary Black American chefs, including many ICE alumni, are constantly innovating in the field and redefining the scope of American cooking as we know it.

You may not even have to travel to taste their work — just check your local library. 

In honor of Black History Month, Institute of Culinary Education Chef-Instructor Gill Boyd recommended six of his favorite food-centric texts and cookbooks written by Black authors. The list explores recipes and food history through the lens of contemporary Black chefs and historians.

Books recommended by Chef-Instructor Gill Boyd and descriptions written by Rose Kernochan, Librarian at the ICE NY campus. 

"Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes from my Southern Revival"

By Alexander Smalls

Chef Alexander Smalls (right), with Chef Andrew Black (left) and copy of "Grace the Table"

Alexander Smalls, a former opera singer, burst onto the restaurant scene in 1994 with Cafe Beulah, a Harlem hot spot which attracted luminaries like Quincy Jones, Toni Morrison and Spike Lee.

In "Grace the Table," Chef Alexander combines his storytelling talent with his love for food to tell the story of his journey from his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Europe and eventually to Manhattan. A hundred of the dishes he invented during his travels are sprinkled throughout the book, including Southern Revival dishes such as black-eyed peas with arugula and macaroni-and-cheese terrine with Creole sauce.

"Grace the Table" is Chef Alexander's first book of three. His second, "Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day" was released in 2018, and his most recent title "Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen"came out in 2020.

"The New Low Country Cooking: 125 Recipes for Coastal Southern Cooking with Continental Style"

By Marvin Woods

For centuries, the Low-Country cooks of South Carolina have taken the diverse foods of Africa, France, Spain, and the Caribbean and turned them into one of America’s most intriguing regional cuisines. Chef Marvin Woods, chef/owner of Diaspora Foods in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers a new take on this extraordinary cuisine—transforming standards like fried chicken and gumbo into updated dishes for today's kitchen.

Chef Marvin also shares historical tidbits on how dishes and ingredients got their names, where they originated, and the indisputable importance of African-American cooks in Southern life.

"My America: Recipes from A Young Black Chef"

By Kwame Onwuachi, with Joshua David Stein

Readers will remember Chef Kwame, the James Beard award-winning chef of Tatiana, from his important memoir, "Notes from a Young Black Chef."

In his latest book, he celebrates the food of the African Diaspora, as handed down through his own family history, spanning Nigeria to the Caribbean, the South to the Bronx, and beyond. From Nigerian Jollof, Puerto Rican Red Bean Sofrito, and Trinidadian Channa (Chickpea) Curry to Jambalaya, Baby Back Ribs, and Red Velvet Cake, these are global home recipes that represent the best of the patchwork that is American cuisine.

Chef Kwame Onuwachi smiles
Chef Kwame Onuwachi. Credit: TJ Kirkpatrick

"High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa To America"

By Jessica B. Harris

Acclaimed cookbook author and historian Jessica B. Harris (winner of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award) has spent much of her career researching the food and foodways of the African Diaspora. "High on the Hog," a bestselling book and Netflix series, is the culmination of years of her work, and the result is an engaging history of African American cuisine. Harris takes the reader on a harrowing journey from Africa across the Atlantic to America, tracking the trials that the people and the food have undergone along the way.

From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form such an important part of African American culture, history, and identity.

"The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South"

By Michael Twitty

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine. "The Cooking Gene" was named a 2018 James Beard Foundation Book of the Year.

"African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture"

Ed. Anne L Bower

Ranging from seventeenth-century West African fare to contemporary fusion dishes using soul food ingredients, this book provides an introduction to many aspects of African American foodways and an antidote to popular misconceptions about soul food. Examining the combination of African, Caribbean, and South American traditions, the volume's contributors offer lively insights from history, literature, sociology, anthropology, and African American studies to demonstrate how food's material and symbolic values have contributed to African Americans' identity for centuries.

Individual chapters examine how African foodways survived the passage into slavery, cultural meanings associated with African American foodways, and the contents of African American cookbooks, both early and recent.

Hungry for More?

This list is just a taste of the rich world of Black-authored food literature. For more, please visit your local library and support Black-owned bookstores, such as BEM Books & More in Brooklyn, New York and Octavia's Bookshelf in Pasadena, California.

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