New York exhibit celebrates African-American food culture
New York Exhibit Celebrates African-American Food History
‘African/American: Making the Nation’s Table’ is a new exhibition in New York that examines the traditions and innovations of African American cuisine
The Museum of Food and Beverage (MOFAD) is partnering with the Africa Center to present “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” at the Africa Center, Aliko Dangote Hall in New York. The landmark New York exhibit explores the fundamental role that African American food and beverage producers, from chefs to farmers, have played in American food culture, emphasizing that “African American food is American food” .
The show is curated by acclaimed author and culinary historian Jessica B Harris, alongside an advisory board of 30 visionaries currently working in the African American culinary landscape, including musician and author Questlove; ancient Ebony food writers Charlotte Lyons and Charla Draper; author of The Southern Cookbook Nicole Taylor; and Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster.
“African American cuisine is American cuisine”
“I’ve spent over four decades writing about African American food culture,” Harris says. ‘Why? Because our story is on the plate. For this reason, we must tell our story and tell it well. The “Africans/Americans: Making the Nation’s Table” exhibit is the first of its kind to reveal the depth and breadth of African American contributions to our nation’s food culture. Now is the time to celebrate, savor, and remember that African American food is American food.
The Heritage Quilt
The centerpiece of the exhibit is The Legacy Quilt, a stunning 14-foot-tall by nearly 28-foot-wide work that assembles hundreds of portraits of African-American culinary personalities, such as James Hemings (1765 – 1801), the first American trained as a French chef, who introduced the United States to copper cookware, European-style macaroni and cheese, and french fries; Nearest Green (c. 1820 – unknown), the first recorded African-American master distiller, who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey and, in 1856, as a slave, refined the characteristic charcoal filtration method of Tennessee; and many other notable innovators who have been overlooked or under-recognized by history.
The Legacy Quilt features artwork by artist Adrian Franks, presentations by writer Osayi Endolyn, and is sewn by the Harlem Needle Arts quilt collective. It also includes a virtual companion piece that allows visitors to submit stories of their own African American culinary heroes, emphasizing that documenting history should be a collaborative and ever-expanding effort.
Alongside The Legacy Quilt, visitors can also immerse themselves in the Ebony kitchen test magazine where Ebony editors developed the iconic “Date with a Dish” column. Open to the public for the first time, the test kitchen serves as a stage for video interviews with former Ebony food editors and a soundtrack curated by musician, farmer and chef Kelis. Visitors will also be able to interact with a replica dinner table that reveals stories of migration, culinary culture touchpoints, and memories of sharing meals with loved ones.
Visitors to the exhibit “Africans/Americans: Setting the Nation’s Table” can also purchase “Lunches in a Shoebox” inspired by the meals that African-American travelers packed into shoeboxes during the Great Migration.
MOFAD Chairman Nazli Parviz says, “MOFAD produces exhibitions and other public programs that help people better access their own history and the history of the people around them as it manifests itself. through food and drink. We are committed to collaborating with other New York City cultural institutions to give exposure to stories that may have been understated, untold, or erased in the course of history and the narrow narratives that dominate it – and to share these vital legacies in new and profound ways.
“This large-scale exhibit, the first of its kind, explores the many ways in which African Americans have shaped the American dining experience. Much of what we grow and how we grow it, and what we eat and how we eat it, derives from these invaluable contributions. §