I recently interviewed food editor extraordinaire Jamila Robinson for my podcast The Blackest Questions. I was curious to speak to this amazing Black woman who is a food editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and regional chair of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. There are not many Black people, let alone Black women, in these elite food spaces and as the holidays approach, I was curious to hear from her about the power of memory and community when discussing, cooking, and eating food.
I am always fascinated at how recipes are shared and passed down through generations. For example, in Jamila’s family, her grandmother kept detailed recipes with exact and precise measurements. For some, baking and cooking are like science, filled with chemistry in the kitchen. As we talked about our favorite pies and recipes, I shared that my grandmother rarely wrote down her recipes. Luckily for me, I “translated” her sweet potato pie recipe one year since my grams didn’t own a measuring cup. Everything was done by “feel” as we added more sugar and butter to our pies.
As I shared stories of cooking with my grams, Jamila reminded me that so much of the experience in the kitchen involves sharing the stories from our loved ones while cooking or learning to cook. How we taste food or prepare food is wrapped in our history, our culture, and our sense of place and belonging. Who are we if we do not know the stories of our food? As we begin to gather for the holidays, it is so important we share stories with our loved ones as well as learn stories from family members while we prepare and/or eat our family recipes.
Speaking to Jamila made me think of the conversations I’ve had with famed Haitian chef Nadege Fleurimond. If Jamila’s love language is pie, Nadege’s love language is plantains. I was curious as to how she began her journey as a chef, an educator, a business owner, and a lover of plantains. I am fascinated as to how these two Black women navigate elite culinary spaces that often do not have many Black women in their ranks. What struck me about my conversation with both women is their understanding of memory and creating memories in the kitchen.
I implore you to spend a little time talking to your family members this holiday season about your family recipes and the memories attached to them. So much of our shared cultures throughout and across the diaspora involve food. Here’s a small assignment for this holiday season: write down a family recipe and share it with another family member or friend. And whether you decide to cook or reap the benefits of those who do, have a safe and enjoyable holiday season.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of The Blackest Questions podcast at TheGrio.