First major exhibition to highlight African American culinary history coming to Harlem next year

Posted On Wed, November 6, 2019 By

Posted On Wed, November 6, 2019 By In Events, Harlem, History

Exhibition renderings courtesy of the Museum of Food and Drink

Next February the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) will bring together the country’s first exhibition celebrating the countless ways in which African Americans have shaped American cuisine. Curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, a leading expert on the foods of the African Diaspora, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table will take place at The Africa Center in Harlem and feature musical selections by Questlove, tastings by Chef Carla Hall, and a restoration of the historic Ebony Magazine Test Kitchen.

Museum of Food and Drink, African/American: Making the Nation's TableExhibition renderings courtesy of the Museum of Food and Drink

“This exhibition has been years in the making, we first started talking about it in 2012 and moved forward with the project in 2017,” Peter J. Kim, the Executive Director of MOFAD told 6sqft in an email. “The sheer foundational importance of this story is only matched by its obscurity—it is truly a shame that there has never been a major exhibition on the subject. We are honored to be able to finally pay due recognition to the countless Black chefs, farmers, brewers, and distillers who have made this nation’s table.”

“In the 400-plus years since enslaved Africans first arrived on the North American continent, African Americans have been the bedrock of American cuisine,” Dr. Harris added in a statement. “For centuries, we worked the fields, harvested the crops, wrote the recipes, brewed the beer, distilled the whiskey, cooked the food, set the table, served the food, cleared the table, and emptied the chamber-pots. In so doing, we made this nation’s table — and our influence continues today.”

Museum of Food and Drink, African/American: Making the Nation's TableImage via Library of Congress

The exhibition will be centered around four stories: the enslaved rice farmers who established rice agriculture in the United States; the story of James Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson who popularized French food; how Nathan “Nearest” Green taught a young Jack Daniel to distill whiskey; and Leah Chase, the queen of Creole cuisine who’s restaurant, Dooky Chase, fed the the civil rights movement. A massive Legacy Quilt made by artist Adrian Franks and composed of 400 blocks will represent the stories of other African American culinary innovators.

Museum of Food and Drink, African/American: Making the Nation's Table
Photo credit: Lee Bey Architectural Photography

Also on view will be a preserved Ebony Test Kitchen—recently acquired by MOFAD at auction— from which Ebony Magazine tested recipes for its iconic ‘Date with a Dish’ column and popularized African American food as American food. Questlove will curate music for the kitchen, while videos of Ebony editors talking about its cultural relevance will bring greater context for visitors.

What would a food exhibition be without food tastings? Carla Hall, Top Chef contestant and former co-host of The Chew on ABC, will curate tastings inspired by the “shoebox lunch,” a tradition that emerged during the Great Migration when African Americans were often refused food service.

To bring this multi-faceted and critical exhibition to life, MOFAD is currently raising funds on Kickstarter. The campaign wraps up in just one day, so make sure to show your support while you still can. Backers can get early access to the exhibition and some nice perks, including an Ebony Kitchen-themed apron.

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