7 Cookbooks by Black Chefs That Serve Up More Than Just Meals
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
My grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles would all pour into our home throughout the day, eagerly awaiting their favorite dish.
During those times, my mom transformed into executive chef and drill sergeant, sending my sister and me on grocery store runs for obscure ingredients or directing us to remove cobwebs from forgotten corners of the house.
The scents wafting from my mom's magic entrées and appetizers were intoxicating. They made all the toil worth it.
Our home burst with the scent of warm syrupy-sweet yams, smoked turkey necks drowning in collard greens, a countertop completely covered by her pound cake, and sweet potato pie whipped to perfection.
I always looked forward to those family dinners, my relatives' laughing faces, and their overflowing plates.
As much as I loved our quality family time, those dinners fueled my fear of cooking. I could never accept and conquer the mental preparation it required: the brainstorming, the grocery lists, the grocery store lines, the time management.
I couldn't bear the hefty expectations of cooking as a way to maintain our Black American cultural and family traditions, a mix of Southern roots with Pacific Northwest nuance.
I added cooking to the list of things that I knew were important, but that I probably would never really care about (kind of like backing up my devices regularly). I didn't want to spend the necessary energy to learn how to achieve those glorious family dinners — or even everyday meals.
Cooking required too much pressure and preparation. Cooking required too much of myself.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again
Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.
I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.
Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.
In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.
These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.
by Toni Tipton-Martin
Who says a cookbook can't also be a history lesson?
Tipton-Martin draws on her nutritionist and food activist background to amass over 125 recipes that demonstrate the complexity and nuance of soul food.
"Jubilee" pushes beyond the trope of soul food as survival wherein enslaved and impoverished Africans created a new cuisine out of plantation scraps. The author showcases the culinary skills of Black chefs who were enslaved, entrepreneurs, upper class, and everything in between.
Whether it's the black-eyed pea fritters, okra gumbo, or braised lamb shanks with peanut sauce, you will be joyfully full.
by Marcus Samuelsson
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Chef Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem. It was undoubtedly my bougiest Black fantasy.
The food was simple but decadent, and the ambiance was Black, beautiful, and triumphant, much like the neighborhood. Samuelsson's cookbook leans into his Swedish-Ethiopian and Afropolitan experiences with recipes for chicken and waffles, cornbread and bird funk, wild wild wings, and donuts with sweet potato cream.
Interspersed with poignant photos of Harlem, this cookbook is Samuelson's tribute to this culturally iconic neighborhood.
by Lauren Von Der Pool
If she's a good enough chef for Stevie Wonder, Common, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Sebi, and Venus and Serena Williams, she's good enough for me!
Celebrity chef Von Der Pool wrote "Eat Yourself Sexy" to empower female-identified readers on their inner journey toward sexiness through raw food and homemade beauty products.
If you're intimidated by a plant-based diet or DIY beauty, this is a must-read. Chef Von Der Pool's simple recipes, stunning photos, and comprehensive information about eating whole foods will inspire you to get started.
by Ayesha Curry
Outspoken and unapologetic Food Network host, restaurateur, mom, and wife Ayesha Curry, gifts readers with 100 recipes that are perfect for your hectic work-life balance.
My older sister (also coincidentally named Aisha) has fed our family with Curry's recipes that range from mouthwatering brown sugar bacon, game day chili, and harvest sangria, to white chocolate bread pudding and butternut squash mash.
"The Seasoned Life" shows audiences why Ayesha is Chef Curry with the pot.
by Jerrelle Guy
Inspired by #blackgirlmagic, this cookbook is Guy's empowering journey of accepting her fullest self through cooking.
Perhaps what makes her cookbook so defining is her insistence that readers abandon the idea of baking perfection and fall in love with the process of baking instead.
The recipes don't disappoint, either. Strawberry balsamic cupcakes, sweet potato rice crispies, and peanut butter jelly bread? Yes, please!
by Tanya Holland
Inspired by Chef Holland's Brown Sugar Kitchen restaurant in Oakland, California, her cookbook offers over 80 recipes that are simply delicious.
Her soul food entrées include everything from shrimp gumbo, black-eyed peas' salad, chili glazed salmon, to cornmeal waffles with apple cider syrup.
While Bryant doesn't shy away from popular favorites like fried chicken, she includes alternative options for eaters with dietary restrictions.
by Bryant Terry
Food activist and chef Bryant Terry offers perfectly seasoned vegan recipes from the African Diaspora that will impress even your most carnivorous dinner guests.
Terry combines ingredients from seemingly disparate regions like North Africa, the American South, and the Caribbean into delicious dishes like sweet potato and lima bean tagine, pomegranate peach BBQ sauce, and skillet cornbread with pecan dukkah.
"Afro-Vegan" even includes genre-diverse playlists to accompany Terry's recipes. My aunt's personal favorite is the savory grits with slow-cooked collard greens. You can listen to the accompanying song, "The Funk," here.
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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