African-American Pioneers in Foodservice

Posted by TMC Digital Media on Feb 15, 2022 11:28:13 AM

In food and beverage


Celebrating diversity in foodservice is something we’re passionate about.

To help spread the word, we’re writing about contributors, past and present, from marginalized groups who have helped in various areas of the food world. The first group we’re honoring is African-American Foodservice Pioneers.

Mashama Bailey

New York born and raised, Mashama Bailey spent summers with her grandmother near Savannah, Georgia. After getting plenty of hands-on cooking experience from the women in her family, Bailey studied at the Institute of Culinary Education and in France before returning to New York City to work in several restaurants. Now the partner and Executive Chef of The Grey in Savannah, Bailey has become one of the renowned chefs in the United States. Housed in a 1930s former Greyhound Bus terminal, The Grey relies on local, seasonal ingredients for its menu selections to bring variety and flavor to every seating.

Leah Chase

Cookbook author. Television host. Restaurant owner. Wearing many hats, Leah Chase led the culinary way in New Orleans. Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, she and her husband opened the famous Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in 1941. An important part of American history, the restaurant was often used as a meeting place for the Civil Rights Movement meetings and hosted activists such as Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Edna Lewis

Born in Virginia in a community founded by her formerly enslaved grandfather, Edna Lewis lived a well-rounded life she dedicated to the preservation of Southern cooking. Originally a seamstress, Lewis became a chef in a friend's restaurant that was popular with artists, writers, and actors. Eventually, she also ran her own restaurant and had a catering business. Working with book editor Judith Jones, Lewis wrote The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976. A mix of food history and recipes of foods from the south, it became a bestseller. An advocate for Southern cooking for the remainder of her life, she was the first recipient of the James Beard Living Legacy award and is the namesake of the Edna Lewis Foundation, which advocates for African-Americans in the fields of agriculture, cooking, and food storytelling.

Adrian E. Miller

Also known as The Soul Food Scholar, Adrian E. Miller is a James Beard Foundation award-winning writer who’s an expert on the history of African-American foods. An attorney who worked as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, Miller has written books about the African-American chefs who have cooked for presidents and the history of African-Americans and barbeque. The tastiest of his books (in our opinion)is Soul Food. In it, Miller constructs a traditional soul food meal and explores the history and legacy of each dish. There are also recipes so readers can recreate the meals. As Miller says, he’s dropping knowledge like hot biscuits, and we’re here for it!

Mariya Russell

In 2019, Mariya Russell was the first Black woman to be awarded a Michelin star for her work in Chicago's Japanese dining bar, Kumiko. Raised in Ohio, Russell graduated from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and worked in restaurants in Illinois and South Carolina before heading the kitchen where she earned her aclaim. And while Russell has left Kumiko to take some time off, she's still interested in foodservice and dreams of improving home economics in schools while she ponders her next steps.  

Michael W. Twitty

The author of the food blog Afroculinaria, Michael W. Twitty wears many hats to tell his stories. A Judaic studies teacher who also is a historic interpreter, Twitty works to tell the story of how recipes, cultural history, politics, and food heritage are all intertwined. With his book The Cooking Gene, Twitty explores his family, their forced journey from Africa to the United States, and how food has always played an integral part in that history. A James Beard award winner, Twitty has said he has a goal of mastering the cooking techniques of Black ancestors from both colonial and Antebellum periods. Showing that he knows that food is more than 'just food'. That it's an exploration of struggles, achievements, traditions, and history through the lens of a well-executed meal.

Do you have a story about a favorite experience at a soul food restaurant or a favorite soul food meal? Share it with us on LinkedIn - we're sending a signed copy of Adrian E. Miller's book Soul Food to our favorite entry!

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