In true diasporic form, Bryant Terry’s work has a way of traveling far from its place of origin. In 2015, he became the first ever chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora, where he provided new vibrancy to their educational programs and events. The residency inspired a highly acclaimed cookbook that Bryant published in 2021: Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. And this weekend, that cookbook is the foundation of a two-day public summit celebrating the past, present and future of Black food.
The summit brings together many of the book’s contributors—a cast of preeminent Black chefs, artists, activists, and scholars—for a series of panels, workshops, parties and even naps that manifest the themes of Terry’s book. Napping is key, as Terry devotes a section to radical self-care.
Black Food is the product of a collective wake-up call, said Terry. In the summer of 2020, after the Black Lives Matter movement reconverged, Terry decided to put his feelings on the page.
“With the racial reckoning, as is often described in all the uprisings, I felt like this was the moment to bring this book into the world, specifically, more than just what was happening around police violence,” he said.
Terry, who also authored the cookbooks Afro-Vegan and Vegetable Kingdom, explained that by compiling an anthology of Black food traditions, he hoped to transcend the pain and oppression endured by people of the African Diaspora and arrive at a long-held place of Black joy—at the kitchen table.
On another level, he said he felt that the publishing industry needed a racial reckoning of its own. “In that historical moment, we learned about a lot of racism within food media and specifically some legacy food media publications,” he said. “So I wanted to create a book that gave voice to Black creatives to tell their stories about their connections with food.”
Food media is one of many arenas that have historically been subject to gatekeeping. Elizabeth Gessel, Director of Public Programs at MoAD, noted that although Terry is a success story, he’s faced the same obstacles as any other writer of color.
“Over the years, he's really gone through every kind of struggle with getting his work published,” she said. “He wanted to use his knowledge and the knowledge of the people that contributed to the book itself to tell people more about the publishing industry so that they could navigate it as well as he's been able to.”
The publication of Black Food signaled a larger turning point in food media. It was the first title from 4 Color Books, Terry’s own imprint of Penguin Random House.
At the Black Food Summit, he and other published authors will share lessons they’ve learned with writers hoping to find their names in print. Cultural anthropologist and activist Dr. Gail P. Myers will deliver the keynote speech on Friday at MoAD. She’s been embedded in the Bay Area’s sustainable food movement for decades as the co-founder of a Black farming organization called Farms to Grow, Inc., which has hosted the Freedom Farmers’ Market in Oakland since 2013.
Terry has also invited his collaborators from Penguin Random House to speak, including Jamia Wilson and Porscha Burke, who counts Maya Angelou among the list of authors she has edited.
On Saturday, the Black Food Summit will travel down the coast to TomKat Ranch, Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor’s grass-fed cattle ranch in Pescadero. That’s where the summit will fully embrace radical self-care, Terry said, with a full day of programming focused on leisure and lifestyle. Tricia Hershey—founder of the Nap Ministry, which positions downtime as a vital source of political resistance—will invite guests to rest.
As Terry told the Standard, the personal is always political in the Black kitchen. “Especially for Black people and other communities who've primarily been valued for their labor, I just think having space to chill and eat and celebrate is a politically active effort,” he said.
The choice to host the second day of the summit at businessman and 2020 presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s ranch makes sense if you consider sustainability as the meeting point between Terry’s culinary career and Steyer’s activism, said Gessel. “Bryant was interested in this idea of the connection to land, and TomKat Ranch really focuses on regenerative practices.”
For the Black Food Summit's final evening, guests will gather around the dinner table, where pitmaster Matt Horn of Horn Barbecue in West Oakland will serve a whole hog alongside dishes prepared by Jocelyn Jackson of JUSTUS Kitchen in Oakland, Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell's Soul Movement in Emeryville and several other leading local chefs.
A performance from the Oakland-based Kev Choice Ensemble, which fuses hip-hop, jazz and classical music, will round out the community supper. In fact, music touches everything Terry does. He curated a playlist for Black Food that includes the songs he couldn’t stop listening to in 2020. Terry noted that during the doldrums of that year, Ice Cube’s “Arrest the President” racked up quite the play count in his studio. And two years later, the song “Black Voices” by pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen embodies the joy we should expect from the Black Food Summit.
“If you listen closely to the arc of the soundtrack, I hope that you hear much of the energy and excitement that actually went into the book-making process,” Terry said.
In many ways, the summit is a culmination of Terry’s work at MoAD over the past seven years, but he’ll be the first to tell you that attention should be spread in every direction. “I've used my platform and privilege to uplift the next generation of authors and young activists to help them pick up the torch and continue the work.”
In the spirit of sharing food traditions, Terry offered up one of the recipes from Black Food.
JERK CHICKEN RAMEN
By Suzanne Barr
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Jamaican food will always connect me to my parents. This dish is a dream for me: it represents who I am as a chef and celebrates my mother and father’s birthplace, Jamaica, as well as the history of my ancestors, the Maroons, the Taino, and the Arawak people. An early form of food preservation used in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica was smoking spiced and marinated food over pimento wood; this is jerk.
I learned the ritual of eating from my mother. I also went to cooking school because of her. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I decided to move home to Plantation, Florida, to take care of her. The hardest part of that experience was the fact that I didn’t know how to cook for her. She had spent so much of her life in the kitchen lovingly preparing food for me, my siblings, and my father, and I didn’t even know where to begin. My journey in becoming a chef started because of her. She believed in the saying, “full the belly.”
The recipe I developed is in honor of my mother’s strength and her influence on me. I wanted to acknowledge the challenges she faced as a young woman leaving Jamaica and moving to London. The decision to fuse these two incredible dishes, jerk chicken and ramen, reflects my love for travel and influences that inspired my journey as a Black female chef. I respect and honor the ritual of making ramen, with its origins in China and now a mainstay in Japanese cuisine.
JERK CHICKEN MARINADE
2 bunches scallions, white and light-green parts only, trimmed, greens reserved
3 carrots, cut into coins
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, stems removed
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons peeled and thinly sliced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 cup ground allspice
1⁄2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons white vinegar
11⁄2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1⁄4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds chicken thighs, bones removed and reserved for broth
1 pound reserved chicken bones from thighs
1 pound chicken necks and chicken backs
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, quartered
1⁄2 bunch thyme
3 scallions, root ends trimmed
1 knob ginger, peeled
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2 bay leaves
4 quarts water
3⁄4 cup pineapple juice
4 (3-ounce) packages dried ramen noodles
1⁄4 cup reserved jerk chicken liquid
1⁄4 cup pineapple juice
1⁄4 cup soy sauce
2 soft-boiled eggs
Reserved scallion greens, sliced
1 cup steamed cabbage
TO MAKE THE MARINADE: Turn the oven to 375°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a bowl, place the scallions, carrots, and chiles. Drizzle with the oil, coating well.
Spread the scallion, carrots, and chiles evenly on the prepared pan. Roast in the oven until the ingredients are charred but not burnt, 12 to 17 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the ingredients to cool before coarsely chopping and placing them in a food processor with the remaining marinade ingredients. Puree until you have a thick pastelike consistency. Reserve ¼ cup of the marinade to be used later in the tare recipe.
TO MARINATE THE CHICKEN: Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl and massage with the jerk marinade, allowing to sit overnight in the fridge or for a minimum of 2 hours before cooking.
TO MAKE THE BROTH: In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add the reserved chicken bones and chicken necks and backs, and boil for 10 minutes. A lot of scum will surface. Drain and wash the bones under running cold water, one by one, removing coagulated blood along the spine of the chicken and any other brown bits.
Add the cleaned bones and the rest of the broth ingredients to the cleaned pot along with the water and pineapple juice, then bring to a boil. When scum surfaces, occasionally scoop it off gently using a ladle. Do not mix the broth with the ladle when removing the scum, since it will cause the broth to become cloudy. After removing the scum four or five times, turn down the heat to simmer gently. Simmer for 2 hours with a lid on but slightly ajar, allowing for ventilation. Turn off the heat. Put the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and collect only the liquid; discard the solids.
TO ROAST THE CHICKEN: Remove the chicken from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before roasting. Turn the broiler on. Place the chicken thighs in a roasting pan in an even layer; do not stack directly on top of each other. Allow the chicken to caramelize, 15 to 20 minutes, to give the thighs a nice charred flavor. Turn down the oven to 350°F and remove the pan from the oven. Add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan and cover with tinfoil. Return the pan to the oven for another 20 to 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the meat is tender and juicy. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool before placing the chicken thighs on a cooling rack. Once cool, slice the chicken thighs into strips. Strain the jerk chicken liquid and reserve for later.
TO PREPARE THE RAMEN: Bring water to a boil in a medium pot, according to package instructions, add the noodles, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until tender, then drain.
TO MAKE THE TARE AND SERVE: Place 1 teaspoon of the reserved jerk chicken liquid, 1 tablespoon of pineapple juice, and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce into each bowl.
TO SERVE: Ladle the broth into four bowls and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the noodles to the bowls and then top with the sliced chicken. Garnish each bowl with ½ soft-boiled egg, sliced scallions, and ¼ cup steamed cabbage.
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]