The ebony experimental kitchen, which celebrates black cuisine, is reborn

When Charlotte Lyons first walked in Ebony experimenting with kitchens in Chicago after becoming the magazine’s culinary editor in 1985, a thought popped into her head: “Wow!”

Here, amid the psychedelic waves of orange, green and purple that roll along the walls, Black cuisine is free to become experimental and futuristic. For Ebony readers, the magazine’s food was a central element of black identity and pride.

When the kitchen was built in the early 1970s, it heralded the magazine’s place in the food court, a legacy that began a quarter of a century ago with Freda DeKnight, an accomplished chef and editor. Culinary officer who paved the way for future generations of Black women in America’s Food Media.

“The Ebony kitchen is definitely one of the ways in which so many people, both African-American and non-African-American, perceive the vastness of the African-American food range,” says Jessica B. Harrisa culinary scholar and author of “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to the Americas. ”

Lee Bey, an assistant professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says the look of the kitchen is almost indescribable. “I liken it to a kind of Non-Central Modernism, where there is color and fabric, ostrich leather and feathers in the same color and wallpaper with angular motifs and each floor is different,” he said.

When built half a century ago, the Ebony kitchen was at the heart of black American food culture in the media. John H. Johnson, owner of the Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, built a headquarters that reflected Black creativity and innovation, his company reported in several American magazines. the nation’s top African-Americans, including Ebony and Jet.

John Moutoussamy 11-story building design and equipped kitchen by a team that includes Arthur Elrod and William Raiserboth are known for their Palm Springs decor, with the most modern technology of the time such as ovens, mixers, hidden toasters, trash compactors, and refrigerators with ice and water machines.

It has almost been lost to history. Johnson Publishing Company closed the kitchen in 2010 and sold the building to a Chicago developer, but Landmarks Illinois, a conservation nonprofit, was able to save the kitchen before it was demolished. cancel, buy it for a dollar. The Food and Beverage Museum has temporarily taken ownership of the kitchen and moved it to New York, where it restored the room to its former vibrant glory.

Prior to the opening of the test kitchen, some of the most important black women in the US food press created culinary coverage in Ebony, including Mrs. DeKnight, who became a food editor. the magazine’s first publication in 1946.

An enthusiastic traveler and “leading home economist,” Ms. DeKnight has traveled across the United States to learn about the culinary traditions of black American home chefs, while deepening her understanding of international cuisines and flavors. She shares her findings through recipes published in her monthly column, “A Date With a Dish,” speaking to Black chefs with varying degrees of knowledge. and different experiences. Many of these recipes have been collected in “Dating a Food: A Cookbook of Black American RecipesPublished in 1948, was one of the first major books African-American cookbooks published for Black audiences.

“She understood that all over the country, there were Black people and Black professionals in every small city and in every state, and that was exactly who she was after,” the journalist said. Donna Battle Pierce, who is working on a book about the life of Ms. DeKnight. “She said, ‘I’m not writing this for anyone but us,’ and I love the concept.”

Ebony readers can share family recipes that will be vetted by professional chefs and editors, and Selected recipes will receive a $25 prize and a magazine article. The internationally influential recipes Ms. DeKnight increasingly admires, such as rose petal pudding, fruitcake, peanut soup and mulligawny soup, can be found on the pages of Ms. DeKnight. Ebony, along with improvements to dishes perhaps more familiar to the black American community, including Ebony Chicken and Dumplings and Hoppin’ John.

Mrs. DeKnight’s column began to flourish after her death in 1963. Under the direction of food editor Charla L. Draper and later Ms. Lyons, Ebony doubled down on the column, sharing stories that helped Readers prepare dishes such as radish, broccoli, fried catfish and fried chicken in the oven.

“A lot of people have come to Ebony for recipes that are familiar or have become part of our culture,” says Lyons. “And I think that’s why people love that column so much. Maybe they don’t have their grandmother’s pancake or sweet potato recipe. But we can make it for them, and we’ll bring all of that to life. “

Although the kitchen is not open to the public, a large window allows any visitor to the building to see whatever is soaking, boiling, or browning. Celebrities, however, will sometimes get some luck. According to Ms. Lyons, before Janet Jackson became a vegetarian, the singer was known to frequent and enjoy fried chicken with a little honey. Michael Jackson is known to visit, sometimes in disguise, while other celebrities such as Mike Tyson and Sammy Davis, Jr. also visit. Even presidents, including Barack Obama, will drop by the iconic kitchen.

“People used to laugh because whenever the president came, the Secret Service used to like to hang out in the experimental kitchen because I always had coffee and there was always food in the experimental kitchen,” she said.

Celebrity encounters are memorable, but for Dr. Harris, the magic of the experimental kitchen is its ability to educate the world about black American cuisine.

“An unusual number of African-American households have seen Ebony whether they are registered or not,” Dr. Harris said. “When you consider it to be a magazine about international issues and people internationally, and certainly food internationally, you begin to understand how Ebony – through the kitchen , through kitchen-tested recipes – then expanding not just African-American knowledge of food, our food, and our food in the human community Their American American, but also about connecting that world. “

Along with the restored kitchen, visitors to the “American/African” exhibition in Harlem will learn about African-American cuisine, from agriculture and culinary arts, to hospitality, to food and drink. brewing and brewing to entrepreneurship and migration.

A colorful heritage quilt recognizing 406 African-American contributions to food greets guests as they enter the exhibit. A lunch in a revolving shoebox, curated by chefs like Carla Hall, Adrienne Cheatham and Kwame Onwuachi, ends the experience for an additional fee, allowing visitors to partake in American traditions African descent experienced while traveling through the separate Deep South.

“These stories are important,” says Catherine M. Piccoli, director of the Food and Beverage Museum. “We need to be able to share them, we need to be able to acknowledge our shared history of trauma and racism, and celebrate African-American ingenuity, creativity, and cuisine.” .”

The celebration begins with a participation in the test kitchen, a space that can be so easily lost.

“It is not only the source of many things, but also what is with us that we remain,” Dr. Harris said. “There’s so much that we don’t have, which deserves doubly respect because it already exists, and just barely exists.”

“African Americans/Americans: Making a National Table,” introduced to the Food and Beverage Museum, Africa Center at Aliko Dangote Hall, 1280 Fifth Avenue, 212-444-9795,

Cooking recipe: Ebony’s Rose Petal Pudding | Ebony’s Chicken and Dumplings | Honey Glazed Carrot The ebony experimental kitchen, which celebrates black cuisine, is reborn

Fry Electronics Team

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