In the USA, there are approximately 941,000 individuals employed as chefs. How many of these chefs can you name off the top of your head? You may have heard of famous figures like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Wolfgang Puck. However, can you name any celebrity African-American chefs?
Even though every one out of five chefs in The United States is African-American, according to the Bureau of Labor, Black cooks are socially isolated, discriminated against, and have a lack of representation in the media. While the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be a pressing topic in our current times, efforts are being made to bring attention to black narratives, specifically in the culinary world.
Despite facing many hurdles, African-American chefs have beaten the odds and created a platform for others, as well as continued to break racial barriers. In a time where representation is important for our society and the younger generation, take a moment to support such individuals by learning more about their background, passion, and get a taste of their cooking.
Here are ten African American chefs who have made great names for themselves in the culinary world.
Carla Hall, Washington, D.C.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Carla Hall spent much of her career fighting for visibility in the culinary industry. She landed appearances on Top Chef, The Chew, Good Morning America and many more. She has authored three cookbooks centered around soul food, and one of them has received an NAACP Image Awards nomination.
Hall believes food connects everyone and strives to communicate through her work and cooking. Hall is the Culinary Ambassador for Sweet Home Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There, she works to promote and connect the experience of the museum through the history of the food.
Leah Chase, Louisiana
Leah Chase is the nation’s preeminent Creole chef who brought New Orleans Creole cooking to international attention. After high school, she took a job at a French Quarter restaurant where it sparked a deep love of food in her. Alongside other numerous rewards, Chase was inducted into the James Beard Foundation in 2010. She received awards from the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women and Southern Foodway Alliance.
The late 96-year-old was the chief chef at her restaurant, Dooky Chase’s. It once was a hotspot for civil rights organizers to plan their course of action in the 1950s. Several famous figures, like Barack Obama and James Baldwin, have dined at Dooky Chase’s. If you’re craving classic, Creole cuisine, be sure to visit!
Todd Richards, Georgia
The two-time James Beard Award semifinalist is a fixture of the culinary scene in Atlanta. Todd Richards worked at several fine-dining restaurants including The Four Seasons Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead before opening his own – Richards’ Southern Fried in 2016. Here, guests can have a taste of unique spin on casual southern dishes like fried chicken tenders, mac and cheese, black eyed peas, and chicken and waffle wings.
Just recently, Richards released his first cookbook – Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution, which includes roughly 150 recipes. Each page highlights the versatility of humble ingredients like onions, corn and tomatoes. It also aids in transforming them into delicious one-of-a-kind meals. Check out his cookbook below.
Marisa Baggett, Tennessee
Marisa Baggett is the first female African-American to graduate from the California Sushi Academy. With her mission to share the art of making sushi, she has authored two cookbooks – Sushi Secrets and Vegetarian Sushi Secrets.
For three years, she worked at Do Sushi Bar and Lounge in Memphis, where she showcased her delicate skill in sashimi, nigiri-zushi, makimono and kaiseki. Though Baggett has since stepped down from her role, she is now focusing on sharing the art of sushi as a traveling itamae (Japanese chef) by teaching classes at markets, private homes and at events.
Erick Williams, Illinois
Erick Williams was influenced by his great-grandmother’s Southern cooking and her insistence on connecting with anyone who sat at her table. He learned that sharing a meal is a universal expression of respect and dignity. The Chicago native is currently nominated for a James Beard Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region.
Williams is the chef/owner of Virtue restaurant in Chicago. Since its opening in 2018, the restaurant has won Best New Restaurants in America for its twist on classic Southern American food. He also currently works on his personal goal of racial inclusivity and training young people of color in the industry.
Mariya Russell, Illinois
This Ohio native chef found her passion for cooking at the young age of 14. Since then, Mariya Russell’s love for food led her to receive a Michelin Star in 2019. That made her the first African-American woman to do so. Russell’s unique style of cooking is omakase, which flirts with Japanese methodology and fully controls a person’s dining experience. Anyone can immerse themselves in this experience at the previous restaurant she worked at, Kumiko and Kikko, where she served elegant seven-course meals.
Since winning a Micheline Star and stepping down from her sous chef position at Kumiko and Kikko, Russell has plans to use her platform to mentor other aspiring Black chefs. Be sure to follow her at @mariyaleniserussel on Instagram.
Rodney Scott, South Carolina
Not many people can say that they have cooked a whole hog at the age of 11, but Rodney Scott sure can! Since his first hog, he has become one of the most famed pit-masters in the country. Scott has made appearances on TV-shows such as Parts Unknown, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and at countless food festivals.
In 2017, Scott turned his craft into a full-fledged restaurant called Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, with locations in Charleston, Birmingham and (opening soon) Atlanta. Here, you can literally order a whole pig, or if you want something lighter, pit-cooked chicken and spare ribs.
Dolester Miles, Alabama
This world-class pastry chef engaged in her craft for over 30 years before winning her first James Beard Award. It’s safe to say that Dolester Miles is not only one of the greatest pastry talents in the South, but also in the United States. If you have one chance to try her baking, order the Coconut Pecan Cake, which is a nutty and tropical. However, Miles is versatile in her experience and can create any dessert from classic southern pound cake to traditional French dacquoise.
Mile’s inspiration for creating pastries stems from her mother, who taught her how to bake. When in Birmingham, Alabama, stop by the Highlands Bar and Grill to try her pastries.
BJ Dennis, South Carolina
Many consider BJ Dennis the country’s leading ambassador of Gullah-Geechee cooking, which is a grain-based, hearty cuisine that is usually paired with seafood. To keep the African-Gullah culture alive, Dennis travels across the nation and cooks at pop-ups and events. He has also made appearances on Top Chef and Parts Unknown to educate viewers on the history and culinary techniques of the low country’s cuisine.
To learn more about Gullah-Geechee cuisine and to keep up with Dennis’ next pop-up event, check out his Instagram page.
Edouardo Jordan, Washington
Since the opening of his second restaurant, JuneBaby, Edouardo Jordan received Eater’s Best New Restaurants in 2017 and Food & Wine’s Best Restaurant of 2018. He also received a three-star review from the New York Times. Jordan was also a double winner at the 2018 James Beard Awards.
Eduardo explores his Southern roots and the cuisine of the African-American diaspora with JuneBaby’s celebration of Black, Southern food. He also celebrates the breadth of southern cuisine by showing the world that it can be high-brow and low-brow. Take the time to experience how food can showcase humble West African beginnings at Seattle based JuneBaby.
~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.