As the year enters its final few months, the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is gearing up for the release of its newest exhibition, African/American: Making the Nation’s Table, held at and in collaboration with The Africa Center. This exhibition is the first in the United States to celebrate black chefs, farmers and food producers that have been fundamental in the development of the country’s food culture. Executive Director of MOFAD Peter Kim tells MOLD that, at its core, the “message of this exhibition is that African American food is American food.” Curated by Jessica B. Harris, a food historian, cookbook author and expert on food from the African Diaspora, the project aims to highlight how the Diaspora has shaped American food and culture.
Visitors to African/American will first encounter the Legacy Quilt, a textile piece made of 400 different segments, with each patch representing the journey of an African American culinary innovator. Although the quilt reflects the work of hundreds of chefs and food producers, the exhibition focuses on four central stories: enslaved rice farmers, James Hemings, Nathan “Nearest” Green, and Leah Chase. These four narratives uncover contributors and influences in the history of American cuisine that have gone without recognition. Although German and Scotch-Irish immigrants are usually credited with inventing whiskey, it was really slaves like Nathan Green, a close mentor of Jack Daniel, that created the spirit. And Leah Chase, often dubbed the queen of Creole cuisine, founded renowned restaurant Dooky Chase, where activists in the civil rights movement strategized over delicious meals.
The exhibition also includes first-ever access to the Ebony Test Kitchen, which MOFAD Executive Director Peter Kim describes as “an iconic, psychedelic fixture of the black culinary identity in the 1970s and 80s, from which Ebony Magazine tested recipes from chicken and oyster gumbo to sweet potato pudding for its iconic ‘Date with a Dish’ column. Nowhere is the black impact on American cooking more obvious than in the Ebony Test Kitchen. Run by the first and only African American food editor at a major magazine, it celebrated the African diaspora in ways never seen before.” After almost being destroyed when its home in Chicago was torn down, MOFAD won the kitchen in a competitive bid. Musician Questlove will curate music playing in the kitchen, while editors from Ebony Magazine talk about the significance of the space.
As Kim notes, “no visit to a Museum of Food and Drink exhibition would be complete without breaking bread,” and African/American is no exception. Top Chef and former co-host of The Chew Carla Hall will curate a tasting for the project; inspired by African American travelers who were historically refused food service and had to pack food in shoeboxes for their journeys, her tasting will “use the shoebox lunch as a symbol of culture, connection and the spread of the African American culinary identity across the country.”
Scheduled for release in late February 2020, this project is MOFAD’S most expansive and ambitious exhibition to date. African/American: Making the Nation’s Table will begin its debut at The Africa Center in New York City, before touring across the country. MOFAD is currently hosting a kickstarter to help fund the operational costs of the project.