Raves are pouring in for the celebrity chef’s latest effort, The Rise. This gorgeous book is part history lesson, part stirring memoir with generous helpings of love for Black chefs, authors, scholars and food industry leaders who are living proof that Black Food Matters. Here are four essential takeaways from this groundbreaking smash hit, co-authored by Osayl Endolyn with recipes developed by Yewande Komolafe and photography from Angie Mosier.
It’s About Time
When Samuelsson started working on The Rise, the mission was clear from the get-go: “I’ve always felt when America tells its story to the world, it’s best told in its totality. You can’t tell the story of music in this country without talking about the African American experience. When you when you think about sports, you can’t tell it without talking about Black athletes, Michael Jordan and the great Olympic athletes. But in terms of food, the history hasn’t been told with Black Americans in mind. We have the opportunity to reclaim that history and get the authorship right,” Samuelsson said in a recent phone interview. As the book’s introduction plainly states: “Black food is American food.”
The portraits of the dozens featured in The Rise are illuminated and inspiring. Stories of well-known characters and fresh faces paint a vibrant culinary landscape that’s both familiar and surprising. For instance, Edouardo Jordan’s high profile as a James Beard-award winning chef behind three restaurants in Seattle was first seeded when he was writing a food blog while growing up in Florida. That sometimes painful experience pushed him toward life in the professional kitchen: “Being a Black, young kid, no-one expected that I was critiquing or reviewing them. I had the full effect of what it was to eat as a “minority” in some of the cooler restaurants. And I was getting more and more pissed because the food I was cooking at home was better.”
Leah Chase, an iconic New Orleans chef who once playfully slapped President Barack Obama’s hand when he reached for pepper sauce before tasting her legendary gumbo, was given the respect she certainly deserves. “The first time I visited Dookie Chase’s in New Orleans with Miss Jessica Harris was the first time I realized that restaurants can be part of the community in a completely different way than I had experienced,” Samuelsson said. Important work was accomplished at Dookie Chase’s. “If white politicians wanted to get something done, they’d come to see Miss Leah Chase.”
The late Leah Chase is one of the culinary giants to whom Samuelsson dedicated the book, along with Edna Lewis, Sylvia Woods, Alberta Wright, B. Smith. And top of this tribute list, his birth mother Annu, who died of tuberculosis after heroically bringing Samuelsson and his sister to be treated for that disease to a hospital in his native Ethiopia.
In sharing the rich stories in The Rise, Samuelsson said he is hoping to make meaningful connections happen. “Black food in this country is not monolithic, it’s completely diverse. This book offers verification for people aspiring to get into the food business that there’s someone looking like me, someone who might provide guidance, be a mentor. It’s also a guide showing, hey there’s a local Black chef in my community I can support. It’s about people seeing each other through food,” said the busy chef, who’s host of the public television series No Passport Required.
Recipes Tell A Story
The chapter entitled Remix pays homage to the rituals of time-honored recipes: “They connect us to loved ones we remember well and those we wish we had known. Recipes introduce us to cultures that are new to us, and they reflect our own histories in the lives of others.” There’s also attention and admiration for adapting and updating classics. “Things change yet keep a similar beat. That kind of remix gives me energy.”
The recipes developed to honor those featured in the book offer insight into that person’s journey. Like the Chorizo Blue Corn Grits Cakes created for Soul Food Scholar Adrian Miller, who brings a similar dish to the church he attends in Denver. This variation includes cheese wrapped in fragrant Hoja Santa leaves, a tradition from Central and South America.
Or how about a toast to the leftover wine-spiced chocolate cake? This treat was developed to honor Andre Hueston Mack, the nation’s preeminent African American vintner. At Maison Noir, Mack draws on his experience as sommelier at Per Se, using fruit from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to make Other People’s Pinot Gris, among other releases.
And the Cassava Dumplings with Callaloo Puree inspired by chef Nina Compton, who Samuelsson crowns one of the next generation of culinary royalty. At Compère Lapin in New Orleans, the native of St. Lucia offers interpretations of Caribbean cooking she grew up eating. Those dishes included adaptations of British classics she learned from her grandmother, a white Englishwoman.
“Telling these stories helps make food more meaningful,” Samuelsson said. “This is my life’s work, to highlight what others are doing.”
Room For Everyone At the Table
Yes, there are plenty of names and faces readers will certainly recognize on the pages of The Rise. Chefs who’ve competed on Food Network shows and won prestigious awards. But there are many who’ve been flying under the radar, hidden figures readers will be delighted to meet.
Joe Stinchcomb is the bar director at St. Leo in Oxford, Miss., where he stirred things up when creating a I’m Not Your Negroni cocktail in celebration of author James Baldwin.
Stephen Satterfield is co-founder of Whetstone Media and host of a podcast called Point of Origin. The former som and his team tell compelling stories of people of color not often shared by mainstream media.
Cheryl Day is a California transplant living and working in Savannah, Ga., who’s written five books on Southern baking including one on the Back in the Day Bakery she launched with her husband Griff in 2002.
Devita Davison is executive director at FoodLab Detroit, an organization dedicated to building a more equitable, nourishing and sustainable food system in local communities.
Superstar pitmaster Rodney Scott shows he’s ready for prime time on an episode of the Netflix hit, Chef’s Table BBQ. His humble start, working in the family’s restaurant, meant long hours of chopping wood, tending fires and wrangling whole hogs. He was excited to be included in The Rise and thrilled at the final product: “I had no idea what a big deal this was going to turn out to be,” Scott said in a recent phone interview.
Big-deal status comes in the form of glowing reviews, including being named by The New York Times, Eater, Food and Wine as one of the best cookbooks released this fall. It also is selected as one of the Top 10 cookbooks of the year by Barnes & Noble.
We Want Another Helping
It’s understandable if reading The Rise leaves you hungry for more. When asked if there would be a sequel, Samuelsson let out a belly laugh. “Thank you for that,” he said.
The answer is maybe there will be another, but that’s down the road. “It took four years to write this one,” he said. “Right now, we’re just so excited about the response. We’ve heard from so many people. We’re looking forward to seeing what people make in the book and share on social media.”
For those who want more, The Rise lists “More Chefs To Watch,”along with a long list of books to read and reference, culinary media and organizations to follow, podcasts to devour. There’s also a list of organizations dedicated to making the world a better place. When was the last cookbook you read that referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights?
The success of The Rise has allowed Samuelsson to work toward establishing a residency program for Black chefs on farms in upstate New York. He’s also creating a fund to help those challenged by the economic downturn due to the pandemic.
Those topics and more will likely be on the table at 7 p.m. Eastern on Nov. 18 when Samuelsson appears in a virtual event through Symphony Space in New York City, a conversation with Jane Curtin. Tickets for this hour-long event are $12 for members, $15 for non-members.
Charleston-based barbecue pitmaster Rodney Scott’s rib recipe was a huge hit at the 2018 Harlem EatUp!, a community feast during which he cooked and served all day in front of Samuelsson’s Red Rooster.
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 4 racks spare ribs
For the mop sauce:
- 4 cups white vinegar
- 1/2 cup chili powder
- 4 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 2 lemons
Make the rub: Combine the paprika, brown sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne in a small bowl. Sprinkle each rack on both sides with the rub and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
Make the mop sauce: Combine the vinegar, chili powder, granulated sugar, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, and pepper flakes in a 2-quart container. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into a container. Drop the lemon halves into the sauce and stir to combine. Set aside.
Heat a smoker or grill to 250°F.
Place the ribs on the grill, meat side down and cook over indirect heat for 2 to 3 hours, until tender but not falling off the bone, flipping halfway through cooking. During the last 45 minutes of cooking, mop with sauce every 15 minutes.
Shared with permission from Hachette Book Group
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