10 Cookbooks by Black Authors and Chefs, Recommended by Food Network Stars
Get inspired in the kitchen with these must-have reads.
By T.K. Brady, Maggie Wong, Rachel Trujillo and Michelle Baricevic
Inspiration in the kitchen starts with diversity in the foods we cook and eat. And it’s so important to stack our bookshelves with diverse perspectives on food, too. Black History Month serves as an important reminder that Black cuisine is as rich in historical significance as it is in flavor. Food Network stars Kardea Brown, Marcus Samuelsson and Kalen Allen share their essential cookbooks by Black chefs, writers and historians. Add these titles to your bookshelf for an education on the Black food diaspora and a host of delicious recipes sure to inspire.
Known by generations as "The Great Dame of Southern Cooking," Edna Lewis continues to be one of the most revered Black chefs in American history. Born and raised in Freetown, Virginia — a close-knit farming community that was founded by her formerly enslaved grandfather — Edna’s unique style of using "in season" and "freshly picked" ingredients like tomatoes, cymling squash, collard greens and more made her a legend in the South, New York City and beyond. In this cookbook — recommended by Marcus — Edna shares a beautiful mixture of beloved childhood recipes, as well us newer ones she discovered later on in life, including her favorite Cold Tomato Soup with Basil. In Pursuit of Flavor also features several personal techniques Edna developed to aid readers in getting the "best flavor" from the foods they find around them. Among them, you’ll learn how to make your own baking powder from scratch and how to listen for signs that your cake is done baking in the oven.
Another classic by Lewis, it’s no surprise Kardea has it on her list of must-reads. This cookbook is all about seasonality and cooking with the ingredients available to freed slaves in a Virginia farming village. Think: spring chicken with wild mushrooms, fresh fruit and vegetables for summer and hearty winter soups and stews. First published in 1976, Lewis’s recipes stand the test of time — the book was re-released in 2006 and is still available in hardcover. You’ll turn to this title again and again.
Kardea is passionate about Gullah culture and her Gullah heritage, which makes this book recommendation all the more important. Daufuskie Island in South Carolina is known for its rich Gullah cultural history and Sallie Ann Robinson is sixth-generation. Growing up on the island, she learned traditional Gullah cooking inspired by the food traditions of Central and West African slaves. Robinson’s family recipes rely heavily on the fresh ingredients found on and around the island: dishes like crab rice, butter beans and low-country gumbo just to name a few.
The history of Black food in America is often a painful one. Much of the historical context can get lost. Michael Twitty’s food memoir, recommended by Kardea, explores Black cuisine in America from its roots in pre-enslavement Africa to slavery to freedom. He looks at the history of Southern cuisine and the complex ownership of it, and encourages readers to embrace the discomfort of examining an ugly past. Cooking through the recipes in this book offers insight into Twitty’s perspective on his personal history that is a part of all of us.
Recommended by Kardea and Kalen, Black Girl Baking is Jerelle Guy’s gorgeous collection of recipes infused with her childhood memories. Orange Peel Pound Cake tastes of summers eating Florida oranges at Big Ma’s house; reimagined Rosketti cookies evoke the treats her mother ate growing up in Guam. Guy takes readers on an intimate and sensory baking journey that tastes of sweet nostalgia, but is made of ingredients — vegan alternatives, less refined sugar, whole flours — that "make her feel more in control and more connected to… the person she has become."
First published in 1911, Rufus Estes’ extensive work is just as much a cookbook as it is a portal to the past. Born into enslavement in 1857, Estes began working as a Pullman Private Car attendant, and eventually worked to become a chef, preparing meals for the top brass at one of the country’s largest steel corporations. Estes’ culinary expertise was vast — as evidenced by the nearly 600 recipes included in the book. The text is a capsule of his time, with less contemporary dishes like cherry dumplings and chestnut stuffing with truffles, as well as more recognizable ones like Creole-style gumbo and Southern-style waffles. Black chefs were part of cultivating what we know today as American cuisine, but their contributions have not been included in our nation’s narrative until recently. Thanks to the work of historians like Toni Tipton-Martin and Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, we have some documentation of the past. And Estes’ cookbook, recommended by Kardea, is a critical primary source and milestone in rectifying that narrative. It’s also a direct line to a talented man who wanted to share good things to eat and how to cook them.
Following her 2015 annotated bibliography, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, culinary journalist and author Toni Tipton-Martin published Jubilee. The joyfully titled cookbook, recommended by Kalen and Marcus, is an extension of the first. Drawing from her research for The Jemima Code, Tipton-Martin compiles recipes that she came across again and again in her trove of nearly 400 Black-authored cookbooks, dating as far back as the 19th century. In Jubilee she presents recipes as they were first written, alongside her modern adaptations of those recipes. Here, you’ll find a collection of dishes that have endured; dishes, techniques and ingredients that Tipton-Martin puts together to begin to define the canon of African American cuisine. It is a celebration of the multifaceted beauty that is African American cooking, sourcing from Black cooks that were of various class backgrounds and hailed from different regions of the U.S.
In this historical narrative of African American cuisine, acclaimed author and culinary historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris gives a personal take on the journey of food from African to America, highlighting the ways it has influenced the way we eat now. Dr. Harris has spent much of her life researching African American cuisine and has subsequently shaped the way we talk about it today. This book, recommended by Marcus, is one of many of Dr. Harris’s, including The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent, that fills an important gap in culinary history.
In this dual memoir by John O. Morisano and Chef Mashama Bailey, recommended by Marcus, the two recount how they transformed a rundown, formerly segregated Greyhound bus station into a celebrated, James Beard Award winning restaurant serving southern food in Savannah, Georgia. According to the book’s description, the authors reminisce on how the unlikely pairing of a Black chef from Queens, New York and a White media entrepreneur from Staten Island built a restaurant with the hopes to, "bridge biases and get people talking about race, gender, class, and culture."
Living boldly and cooking with soul: those are just two of the themes you’ll notice when you begin leafing through the colorful pages of this debut cookbook from Lazarus Lynch. A favorite of Kalen, the cookbook seeks to give fans of Lazarus’s @sonofasouthernchef Instagram account a deeper, more intimate look at the cherished Guyanese, Caribbean and Southern family recipes that made him go viral, including his mother’s Saltfish and his father’s Salmon Croquettes. Featuring stunning, full-page photography, Son of a Southern Chef also includes 100 new takes on soul food classics like Shrimp and Crazy Creamy Cheddar Grits, Corn Flake-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes and Dulce de Leche Banana Pudding.