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A Little Respect for Black Chefs


MarketStEl
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John, your discussion is very cogent. I am not nor have I been saying that the food industry is racist. It is probably one of the most open industries in America as regards to race and opportunity. My point is basically in agreement with a lot of what you say. Why there may be discrepancies between any particular groups populational proportion and their proportions in the food industry at various levels is a very complex question. That being said, I am sure that even though it may not be an inherently institutional problem, racism still exists within the industry as it does throughout society. The overt aspects of it are much improved over what they were and are likely much less significant than they used to be unless one happens to be the individual affected by it. You have provided at least some evidence for that. While it still exists and is deplorable, I agree that I don't think that is the most significant issue here or the most interesting. As I think Sneakeater wrote and I paraphrase, it is relatively easy to see and condemn these overt instances of racism. I have been using the term "direct." What I find more interesting are the underlying reasons for the discrepancies, what I have been calling "indirect." These are not necessarily malicious and don't even necessarily need to be acted on, but if they can be understood, than perhaps their true significance can be determined and any necessary actions taken.

Doc

I think we are basically in agreement.

What you refer to as "discrepancies" are often a result of head counting. These discrepancies are often (far too often) attributed to "racism."

What is really required in these instances, is a more thoughtful and detailed review/analysis wherein one most often finds that "racism" is either a non factor or a small part of the picture.

IMOP, racism has become devalued by irresponsible and over use. It has become an easy blanket indictment for those with an ax to grind and an excuse for those who use it to provide cover for other problems.

My concerns with this thread are mainly that the Samuelson article is anything but an indictment. It is actually, a very well informed and intelligent look at the food industry and minorities whose intent is to focus everyone, specifically African Americans (but also people of all races) on some very positive attributes of an industry that Mr Samuelson believes is a worthy career.

It is also a reminder/homage of and to the pioneering people of color who should be honored and learned from and it is a reminder to take note of the many present day industry leaders and a call for African Americans to follow in their footsteps.

This has led to some people taking off on a tangent, attempting to discuss racism in the food industry. Fair enough. However, these folks seem only able to resort to reciting numbers/head counts in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Yes, carve up the food industry and we will find some racism in there somewhere.

We will also find elitism, and class and sexism, and cronyism and any number of other isms.

I would posit that these are not the result of racism but rather the system by which one rises to become a candidate for head chef--the European model--apprentice system not racial hatred.

The fact that this system has been greatly modified--indeed the whole notion of haute cuisine has evolved--tend to eliminate the reasons many different people of all races either did not select this career path or had difficulty entering and succeeding in the system.

The truth is that Blacks and other people of color are succeeding greatly in the food industry.

I agree with the piece that the media is lagging in getting the word out (the media always lags in reflecting cultural advances) but this is not due to a "racist" media IMOP.

To his credit Samuelson is certainly doing his part to change this.

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I kid you not.....just last week I am cooking for a client in an apartment on the west side above JG's Perry street restaurant and a guest walks into the kitchen and tell's my assistant how fabulous the food is and asked where he trained..............my assistant is a supertalented young white kid who wants to go to CIA.............and then after he points to me she was like.....Ohhh....where are you from....I said  Africa....... :laugh:

But seriously this happens all the time.

this reminds me of an incident that occurred in 2000. i was at pipa, which i believe was relatively new and "hot" at the time, with a coworker. we were at the bar, when we saw mr. samuelsson come in. he actually said hi to us, recognizing us (or at least pretending to) from the wine shop where we worked and where he had done a tasting. my coworker, a CIA grad, and i watched intently as he went up to the bar to order drinks. well, it was clear that the bartender had no idea who samuelsson was, because she treated him almost dismissively. after samuelsson moved back into the crowd, we went up to the bar and discreetly explained to the bartender who he was. she looked embarassed and said, "thank you" and then thanked us again by not charging us for a single drink for the rest of the evening. i'm sure chef samuelsson was treated a bit more courteously for the rest of the night, too.

vadouvan, as you've said, this is mostly laughable, and probably can be accounted for more by ignorance, the bartender's disinterest in the restaurant world, or any number of factors. also, while the bartender was white, the same thing might have very well happened with a black bartender. but, fact is, it probably happens more for samuelsson than with white chefs of the same caliber. this goes to the question of perception and expectations by everyone about who gets recognition as a chef.

Edited by bethala (log)

can't believe it's not butter? i can.

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What do the posters here mean by "black"? Since this discussion has included African-Americans, Africans from the continent, Africans in the diaspora, etc...

I think at times the thread has meant all of these groups. Some of the discussion described some of the differences that immigrants from Africa versus native born Black Americans might encounter or feel themselves in working and aspiring to careers in the food industry.

Who is viewed as 'black' and who considers themselves 'black' does sound like a whole other discussion! In any case, many, but not all, of the issues discussed here would seem to apply in different degrees to all people of color or other groups that are currently less represented in the field. Different sub-groups may have different challenges but they all will share some challenges in common. One basic common challenge is that of the perception of "who" is a chef, as in the example vadouvan and bethala gave. Perhaps that is the point you are raising.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Internet discussions dont do these nuanced conversations justice..... :biggrin:
I'm not quite as cynical regarding Samuelsson's book

For the record doc, I think Marcus S is a great chef, I love his restaurants and my intent wasnt to trash him but rather point to the fact that every few years, the publishing world decides "black is the new black" and promptly after that, nothing for 10 years.

:laugh: One of these days it will be. I think the time is right for the cuisines of Africa to catch on in the US in all their diversity. It has all the ingredients that the American dining public is hungry for...new ingredients, exotic locales, visual appeal, etc. I was floored by the cuisine in South Africa alone.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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hey v, just to be clear that quote wasn't mine. it was upthread in response to your post #87 item 4. i was refuting the other poster.

anyway, didn't want to offend.carry on.....

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I agree.....and black folks arent walking around trying to start sh*t. we just want to eat, pay for our overpriced drinks just like everyone else and leave.

:laugh: Hear, hear!

Truth be told, I don't think that too many of us in this discussion disagree radically with JohnL's comments (emphasis on "radically", for what it seems much of the argument in this topic has turned on are matters of degree, levels of nuance, and perceptions).

BTW, JohnL, glad you went and read the article. FWIW, Ebony is an institution among African-American media. The nation's largest-circulating periodical aimed at African-Americans (and the biggest-circulating African-American-owned publication) is 60 years old this year. It was launched in 1946 to provide the sort of window into Negro life in America that Life (whose cover title Ebony's resembles) did for mainstream society. That Life no longer exists in its original form while Ebony keeps on keepin' on suggests that African-Americans still feel a need for such a window.

The nature of American society is such that the topic of racism is bound to come up anywhere that race is a subject of discussion, and it is one by definition in an article focusing on blacks in the culinary world. True, it is mentioned only in passing, and by only one of the author's sources, but that's all that is needed for the floodgates to open.

I agree that Samuelsson was not attributing to racism the relative lack of notice the black culinarians he mentioned received. As Vadouvan and others have noted, it's wrong to attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. But some will, and indeed one person did in the article. I doubt that this circle will be broken in our lifetimes, if ever.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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regarding the argumente that an "african cookbook" is racist because it fails to differentiate among the various african cuisines: this follows a long history in publishing. cuisines are usually introduced in overviews (Chinese, French, Italian, American) and then if the market proves willing, later books will delve into regional differences (Tuscan, Sichuan, Provencal, Californian). it's just business. my guess is that a cookbook on malian cuisine, no matter how well done, would sell about 500 copies. Ethiopian might do somewhat better, because it seems to have more exposure ... or is that just in los angeles?

and please, don't take this the wrong way, but wouldn't the aspiration to become an haute-cuisine chef be predicated in large part on having attended haute-cuisine restaurants? At least in Southern California, I'd be shocked if the percentage of diners at great restaurants came anywhere near 13%. I'd guess it's more like 5%. My impression is that this is somewhat better in Manhattan, what is it like in other parts of the country?

and since this is such a touchy topic, please let me say very plainly that i'm certainly not accusing those restaurants of being racist--they'll take anyone with a phone to make reservations and a credit card to pay the bill. it just goes back to my original argument that everyone might not hold the culinary profession in the same glamorous light that we do.

Have to laugh - because I've never thrown away a cookbook. I have on my shelves one called "Favorite Recipes from the Unted Nations" - copyright 1951 - published by the United States Committee for the United Nations. Two or three recipes from each of perhaps 100 countries (many of which either don't exist these days - or have new names - a fair number in Africa).

I don't know why Americans should be criticized for learning only a little bit about lots of exotic places - when probably most people in most other countries (including a fair number that are supposed to be "foodie countries") are almost 100% parochial. How many African restaurants are you going to find in places like Spain - or Italy? Are there any African cookbooks published in Spanish or Italian? How many Algerian cookbooks have been published in France?

I think that - overall - Americans are pretty good sports about trying new stuff. Even if it's a waterered down or not 100% authentic version of this - that - or the other thing that winds up in Ruby Tuesday's. Found pretty much the same "we'll try anything" attitude in Japan. But - I think the US and Japan are fairly unusual in the scheme of things. Robyn

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What do the posters here mean by "black"? Since this discussion has included African-Americans, Africans from the continent, Africans in the diaspora, etc...

I think at times the thread has meant all of these groups. Some of the discussion described some of the differences that immigrants from Africa versus native born Black Americans might encounter or feel themselves in working and aspiring to careers in the food industry.

Who is viewed as 'black' and who considers themselves 'black' does sound like a whole other discussion! In any case, many, but not all, of the issues discussed here would seem to apply in different degrees to all people of color or other groups that are currently less represented in the field. Different sub-groups may have different challenges but they all will share some challenges in common. One basic common challenge is that of the perception of "who" is a chef, as in the example vadouvan and bethala gave. Perhaps that is the point you are raising.

I get the impression here that it is being used in the American sense. Others can explain what that means better than I can.

The Tuareg, a semi-nomadic people of Niger, Mali, and Algeria, have fascinated travelers and scholars throughout history. The “art” of being Tuareg—their elegant dress and exquisite ornamentation, their refined song, speech, and dance—has been the subject of rhapsodic descriptions that suggest a Tuareg “mystique.” Who the Tuareg are today and how the Tuareg and their mystique have been invented through time by themselves and by others are considered in the first major U.S. exhibition on Tuareg art and culture, Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World, on display from October 29, 2006 through February 25, 2007 at UCLA’s Fowler Museum.

I will be giving a lecture and cooking demonstration for this exhibition. Part of what I will be discussing is the West African genesis for the method for steaming couscous.

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson's African Adventure

What was the thing that surprised you most on your travels through Africa?

The coolest thing about Africa is its huge diversity of people -- it's not one country, one culture, one religion, or one color. And the heart of that diversity, in terms of its expression in food and music, is incredible.

New York has a sizable African-immigrant population. What are your favorite African restaurants in the city?

You'll mostly find Ethiopian, Senegalese and Moroccan restaurants in New York.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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What do the posters here mean by "black"? Since this discussion has included African-Americans, Africans from the continent, Africans in the diaspora, etc...

I think at times the thread has meant all of these groups. Some of the discussion described some of the differences that immigrants from Africa versus native born Black Americans might encounter or feel themselves in working and aspiring to careers in the food industry.

Who is viewed as 'black' and who considers themselves 'black' does sound like a whole other discussion! In any case, many, but not all, of the issues discussed here would seem to apply in different degrees to all people of color or other groups that are currently less represented in the field. Different sub-groups may have different challenges but they all will share some challenges in common. One basic common challenge is that of the perception of "who" is a chef, as in the example vadouvan and bethala gave. Perhaps that is the point you are raising.

I get the impression here that it is being used in the American sense. Others can explain what that means better than I can.

...

Yes, correctly or not, surely the first group that most Americans would think of when someone says "Blacks" or "African Americans" in the US are the large percentage that have been in the US for over two hundred years, plus newer immigrants from the Carribean and South America. The understanding and familiarity of the roots of different peoples from Africa also depends on where you live in the US and the diversity of Blacks or African immigrants who live there.

The number of newer immigrants directly from Africa really seem to be more broadly on the upswing though in many different segments of society. As an example, I've started seeing significant numbers of new graduate students in Chemistry and the other sciences coming from Africa to study in the US. A professor friend currently has a postdoctoral student from Zimbabwe, two grad students from Tunisia and one from Ethiopia. He also has a black American from Georgia (US) as a grad student. The student from Zimbabwe is the child of Indian and 'white' Afrikaner parents. Their potluck food gatherings for the lab are very interesting--especially once you add in the students from Kentucky, India, Germany and Malaysia! (His lab happens to be especially diverse right now, but it is a real trend.)

You must deal directly or indireclty with these questions of color, heritage and identity often as a Frenchman with roots in African Algeria and living in the US. Enjoy your lecture and demo at the Tuareg exhibition; it sounds like an interesting event and one that will surely help expand people's notion and knowledge of the area and cuisine. Sounds like a good thing given the topic and discussion in this thread.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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An African American chef or 'food personality' who is dynamic, fun, talented, and lovable, will do just fine...

--same as in all professions...

Doors are wide open---no racism to be concerned with other than imagined...

It seems hard to find an 'ethnic personality' that doesn't feel obligated or confined to be an ethnic personality...

A minority within a minority --- hard to find...

Paula Deen could have easily been black... Any of em'

Racism is not the negative force here, but the ghosts of it may be I feel...

Loosen up and go get it brothers and sisters!

Edited by Mild Bill (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I met my Tuareg brothers the other night. We were so happy to meet. I don't even know how to express here what it was like for me and how much it means to me.

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Amar and Mohamed are activists and educators. Mohamed has written an essay for the book The Art of Being Tuareg that dispells quite a few myths about Africa and categories for Africans that are not really accurate. We are not a continent, a country. We are not divided by the sahel, the sahara, north and west Africa. Nor do we speak of ourselves as black African and not black African. To understand the diversity of Africa, first the old categories must be dispelled.

My brother Mohamed's essay The Inadan, Makers of Amazigh Identity: The Case of the Air Region is a must read for those interested in African identities.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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