Campus News

Notable Black Culinarians to be Honored with Notable Dishes

February 10, 2021

Yvonne Gay

Students stand six feet apart in a line.
Students in line for dinner at Afrikan Heritage House.
Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Black influencers in the culinary world will be honored with dishes that reflect their work in a Black History Month dinner later this month.

During her illustrious career, Edna Lewis, an award-winning chef and author, encouraged Black people to use fresh and local ingredients. Yemisi Awosan, another culinary influencer, is building a name for herself with foods that focus on her West African culture. Their contributions to the Black community, and those of their peers, was the driving force behind AVI’s contribution to Black History Month. 

Candice Raynor, director and faculty in residence in Africana Studies, approached us with featuring events in celebration of Black History Month,” says Lilkeisha Smith, director of operations of Oberlin’s AVI Food Systems. “We contribute the best way we know how, through food. It’s what brings people together.” 

What resulted—a meal that honors Black agents of change in the culinary world—was derived from conversations Smith and Chef Manager Ben Slowik had about this year’s Black History Month theme—To Be Young, Black, and Gifted, and the students' commitment to be agents of change.

A silver bowl with soup.
A Foods of Africa meal was served in Afrikan Heritage House earlier this month. Selections included Ethiopian collard greens, West African peanut chicken, smoked catfish soup, and timatim (Ethiopian tomato salad). Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Slowik and Smith spent hours researching culinary articles, biographies, cookbooks, and social media pages. The influencers pulled are reflected in Slowik’s menu, which includes a decadent take on a popular student dish, jerk chicken, as well as new dishes.  

“There are so many Black chefs and culinarians that are doing their part by being vocal in their food and paving the way for other people,” says Smith. “The question we often ask ourselves when preparing menus is, what do we want our food to say; what’s the story?” “Each dish tells a story through food that inspires, wows, and offers pride in a profession that is often overlooked and where Blacks are often unseen. These culinarians see us and are holding a mirror up so Black chefs can see themselves in an honest and realistic way. How can you not want to join in and be another agent in this food movement?”

The Notable People + Notable Dishes February 22 menu will include:

  • Brisket in honor of Edna Lewis—not only a champion for fresh and local ingredients, but a chef who introduced family staples in many Black homes to the world. 
  • Jerk chicken in honor of Kwame Onwuachi, who used his African and Caribbean heritage to share his story in a refined way. “Onwuachi blazed his own path by stepping outside the box of what society thought a Black chef was, and was an agent of change for Black chefs in fine dining,” says Smith. 
  • Yemisi Awosan, “whose story of starting small and working her way into grocery stores while sharing her heritage and culture is pure [genius],” says Smith. She will be honored with obe ata stew. 
  • Vegetable couscous will be served to honor Bryant Terry, a vegan chef and activist for a more sustainable food system as a right for all. “His ability to transform soul food staples into a delectable dish where you don’t miss the meat just shows the depth of his creativity and commitment to his craft,” says Smith.
  • Pumpkin fritters, in honor of Jessica B. Harris, “who has awakened the minds of many Black chefs and culinarians as we search for our history and what that means through food,” says Smith.

View more events on Oberlin’s Black History Month web page.


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