A Bronzeville culinary journey

March 4, 2011

In Brazil, collard greens are sautéed instead of boiled like they are in black America. Empanadas are similar to Jamaican meat patties. West African staples like okra are found in Southern American cuisine. “We eat in this hemisphere a variation of what we ate in that hemisphere,” said Jessica B. Harris, the authority on cooking and foodways of the African Diaspora.

Culinary author Jessica Harris giving a champagne toast in Bronzeville.
Last night I met Harris, author of the new “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America,” at a fundraiser in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. She even drew a little pig in my copy of her book and wrote “pig out.” The book traces Atlantic slave routes and how food from the African-American experience became part of the overall American food identity.
 
Harris’ appearance was meant to lend heft to an effort to raise money for Urban Juncture, a non-profit organization that aims to diversify food options to areas that lack them on the South Side. The organization’s the brainchild of Bernard Loyd, who hosted the fundraiser in his own greystone. He plans to incorporate a bit of Harris’ culinary journey in a new local food venture.
 
Urban Juncture speaks to Harris’ study of the African culinary journey in a new local food venture called Cuisine of the Diaspora, which will provide dining options from vegan to Jamaican to a fresh produce store. The venture’s set to be on 51st Street between Prairie and Calumet, a bit of land the city of Chicago sold to Loyd. The city also gave him a tax increment financing (TIF) grant. Urban Juncture has already created an urban garden on the site, which is near the CTA Green Line. Loyd says he is $1.5 million away from his a $9 million fundraising goal. Loyd says he hopes to begin development by summer.
 
The surrounding neighborhood is short on grocery stores and dining-out options. “The objective is to beautify 51st Street, engage our neighbors in the overall project of good food, food production, urban agriculture and food preparation,” Loyd said.
 
Some of the contributing chefs in the project served dinner at Loyd’s home. Cecelia Hamilton served stuffed pork tenderloin and black-eyed pea salad, and Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel offered vegan Berbere Ethiopian vegan ribs. In addition, Yassa African Restaurant served signature yassa chicken; Jorgina Pereira of Sinha Elegant Cuisine cooked feijoada, a Brazilian national dish of black beans along with those aforementioned collards; South African caterer Mbali Mncwabe had a ground beef dish called bobotie and Madeline’s Bakeshop provided vegan sweet potato pie.