STORY & PHOTOGRAPHY | Lauren Stockmon Brown
FOOD | Berber Street Food (jollof rice, accara fritters, and sweet plantains) + Sylvia’s (mac n cheese and yams)
On February 20th, the Black Gotham Experience produced the first Nerdy Thursdays of 2020, “About Spice” at the New-York Historical Society. I was on deck as content producer but had to double at times as a food-server with my colleagues.
As a food-server, I attempted to explain to our guests the difference between jollof in general and how they differ from Senegal, Ghana, or Nigeria. I took pride in serving each cuisine confidently as our guests asked how the vegetarian dishes complimented the famous, mac & cheese. I made sure to sample each item before the night was over and thought of how large portions of food remind me of group gatherings like Christmas and Thanksgiving.
As a videographer and photographer, I strolled through the museum’s Dexter Hall and basked in the portraits and paintings that outlined their walls. I focused on the people. I listened in on friendly conversations, as multiple guests complimented the savory-sweet combo that was explored further through a panel discussion and Q&A that included Malissa Browne (co-owner of Negril BK), Bintou Ndaw (owner of Nafis Originals), and Chef Leon (owner of Mi Za Plaz).
During the panel discussion, I sat in the corner, fiddling with the camera’s angles while filming a lively historic discussion about the foodways impacted by the African Diaspora. I found myself stumbling as I failed to hold the camera straight, distracted by the panelist’s extreme interests in the history of dining and cuisine.
I previously never considered how cooking, eating, prepping and even simple tastes can ignite emotions and house our memories. For instance, Malissa discussed how her passion for food propelled her career forward as a former hostess and now a co-owner of Negril BK. I appreciated the ways in which Bintou grounded the concept of African cuisine in an anti-colonist framework. She explained her time in culinary school and questioned why the western world refuses to view various forms of African food as an “elevated” delicacy. Lastly, I remember when Chef Leon excitedly told us a story about the first time he “entertained” for his “buddies,” and the type of Wonder Bread he used to make this seemingly magical sandwich. Chef Leon referred to this moment as the start to his cooking career.
That evening, I slowly began to realize how memory is embedded into tradition, connection and food.
For this reason, I’ll remember “About Spice” as a time for the community to appreciate how traditional foodways from the African Diaspora lasted throughout struggle and triumph. More importantly, I’ll remember how each gooey or sweet-savory taste serves as a multicultural honoring of history and our most inner-thoughts.
Editors Note |
Please consider to reach out to your friends who work in the food industry as they are managing a tricky terrain as our government mandates responses to the coronavirus. We look forward to being able to be in a room full of more than 10 people and enjoying the offerings of restaurants like Berber Street Food and Sylvia’s who provided the food for the program.