To be honest, I'm not sure it happened exactly that way. It was reported to me by a young friend. Apparently on Thursday's show, Jimmy Kimmel talked about an interesting article in the Chicago Sun-Times. It was about the lack of black chefs on the Food Network and in restaurant kitchens in general. We don't usually think of Jimmy Kimmel as being at the forefront of the issue of race in America. But we just might be wrong.
He mentioned this problem and then he said that he had to give the Food Network credit, because the very next day they gave his security guard Veatrice her own cooking show. And he showed her on the set of her cooking show, which was, I'm sure, hilarious. Veatrice has the warmth of a prison guard and the charm of a rattlesnake. Too bad that it was just a sketch on late night televison.
But think about it...the number of black chefs or hosts on the Food Network has been and continues to be really paltry. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, but more of a reflection of the situation in the country as a whole.
There are precious few black celebrity chefs. Edna Lewis, chef, cookbook author and teacher was the doyenne of southern cooking before her death 2 months shy of her 90th birthday last year. It was appropriate that in 1999, she was named a Grande Dame by Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of female culinary professionals.
Sylvia Woods has been cooking at her namesake restaurant in Harlem since 1962. She has expanded to a sister restaurant in Atlanta and also sells food products.
Patrick Clark, from Tavern On The Green was one of the country's best young chefs and garnered much acclaim. Unfortunately, he died in 1998 at the very young age of 42.
B. Smith was never known as a chef per se, more a "Lifestyle" guru. She's doing fine - She currently has 3 restaurants, does radio and television, sells products for the home, but I'm not sure she ever got the same shot at across-the-board acclaim as Martha or Rachael did, for example. Were we afraid to let a black woman, albeit a spectacularly beautiful one, into our homes and kitchens?
Today the name of the black chef that's at the top of every list is Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit. Ethiopian by birth, he was raised by his adoptive Swedish parents and approached his culinary career with a rigid academic formula. It paid off. But his color has nothing to do with his success. He could be purple with orange stripes and he would still be the stellar chef that he is. Interestingly, in an article last year, he writes about his culinary influences. Patrick Clark was one of them and he mentions that his son Preston Clark is working his way up the cooking ladder - what a wonderful tribute to his father.
Black families haven't traditionally viewed the cooking profession as desirable for their young people. They wanted them OUT of the kitchen. The New York Times touched on this in an article last March. The Culinary Institute of America has seen the numbers of black students rising very slowly. I suppose the real answer to this is education, which will lead to more opportunities for young people. The Careers Through Culinary Arts Program starts with high school students and provides counseling and scholarships for those interested in cooking careers.
There are many fine black cooks in this country. Whether through mentoring or frequenting their restaurants, buying their books or watching them on television, let's give every ethnicity more of a chance to be called "Chef ".