Thursday, April 5, 2007

Jimmy Kimmel to Food Network: Get More Black Chefs!!

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 ".


Anonymous said...

I would watch Veatrice on the Food Network!! And you're right about their lack of black chefs.

HATCH said...

I agree. Call up the Rev. Al Sharpton he would be all over this in minutes. I love soul food! We need more black chefs!! CHEF From South Park was a good cook. We need more chefs like him!

overall said...

The network must showcase people with personality on their shows or viewers will not tune in. But the personality displayed by the married hosts of "Down Home with the Neelys" seems better suited for an old Amos & Andy broadcast than for the Food Network.

Really, how many times do we need to hear and see Gina Neely talk about keepin' her maaaaaan happy "down there" while wagging her oh-no-you-dihn't finger and then pointing to her crotch????

This tacky commentary and cheap inuendo may provide the requisite flava that network execs' polling figures prove they lack. But it's offensive to viewers and insulting, in my opinion, to those who may like to see more African American personalities on the network.

I'm not sure who's to blame, the execs or the talent. But this low-brow pandering and ethnic cartooning just isn't flying for me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment. I find the new "black" food network shows offensive. Let's see they now have “cooking for real", what is everyone else doing? Pretending to cook? Just a bad name! These black shows are throwbacks to the 70’s “good times.”But hey, I guess food network thinks we should be happy they gave “us” a program at all. Thanks food network. "down home with the Neelys" a truly offensive stereotypical program. Now – "Big daddy's house. Why all the stereotypes? I cook healthy. Organic foods – that anyone world enjoy. I am a black woman. I have a Masters degree and I have no experience making southern foods; or being poor. For this reason alone I do not believe I would be a candidate for a" black food network star. Good thing I'm happy with cooking in my restaurant where the customers are just people.

Anonymous said...

And now there are too MANY black hosts on the Food Network with what I consider "forced" shows. Diversity is important, but it works both ways.

mAntan said...

Wrong John Birch! It's not too MANY black shows.It's a case of network execs not doing their homework and lazily subscribing to a narrow view of blackness. It would be nice to have a show where the host HAPPENS to black without drawing attention to it(i.e.,"funky" music","soul","real","down home",etc)They already have Al Roker producing shows. I think B.Smith had her own FN show,but I'm not sure. It's not just black folk either. Ingrid Hoffmann seems to have to "spice" things up, accent-wise. You don't Giada DiLaurentis-a talking-a like-a dees on her show. You didn't see Ming Tsai ( I SOO miss East Meets West!!)
In a coolie hat talking about chop suey. Why can't we African-American Black Colored Negroes get the same consideration? I live in Harlem. I'm a life-long vegan and educated. We don't all have the same tastes,knawhattimean?

Chef Mel said...

We Must take action " Black chef can't wait for white executive to
some how get it" Do for self. Visit leave comment and suggestions.
Chef Mel

Bobby Lavon said...

Hi, I'm originally from Portland, Oregon and I'm currently a "black" culinary student at the Institute for culinary arts located in Omaha, NE. I have noticed a difference in culture and in food choice between these two. In oregon there is more of a west coast, less on your plate, more healthy approach to eating. Omaha on the other hand is straight meat and potatoes, pile it on as much as posible. Which is why they are currently one of the unhealthiest cities in America, 142nd out of 182. I see this as having to do with education not race because many blacks, whites and hispanics in omaha are obese. As far as the food network goes, I have always viewd it as an educational show which portrays the healthy side of food culture in America and I hope it stays that way. At the same time however, I think there should be different chef faces on the show, diversity is good and we should want to promote it. Just keep it healthy, educational and professional. Oh by the way, make sure they can actually cook. The neely's may have a true southern approach to things, but at least they can do that!